Archive for Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yoga offers escape from daily grind

Cut costs, time with home sessions

April 18, 2009

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— Yoga’s gentle, healing nature can alleviate stress. Sitting, lying or standing on a mat forces the body to slow down and moves the brain away from life’s distractions to a point of mental clarity.

“The human brain does not multi-task very well,” says Carlyle Chan, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, Wis. “The people who say they do so are not exactly accurate. When you are at the office and your phone rings, you get distracted. That’s just the way the brain is structured.”

“Yoga focuses the mind on something else and helps you reset,” Chan says. “The more you do it, the more effective it is.”

In today’s frenetic world, where finding time to visit a studio might multiply the stress, an at-home practice could be good medicine.

Before flowing through poses in your living room, take a few classes with a certified yoga instructor. The more confidence you have in the poses and postures, the better chance you’ll be able to focus and practice with safety.

“It’s pretty amazing how one pose, even for five breaths, can shift the way that you feel — a little more grounded, a little lighter — and that you can handle what’s happening better,” says Kate Hanley, a yoga instructor in Brooklyn, N.Y., and author of “The Anytime, Anywhere Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity.” “You’re ... less likely to overreact.”

To ensure you have props for yoga at home, invest in a mat, strap, blocks (either wood or foam) and a thick, woven blanket. Practice in your bare feet and wear comfortable, tighter-fitting clothing. And don’t get hung up on the image of an ideal space.

“Start today. Don’t wait until you have the perfect setting,” says Marietta Pucillo, owner of Yama Yoga in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. “As long as it’s a place to give you peace, it will be OK. Accept that wherever you are today is perfect. That’s the principle of yoga, anyway.”

Here are some ways to create yoga space at home:

Dedicate space

Whether it’s a spare bedroom or a new area that opens up when you move the coffee table, the space should be free of magazines, toys and other clutter. Keep the room’s temperature warm so muscles are completely relaxed. You should be able to reach your arms and legs in all directions and not touch any walls. Linoleum or hardwood flooring is fine if you are on a mat, Pucillo says, but rugs or carpeting is better for postures and sitting poses.

“Your most valued artifacts should surround you,” says Pucillo, such as photos of friends or places. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be all the trappings of yoga itself.”

If you don’t have a dedicated space, fill a basket with the things to guide your practice (candle, mat, blocks and music CDs) that you can take from room to room, Hanley says. “A lot of people are space-challenged, but all you really need is space to roll out your mat.”

Specific time

Instead of just adding “practice yoga” to an evolving to-do list, pick a time of day and stick to it.

Incorporating yoga into your morning routine or bedtime rituals is one option. Not scheduling a time — but showing dedication — works, too.

“Your home practice can kind of grow organically, instead of on a schedule,” Hanley says. “If you get any kind of impulse, go for it, even if it’s just a few stretches.”

While waiting for pasta to boil on the stove, for example, consider this quick exercise. Rest your palms on the countertop edge. Bend forward at the hip and walk your legs back until the body is at a right angle. What this does is stretch out the spine in a “half downward dog,” Hanley says.

“The hardest part is starting from zero,” she says. “Once you’ve done some work, you’re already halfway there. That’s why we call it practice — because it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Virtual instructor

As lovely as it would be to hire a private instructor to drop by every week, that probably isn’t economically feasible.

Many respected yoga instructors such as Rodney Yee and Baron Baptiste lead virtual classes on DVD. Some are filmed in beautiful places such as Hawaii or the Mojave Desert.

Buy a few different videos so you don’t get bored with the same routine. More experienced students of yoga might like an audio CD, such as one by Shiva Rea, to pop into a sound system.

Choose a scent

Tasha Miller, who teaches yoga classes at Delaware House in Bay View, Wis., and Santosh Yoga in Wauwatosa, Wis., lights soy-based candles in lavender or herbal scents while practicing at home.

Decide whether to keep it burning throughout your session. To feel more energized, choose a citrus scent to mark your practice. While it might be tempting to light the same candle as you do while taking a bubble bath or eating dinner, try to select a new scent to associate with your practice.

No distractions

It can be easy, during a downward dog, for example, to notice that a picture hung last week is crooked. Don’t give in to the distraction.

Also, do not have a phone in the room. If the phone can’t be removed, turn off the ringer during your session.

“Dedicate that time — even if it’s only 15 minutes. Say to yourself, ‘This is my time.’ Make it a pact with the people in your house,” Pucillo says, “so that people understand that this is serious to you.

“This is your place, just to escape for a little while.”

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