I first started to commit to doing yoga regularly in my early thirties. I had a break in between jobs and my body was overworked and stressed from months of constant action as a full-time yacht chef in the Mediterranean. So it seemed like the ideal time to get my body relaxed and get on top of the stress. Do you know that feeling? When the muscles in your shoulders are sooo tight that you just can’t let go of them and end up going round with your shoulders next to your ears…
So I decided to start with a book called Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar. I loved this book. It really laid things out for you and put the Sanskrit names of the poses in a list for you to follow. There was the beginner list of poses, and then every week they would change and get more advanced. All the poses had black and white photos of an extremely bendy Indian guy contorting himself into all different shapes. It was fascinating.
I soon started to realise though that it was going to take a lot of effort to interpret exactly what I was meant to be doing, and even then I didn’t really have a clue. Then the following week the poses would change again, and yet again I wouldn’t be clear on what I should be doing.
Should yoga really be this complicated? I asked myself.
It was obvious that this system wasn’t going to work for me. I don’t feel there is actually any need to complicate yoga to this degree unless you want to make a lifetime study out of it.
I’d like to share with you today some of what I have learnt from practising yoga on and off for 15 years, and how to simplify it to fit your needs.
As busy people, we simply do not have the time to spend hours every day fitting our yoga routine in.
What we need is a clear outline of what we need to do to reduce our stress levels and ease the tension in our bodies, to make it easy to get on the mat and feel more confident about it when we do.
For me, this clarity came when I discovered a system of yoga called ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga has a series of poses which stay in the same order every time. The poses can be adapted to fit your level, so even if you’ve never done yoga before it’s easy to learn the initial poses and start practising at home whenever you have time around your busy routine.
Even 3 sessions of 15-minute yoga a week will benefit your mind and body in a big way.
I am a chef, so tense shoulders and back come as part of the job. It’s also mentally tiring having to maintain focus for 9 or 10-hour shifts without much of a break.
So here’s what I do:
When I wake up in the morning I do 15 minutes of yoga before I get washed and dressed. And that’s it.
I literally pull on my leggings and top straight away and get on my mat. Once you are used to the habit of doing this before you do anything else in your day it will become second nature to you and you will most likely miss it when you don’t do it.
What to do when you’re on your mat?
In short sun salutations.
Sun Salutations (aka in Sanskrit: Surya Namaskara)
Every form of yoga has sun salutations as part of its system. There are plenty of amazing teachers online that will show you how, like this one:
The ashtanga yoga system has two variations of the sun salutation, A and B. In the first part of this video series by Purple Valley Yoga Leliah Devi walks you through the first one, sun salutation A, or Surya namaskar A in Sanskrit.
Sun salutation A is a simplified one to get your body to warm up, and sun salutation B contains a couple of extra poses which help to stretch different muscles and intensify the heat. These poses build strength, stamina, and flexibility, and when practised in rhythm with your breathing creates a complete mental relaxation where your body, mind and breath come into alignment.
A good aim is to do five of each type and then sit on your mat cross-legged to do some deep breathing for a few minutes before taking relaxation by lying back on your mat to get your breathing back to normal before continuing with your day.
To learn how to synchronise your breath with the poses it’s best to learn from a teacher. But this is perfectly possible online, especially in the beginning stages.
When I initially started to do Ashtanga yoga I had a printed card of the poses that I found online to help me to remember the right order to practise them in and was lucky enough to have a friend who had newly qualified as an ashtanga teacher who gave me the odd online class every now and then when I was ready to learn the next bit.
It changed my body completely, but maybe even more importantly it changed my mind and made me a calmer person. The lessons that I learned and still learn in my yoga practise about sitting with the feeling and just allowing it help me to deal with stressful situations in other areas of my life in a different way.
My wish is that you too can experience that peace and find a way to incorporate just a little yoga in your life.
Have you ever tried to commit to a yoga practice? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.