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How to practice yoga when no-one is looking

by Lorien Roback

A good yoga teacher’s goal is to be made superfluous. We are here to support your practice, not to be your practice.

While live-streamed classes are helpful in sustaining a yoga practice, you can also use this opportunity (especially if you have small people in your life that will jump on you at inopportune times) to set up a personal or family routine, keeping the following points in mind.

Make up your own poses!

Did you know that originally “yoga” was only four seated yoga postures! These are all poses suitable for meditation, because the “steady posture” of yoga was meditation. This means all other postures were made up after the fact. You now have the freedom to make up your own! In my kids’ classes I often challenge kids to make up their own asanas.

It is amazing how children instinctively activate more muscles than are active in traditional postures. Asanas are predominantly taught as forward or backward bending, but we move along four planes: forward/backward; upward/downward; and inward/outward, all of which can also be expressed diagonally. You can consider all yoga postures as ranges of movement that cross these boundaries rather than as static entities. 

Pay attention to posture

Most injuries occur, according to research, in coming out of a posture. This means paying attention how you move into a posture to ensure how you come out of it in the same manner. It does not need to matter what the posture looks like, how does it feel? If you are creating a family practice, as parents pay attention to your teen’s knees and hips, but do not look too hard at younger kids.

It is the activity and intention rather than output. Toddlers may just want to watch what you are doing and spring upon your back when you are least expecting it. This is also learning for them, and for you (to learn to concentrate in adverse conditions.) If you are so young that you have not yet experienced puberty, you do not need to worry about your alignment.

Teens who are growing rapidly need to develop their capacity of proprioception (where their body is in space and in relation to other body parts) in order to keep unstable joints supported. (pregnant women, and those in mid-life too)

Some traditional yoga schools look at the structure of the human body as a skeleton or collection of muscles.  Other traditional schools look at the subtle energy released by these movements, and care more about the energy and feeling arising from creating these shapes than the shape itself. Modern alignment practices look at patterns of movement using fascia, which is the adipose (fat) and connective tissue in the body, which creates chains of movement that often spiral along the limbs, for example.

Exploring the body’s movements

There are many ways to explore the range of movements that your body can create, and none of them are wrong. Certain yogis like Angela Farmer have studied intensely and create new practices to target areas that are in need rather than follow traditional instruction. Most senior teachers that I know, including ones that teach set routines practice like this. I do this. What you need varies, depending on what you have been doing during the day and what time of day it is. 

New research indicates that micro-movements using interoceptive awareness (how things feel on the inside of your body) are just as effective as large movements but are more protective of the joints. So don’t worry about looking like the Instagram models in your own practice. There’s no need for extreme yoga in your living room.

Breathing

More important than any movement is how you use the breath. One half breath for each movement. Usually when you are moving up you breathe in and when you move down you breathe out. The freedom of a home practice is you breathe when it feels natural, not when the teacher tells you to breathe or when the music is on a beat. 

Finally, an essential start and finish to a yoga practice is connection, grounding. I am always paranoid I will relax too long (which is not very relaxing!) so I use a timer to challenge myself to stay still for at least 10 minutes at the end of a practice. There are several apps which are good for this, as well as offering a guided meditation if you like. I prefer Insight Timer, but Calm, Om, Meditation Time, and 100s more options are available. 

So, go on, I dare you! Practice like no-one is looking!

Here’s a video of Angela Farmer’s practice  to encourage your newfound freedom. Do your own thing, take chances to move in new ways using the four directions as a guideline. Happy practicing!

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