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Picking a Yoga Practice to Follow

by Jo Wilkie

Historically speaking, I have not been so good at living in my body, being present in the moment, and/or listening to/following my own wisdom. I’m getting better at this, but I certainly still have my challenges (frosting, anyone?).

I don’t think I’m at all alone in this. Given the rising popularity of mindfulness-based modalities in the West, it seems lots of us are seeking a life that is richer in meaning, that is truly our own. However, we are, in large part, a society disembodied from ourselves, from our innate wisdom and goodness.

Beginning my Yoga practice all those years ago in a college classroom has opened doors and led me down paths that, I hope, have brought me closer to myself. I know they’ve allowed me to live more authentically, to speak my truth more clearly and with more compassion, to be more aware of my own impact on the lives of those around me and the world at large.

I’ve said before that I believe any practice, done with the intention of diving deeper into ourselves, will lead us down the path of insight and help us to become more of who we really are. And, I think different practices have different things to offer at different time in our lives.

In any Yoga class, you will find, generally speaking, props. Tools that allow the student to achieve any given asana more comfortably in order to reap the benefits of the pose. I think practices are the same way. They are tools that help lead us back to ourselves more quickly and with less pain and suffering.

I’ve engaged in many practices over the years. I don’t use all of them on any given day (except my Hatha practice) and really, which one I use depends in large part on listening to what I need in the context of whatever is going on. It’s honestly a paradox. I had to use the tools a lot to be able to hear which one I need most in any given moment. Therefore, my recommendation to you is to choose a practice and stay with it for six weeks. Just one (maybe two if you are feeling ambitious and sassy). To get a feel for what it does for you, how it opens you, what it teaches you.

Top Five practices for clarity, balance, and inner-peace:

1. Yoga (the physical practice): Find a book, get a video, study with a teacher, pick two poses a day and do them. Even one or two poses a day constitutes a practice if it brings you to a place of stillness and being in your body.

2. Meditation: There are so many ways to do this. Take 5 minutes and focus on the natural rise and fall of the in-breath and the out-breath, get a guided meditation CD, hell, daydream for 5 minutes with your eyes closed. Just do it! Sit still with yourself and your thoughts every day.

3. Pranayama: Breathing techniques are an amazing way to cut stress and reduce the chatter in the mind. If you are having trouble meditating, try breathing. If you don’t know any Yogic breathing techniques fantastic and completely worth the money!

3. Give back: Find a way to give back to your community at large. Get outside of your own problems. Find your cause. Selfless service is one of the best ways to feel connected and to generate joy in yourself and in those you help. And this time of year, there are so many opportunities to help.

4. Work with the Yogic Precepts (Yamas and Niyamas): Choose one to work with. Keep it in the forefront of your day and your life. Mull it over, think about it, apply it to your life. Non-violence is a great place to start. You will be amazed how much you learn.

5. Mindfulness: Choose one thing you do every day and pay attention to it 100%. Brushing your teeth, shampooing your hair, eating your breakfast… whatever it is. Continuously bring the attention back to the moment, what you are doing. This is deceptively easy instruction for an incredibly challenging practice.

No matter what you choose, I also recommend getting a journal and writing about it. Take another five minutes out of your day and write about your experience working with whatever practice you choose.

As the New Year, with all it’s promise of change, quickly approaches, you will already be in the thick of becoming more of who you are. Even if you choose a different practice than the ones I suggest above, commit to it for a specified length of time, and be amazed at what you learn and how you change.

So, what’ll it be? Which practice is speaking to you?

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