November 23, 2011

My nine favourite places to practice asana, pranayama and meditation

Kara-Leah pacticing yoga on a dock

Part of my mission as a yoga teacher and writer is to show people that asana, pranayama and meditation can happen anywhere, anytime – not just in a yoga class, at a yoga studio, in a gym or on your mat at home.

Breaking free of our ideas of how asana, pranayama and meditation “should” be practised gets yoga off the mat and integrates it into your everyday daily life.

And when you integrate your practice into your everyday, daily life, you will see great gains, giant leaps, and experience much joy.

At least, I know I did!

Shifting our mindset in this way means we view every moment as an opportunity – an opportunity to be present, be connected, be open, be yoga.

So here are some of my favourite places to practice asana, pranayama and meditation, at least, these were my favourite places when I originally wrote this article two years ago.

1. On my front deck at sunrise

Our house overlooks Lyall Bay in Wellington, and I love the early morning hours on a still day. The last few weeks, the sky has been streaked red and the cicadas have been relentless in their orchestra of sound. There is something so magical about an always-changing perspective that makes me feel connected to nature and the earth, and makes me feel alive. Sometimes I feel like I can almost see all the way to the South Island.

I use this spot for doing my sadhana, or just for sitting and contemplating the moment.

2. My meditation seat

Because we live in windy Wellington, on a hill with stunning views of the harbour, Kilbirnie and Lyall Bay, we are often visited by the northerly. Fortunately, our garden has many nooks and crannies where one can find peace amongst the wind, and I’ve turned one of these spots into my meditation seat. The wisteria I’ve planted will take a few years to cover the metal frame in place for it to grow on, but when it does, the meditation seat will face a wall of greenery and flowers (instead of the fence between us and our lovely neighbours).

With my back against a grassy bank, New Zealand native plants all around me and a cabbage tree providing shade, this is a delightful place to sink into the moment and just breathe in the smells of the earth – especially after a rainfall.

3. The bath

Our in-progress renovation bathroom hasn’t had a shower since we moved in last August – and while I do sometimes crave the cascading water and immediacy of a shower… it has been so wonderful being “forced” to take daily baths. Sometimes it’s a quick duck in and duck out and leave the water to cool and use elsewhere… sometimes it’s a long luxurious soak.

The hot water seeps into my bones and inspires me to play with leg-lengthening and opening asanas. It’s easy to connect with the breath and just allow the prana to flow through my body, and it’s incredible how many different asana you can do while in the  bath! I love doing asana in water because it’s so supportive and enveloping – baths rock!

4. In rivers

The first time I played with asana in a river I was on a camping holiday with my then-new partner and his sister’s family. I was still at that “afraid of what they’ll think of me” stage, but the draw of the water and the play of the current was so strong I just couldn’t help but let prana guide me into supported backbends. And wow! It was incredible!

Water is buoyant, yet the current is also de-stablising so you feel both supported and safe, but your muscles have to work in new and different ways to hold you in place. Facing down stream and playing with the depth at around my waist, I was able to experiment with standing backbends in a way I’d never felt confident enough to do on my mat. And the first time I was able to see the water rushing behind and below me was a moment of pure expansive joy.

Depending on the depth I was working in, this was also a fabulous way to practice Ustrasana (Camel) and Virabhadrasana I & II (Warrior I & II).

5. On the bus

Part of living yoga is re-framing the way I see everything. When my day job shifted into the office, requiring a 40 minute bus commute either way, I had a choice. I could be pissed off about the wasted time or I could think about a way to use it. As it turns out, being on the bus is an ideal time to meditate. There are no distractions, I can’t go anywhere, I’m already sitting down… of course, you have to be flexible and modify the way you meditate. I’m not sitting in lotus, but I am sitting with a straight spine, and I play with various mudra in the hidden safety of my lap.

