The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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In Search of an Authentic Practice

You may have noticed lately there has been less posts about specific yoga and meditation techniques. I have been hinting I’ve been a little yoga-lite lately. This has happened in the past when I have taken a break from teaching. I took this break, firstly, to allow myself more time for some other writing projects (which you’ll hopefully hear more about later), but to also develop my yoga practice for myself, not for “yoga teacher Catie.”

I was beginning to feel inauthentic in my home practice. I was practicing, almost exclusively, kriyas I was going to teach in class that week. I found myself thinking about what I would say to the class during each exercise, reciting this script in my head. Even in my meditation, I would find myself rehearsing little monologues or things I’d tell my students to help them get back on track in the meditation -meanwhile, I was way off track!

offering up my practice to my Self

offering up my practice to my Self

So I decided to stop. I decided to give teaching a break until I cultivated an authentic practice for myself, that I could call my own, not my students. Don’t get me wrong, I think as a teacher it is important to keep up a practice for your students, and to plan well for classes, but there also needs to be a yoga that is just your own, and I had lost that.

I lost it because I lost some time, I started a new job that I had to get up a lot earlier for, I wanted to devote more time to other pursuits, so something had to give, and it was my personal practice that took the hit. But that was something I didn’t want to sacrifice, so I decided to take a break from teaching instead. I know I will come back to teaching (I miss it already), but I need to find some balance in my practice and life before returning to it. So in November I said goodbye to my classes with a bit of a heavy heart, and hoped that taking this time for my own practice will only make me a stronger teacher when I return.

Offseason Yoga

Then I stopped practicing all together. At first, I just told myself I needed a little break before starting back up. Then the holidays hit and it was easy to use them as an excuse. Then a couple more excuses came up that I won’t get into here, and before I knew it my practice was non-existent most days, a few casual stretches other days, interspersed with an earnest attempt at meditation here and there.

I don’t regret this little break. I read an article the other day about running. It talked about how even professional runners have an offseason. I liked that idea, the last couple months were my off-season for yoga.

I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a perfect little yogi, so it kind of all came to a head, and I fell into what often happens with perfectionists -I got fed up and dropped it altogether. (If it’s not perfect, why bother doing it at all?)

I needed an offseason. I told myself it was nice to feel like just a regular, normal person again, not someone trying to be this enlightened being. But now I miss it, and there are no more excuses left not to get back into it.

So this morning was preseason. Rather than pick right back up where that little perfectionist yogi left off, I needed a gentler approach. If I was really going to re-discover my own practice I needed to do it in a way that was good for menot my idea of what a practice should be. It was hard to not let that perfectionist sneak in. I ended up sleeping past sun-up and my fiance woke up at the same time

But,” little miss perfectionist yogi says, “it is best to do your yoga in the predawn, it’s easier when no one else is awake and you have the space all to yourself. You’ve already failed. You should just give up and maybe try again tomorrow when you can get it right.”

Ritual of Recommitting

Okay, shutting that voice off like shutting off the snooze, I get up. I decide that even though the sun is up, the day is starting, there are other elements of my practice I could implement that would still make it comforting, still make it feel right. I return to ritual. I get up, brush my teeth, and make myself some warm lemon water. I get my cushion out, tune in with the Adi Mantra, and begin some of my favorite stretches, while taking breaks to sip my warm and soothing drink.

This is feeling good. But, besides creating ritual, I need to create a commitment to make this practice last. Choosing a kriya or meditation to practice for 40 straight days has always been a great way to keep me on my mat day after day. I choose a kriya that is something I want to work on in my life. That creates motivation to stick with it right there. But I also choose one that is short enough that I could make the time commitment to it as I build my practice back up. I pick Balancing the Head and Heart. This is a kriya I’d been wanting to try a 40-day practice of for a while now.

Again, since I’m only in preseason, rather than jump right into the full times and have my arms be super sore tomorrow, I start with the minimum times. Now they’ll just be a little sore, that good sore. So I’ll take a few days to build up to the full times, and I’ll add a few days onto the end of my 40 days.

