January 3, 2013

Mmmmm, Yoga: 5 Steps to Personalizing Your Practice. ~ Shira Engel

How do you personalize your yoga practice? Let’s use the Ms.


The heart expresses itself through the hands. The most animated—the most alive—people talk with their hands, flailing them about, because their hearts are so full of energy that their hands try to fling that energy into the world. Our hands have their own language for when words are too limited to express what we feel. Mudras are energy seals that transmit feeling and intention into our practice. They also enable us to do the same poses, but add something physically different to them each time. You can add them to any pose that involves a stretch of the arms.

Anjali Mudra

This is the classic “Namaste” mudra (i.e., we bring our hands together in prayer position, traditionally used for setting and reminding of intentions).

Lotus Mudra

This mudra represents blossoming and personal growth. To embody it is to embody the essence of the lotus flower, which grows into a beautiful plant, but only in the murkiest of waters.

Chin Mudra

This mudra is an energy seal intended for those times when we need to conserve energy or harness it for a specific purpose.

Dhyana Mudra

This is the mudra of concentration. It draws the prana inward.

2.  Music

Music is an excellent motivator for a yoga practice. Mixing up the music is a way to not get bored, even when doing the same poses over and over again. It also makes a practice that can sometimes seem foreign to our bodies an integrated part of day-to-day life. Hearing a Top 40 song when in Warrior II just might make the difference between a serious frown and the joyful smile that is the goal of yoga.

Break down the parts of the practice and dissect what music is good for each part. Don’t start off doing cat/cows to Beyoncé, but “Countdown” is a helpful song later on in the practice when you are counting down the number of speedy sun salutations you have left. The practice can be broken down into two phases: solar and lunar.

The solar part of this practice is from the beginning up until the first set of inversions. The lunar practice begins with hip opening and ends with savasana.

There are some mornings when I feel fueled by blasting Ke$ha. “Wake up in the morning feeling like P-Diddy” makes me…wake up in the morning feeling like P-Diddy, or the yoga equivalent—maybe Dharma Mittra or Dana Flynn? Then, there are other mornings where if I did my sun salutes to Ke$ha, I would feel the polar opposite of centered, mornings where I need some peaceful Ani Difranco to rev me up. Maybe your Ke$ha is Eminem and your Ani, Beethoven, but your life, starting with what you listen to on your mat, is worth living with flair, as a moving, dynamic, musical celebration so allow the nada yoga—the yoga of sound—to reflect that.

 3. Mantras

A mantra is what we tell ourselves over and over. It is also what we chant at the beginning of a practice. Chanting is a way to feel completely alive, to feel our sonic effect on the world around us, and to reaffirm why we are dedicating time in our busy days for a yoga practice to begin with.

 4. Mix N’ Match

There are plenty of styles of yoga out there, from Jivamukti to Iyengar. Your job as a divinely unique being, is not to choose between them. It is, rather, to use discernment in creating a practice all your own by combining them. That’s right—you, too, can create your own style of yoga! It will emerge from your personal practice.

 5. Mat

There is a booth at the Wanderlust Festival where you can get a maticure. You tattoo your mat so that, while you stare down at it in a forward fold, you are reminded of why you are in a forward fold to begin with. Is there a deity in this book that stands out to you? Paint it on your mat! Is there a color that makes you happy? Get a mat in that color. Make your mat unmistakably your own, a true expression of who you are and what you want to convey.


Shira Engel is a college student, teacher, yogi, feminist, writer, and sister, and seeks to blend all these aspects of her identity into the daily practice of living. She is a student at Wesleyan University, does handstands as party tricks and is the author of the e-book Yoga U: The College Student’s Tools for Balanced Living.
 Assistant Ed: Edith Lazenby
Ed: Bryonie Wise

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