My favourite meditation for bus time is “So hum”. All kinds of expressions of humanity show up on the bus, and doing So Hum reminds me that I am Them and They are Me. Yes, my mind wanders, but I continually come back to my breath, inhaling So, exhaling Hum and feeling my connection to the world and to all people. I arrive at work feeling like a million dollars, already having spent forty minutes meditating (on top of what I’m likely to have done on my deck before work).

6. When I’m waiting

Ah, waiting, waiting, waiting. Nothing to do, no-where else to be… might as well clear the mind and practice meditation in the moment. I mean, what else is there to do when one is waiting? Think about stuff? Worry about stuff? Plan stuff? What for? Giving the mind a rest is so delicious, and there is no better time than when you’re waiting.

Doesn’t matter whether I’m in a line at the bank, sitting in a doctor’s office or stuck in traffic, I grab these opportunities as perfect times to just sink into the moment. The beauty of doing this is that I am hardly every worrying about life, thinking about life, or getting anxious about life… I’m moving into a state where I’m generally just living life, being responsive moment by moment. And it rocks!

7. In the middle of arguments, conflicts or disagreements

OK, it may not be a favourite experience to be having, but when my perspective is differing from the perspective of the person I am currently relating to, yoga really starts to come into it’s own. Yoga reminds me to step back and witness the experience. It reminds me not to hold on to what I think is “right”. It reminds me to inhale deeply, opening to what is and listening to what the other person is truly saying.

And yoga reminds me that We are One – we’re one people on one planet working together to find a place where each and everyone of us can be who we truly are. In the middle of an argument, just knowing this is enough to make me step back and think “Hang on, what’s truly going on here?”. It makes me consider the feelings of the person with whom I am having an argument with – and just in opening to their feelings and their perspective I find that I can more easily be responsive – not reactive – and work toward a solution that works for both of us.

8. At the beach, on a mountain, walking in the bush…

No matter where I am in nature, or who I’m with, I always like to take a moment or two to be where I am. This means pausing at the top of a steep hill climb to check out the view in Tadasana and move through a few slow standing back bends and rounded forward bends.  It might mean squatting down into Malasana at the beach to take in the sunset – who knows I’m doing yoga? To an outsider, it just looks like I’m chilling and taking in the view – and I am. But with attention on the breath and presence in the moment, it becomes yoga.

Taking these moments in nature connects me to life and reminds me that we are animals, we are part of the Great Cycle of Life, it reminds me to let go, to trust, to know that all is perfect right now in this moment. Ah…

9. Sitting on the ground anytime

Perfect opportunity! Any time I’m seated on the ground watching something or talking to someone I sit in asana with awareness both of the breath and the object of my attention. I may be in easy cross-legged, or wide-legged, or one knee bent, or hugging a knee… I shift around as I watch or listen, maintaining that dual focus on breath and object. Of course, doing this is makes it far easier to still the mind. I find I’m completely present in the moment, can absorb whatever is in front of me. And by the time I stand up… I’m also looser and freer.

I find too, that whoever I’m listening to, or whatever I’m watching becomes clearer – my mind’s thoughts and reactions drop away and I’m left with just seeing ‘what is’, instead of thinking about ‘what is’.

These are probably the main ways I incorporate yoga, pranayama and meditation into my daily life – but there are more! In this way, yoga has become a moment by moment practice for me. It’s made me realise that in any given moment, we are either opening to life, or we are resisting life. I feel it in my mind, in my body, and in my heart when I resist life and that is where all the trouble, anxiety, worry and anger starts. Yoga reminds me in every moment that I have a choice – I can resist or I can accept. I can contract or I can expand.

Choosing to live yoga means that I chose expansion over contraction.

Expansion of the body.

Expansion of the mind.

Expansion of the heart.

Sp where do you love to practice your yoga?

Have you dared take it off the mat yet?

Me, it’s 7am and I’m off to do my sadhana on my deck and watch the world come alive.

Yeah for yoga!

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