Thank you for allowing me to share, openly and honestly, the state of my yoga practice these days. I will keep you posted on its progress, as usual, and hope to explore some new kriyas and meditations with you that I have been wanting to try for myself.

In the meantime, any teachers out there: Do you ever feel this way -that your personal practice suffers from being a teacher? And if so, what do you do to get through it?

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Conquering Sleep, Naturally

Last week a reader was looking for a meditation to help with insomnia, which got me thinking about sleep.

Sleep can be something that evades many of us, whether it’s chronic or that every once in a while annoyance of waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back to sleep. I know when I haven’t gotten enough sleep it affects all aspects of my functioning the next day from productivity, to mood, and even meal choices.

Let Sleeping Children Lie

remember when sleep came so easily? (Photo credit: stewickie via flickr)

Yoga can help. A regular practice, whether in the morning or evening, can help regulate your schedule, get rid of unnecessary anxiety and tension, and begin to relax your body and mind. Yoga and meditation can also get at those underlying causes of your sleeplessness by helping you explore your emotions and release the unproductive ones.

Yoga Kriya

Here is a kriya designed specifically for dealing with insomnia:

Kriya for Conquering Sleep can be found in Kundalini Yoga Guidelines for Sadhana or here. The accompanying comments for this kriya:

“We waste billions of dollars on sleeping aids and stimulants when a much safer and more stable approach exists in exercise and meditation. Unfortunately, the exercises take effort; a pill doesn’t. If you choose to put the effort into this kriya, it will eliminate sleep disturbances and give you alertness throughout the day.”

My notes on the kriya: Boy, no joke about the effort part! I had done this kriya a while ago, but wanted to try it out again before writing about it. This is a tough kriya. If you are new to Kundalini, it is not tough in the bend-yourself-into-a-yoga-pretzel sort of way, but it takes endurance. You’ll build a lot of strength doing this kriya. My suggestions are to really focus on your breath to get you through the tougher exercises, and start by cutting the specified times in half (but do this consistently for every exercise), then build up to the full times.

Don’t forget to tune in by chanting Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo (the Adi Mantra) 3 times.

In exercise 6, note the picture for “bridge pose,” which is different from the hatha version of the pose.

The comments given with this kriya also note that if sleep is a constant problem for you, practice it regularly for 90 days (It takes 90 days to totally eliminate an old habit and establish the new one in its place, read more about it in this post here).

white dog sleeping on pavement

every body needs to sleep (Photo credit: epSos.de via flickr)

The last exercise can be extended into a full meditation.

Meditations

There are also other meditations that you may find helpful for insomnia. One I have written about before, is Meditation for Mental Fatigue, a lovely little three minute meditation, perfect for just before bedtime (find it here or in Meditation as Medicine, by Dharma Singh Khalsa and Cameron Stauth). This meditation uses the mantra Ong, chanted out loud, such a healing sound.

Shabd Kriya, also called Shabd Kriya for Deep Sleep and Radiance is another lovely meditation to do before bed. It is a great one for the neutral mind as well. It makes sense that it would also help with sleep, since strengthening the neutral mind helps us come from a place of nonattachment –we aren’t attached to our worries, or the things that make us worry, and often keep us awake at night. You can find it in Waves of Healing: Listening to the Voice of Your Soul, by Siri Atma S. Khalsa, MD (a lovely book I just picked up that explores the 10 bodies –more on this later) or here.

This meditation uses the mantra Sa Ta Na Ma (chanted silently, which is nice if you have others already asleep nearby), one of my favorite mantras, meaning the cycle of life: Sa=Birth, Ta=Life, Na=Death, Ma=Rebirth.

Left Nostril Breathing is another simple meditative pranayam you can do before bed. Simply block your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand, and breathe long and deeply through your left nostril. This is soothing and cooling to your system.

I would love to hear about your experience if you practice any of these, especially for 40 or 90 days. Or if you have other favorite nighttime meditations. Please share in the comments section.

Related Articles:

Kundalini Yoga for Sleep, includes yogic lifestyle practices to help with sleep

Sleep, has some kundalini tips and sleep from a yogic point of view

Four Simple Steps to Deep, Dreamless Sleep