Move Your Arsana: Five Keys to a Personal Yoga Practice

by Tracey Rich

How many winters have you complained about the dark doldrums, lack of inspiration, and excess winter weight to move around? Spare yourself the flagellation. You’re not alone. But then what seems to be the excuse when it comes to spring, summer and fall and your yoga practice at home seems to be non-existent or uninspired? Having or maintaining a personal practice is a huge challenge for many people. My hope here is to give you some tools, tricks, and inspiration to take one of most loving actions towards yourself by giving you the keys to the door of your personal yoga practice. Getting started might feel like the long walk home but you will never be happier when you arrive on the doorstep to your own power, heart and mind, and step into one of the most valuable parts of your daily life.

Where do I begin, I’m asking myself as I offer you hope of inspiration. And this is what you’ve probably been saying to yourself when peanut butter and chocolate sound like a far better idea than doing yoga when the opportunity arises. Yes? I can only say this because I know this dance so well. Okay, so let’s move our arsana.

You have no time. Let’s begin there. And even though this is not true and often code for I have no idea what to do, we will, for the mind's sake, pretend that this is the case. So, with no time how could one do a practice, right? Wrong. You begin with the idea that you have no time and while your mind is busy congratulating itself on a battle won… you begin by breathing. It is the first breath (use ujjayi, if you will) that bridges our practice and breaks the hold of our mental masturbation. The mind even becomes curious when it hears the sound of the breath and often falls into tandem with the breath’s rhythm, becoming clear and calm. You have just begun your personal yoga practice! It’s that easy. Breathe, with no greater ambition than that. The breath is where your curiosity lies. It is the link to everything about you. It begins to tell you how you are feeling today, what your body is truly asking for in the ways of movement, and it will lead you deeper and deeper in to the day’s practice - body, heart and soul. Even if the clock only gives you ten or fifteen minutes on this particular day, you have spent the kind of time with yourself that no class or teacher can give you.

The first breath will lead you into an array of options. You may decide to sit and practice listening to your breath. You may choose to move into sun salutations with each breath measuring the length of each movement. You may want to lie on your back, and feeling your breath upon the earth, be inspired to release your spine by pulling your knees to your chest and then twisting from side to side. You may decide that you love the feeling of your breath moving into your feet and the power and strength of your legs takes you from triangle position into warrior two, then three, then one, feeling the balance of this dance. There are infinite ways to play when you are on your own turf and listening within. Keep your intention on your breath, not on what you think constitutes a “yoga practice”.

It matters not how you begin. If you like the idea of music to underscore your breath and movement then this could be something you might choose on a given day. If you want to put on a DVD and follow someone else’s flow one day, this might be your perfect flavor. There are numerous great sequences to follow and they provide all kinds of creative ideas and fuel for your personal practice. If you have an interest or intention to work on a particular set of hip openers or split positions you may take out your favorite book and read a few pages all the while letting the long muscles of your legs relax. These large muscles take time and repetition to release. No matter what entrée you choose, your breath and your powers of observation will build a trust that deepens and blossoms in your personal yoga practice.

Initiating your practice is the first step in winning the battle called moving your arsana. Every practice is a self-discovery. It is deeply personal and individual, thus the term personal practice. It does not matter that it compares with group classes; it is something completely unique, driven and inspired by you. Your practice may be of any duration constrained only by outside demands or by your lack of enthusiasm or interest. The cultivation of energy derived by what you discover and explore is a journey worth taking. It is worth the attention required to take that first breath. Once you have these keys then no matter the season, the weight gain, the myriad mind fluctuations, you know that your personal yoga practice is only a breath away. So why not get up now after reading this article, take that last potato chip out of your mouth, imbibe your first breath, and move your arsana.

Sequence suggestions:

Breath sequence:  Sit quietly on a chair or the floor (with hips elevated on a blanket). Using ujjayi pranayama keep your attention on your breath for a 5 to 10 count inhalation and exhalation. Continue this for 10 rounds. Place your attention on the threshold where the inhalation and exhalation exchange. If desired, increase the subtle pause at this breath exchange, letting it extend as long as you feel comfortable.

Salutation sequence: A practice of Sun Salutations A, B, and C in continuous repetition for whatever time or timelessness available to you. Practice with all A salutations first, then move into B, then C  Salutations. Or practice a series of (1) A, (1) B, (1) C and repeat in an endless chain until you feel complete. Modify or delete any salutations as you choose. Finish with Savasana (final relaxation).

Standing sequence: Triangle, Rt.Angle, Extended Rt.Angle, Half Moon, Forward Hero, Hero Balance, and Straddle Fold Twist. Practice each standing pose for a minimum of 5 breaths per side. Let the sequence flow from pose to pose, or try doing the right side of each pose in the sequence first and then follow with the left side of each pose in sequence. This is the standing pose sequence from our Flow Series, Fire, DVD.

Seated sequence: Begin with a few rounds of ujjayi breathing in a comfortable seated position. Move into a simple cross legged spinal twist (R, L). Change into a cross legged seated forward stretch. Change the cross of your legs and repeat. Come into seated half forward fold (R, L), then into full seated spinal twist. Repeat half forward fold (R, L), then come into the cobbler position (first sitting with a straight back, and then folded forward). After the cobbler, pull knees to chest and hug knees, then one last time come into the seated half forward fold (R, L). Follow with reverse plank position then into full seated forward fold. Next pull knees to chest and roll onto your back for a series of rock ‘n rolls. Laying on your back pull your knees to your chest, then move into bent knee spinal twist and lying straight leg spinal twist. Finish sequence by releasing knees to chest again and then take your legs up the wall. Finish with savasana (final relaxation).

*This entire set of sequences can be combined for an extended practice.