Creating your ideal yoga practice

Creation requires an overcoming of the initial resistance we all feel to change. I am very familiar with that time-waster called procrastination. Why, since I’ve started this book, I must have re-arranged my wardrobe at least five times, have had endless meaningful chats with the lovely lady who makes my take-away coffees, and have for the first time ever established an impeccable order in my bookshelves! All in order to get away from the actuality of what I have really set out to do – write this book. Giving birth to anything new, especially when we really care about it, brings with it an army of resistance, and can be a very painful process indeed. How then can you cultivate the initiative, confidence and enthusiasm to start designing and doing your ideal yoga practice?

Once I had fully recognised that I’d be better off with an individualised and varying Quantum practice, it still took me a long time to make spontaneous, intelligent and joyful creation in yoga a regular occurrence. I’d hesitantly step onto the mat, having decided that today I will really tune in and see what comes up. Nothing much would come up, except thoughts pertaining to what else I could be doing with my time. So I would either punish myself by rigorously defaulting back to a well-known sequence, or give up and furiously do something else, knowing full well that I’d let myself down. When I had injuries, I would design a whole set of restorative exercises, but hardly ever get around to doing them. Also there always were difficult poses I yearned to master, but I didn’t know how to approach them if they were not part of the sequences I knew by heart.

The first step in changing this pattern was to set myself a time when I would start the practice and fix how long I would spend. This became a sacred time for that day, which no matter what was happening around me, I would spend on the mat.  With regards to the yoga mat, I do sometimes practice without it, but I find that in the encounter of inner resistance it is useful to demarcate a sacred space. There would be days that I would struggle with such fierce demons that I would end up a shaking wreck huddled on my mat. However, I would not leave and the longer I sat with these self-denying thoughts and worked with this body that seemed totally unwilling to cooperate, the more constructive this conversation with myself became. Ultimately I believe that these seemingly “futile” times are just as useful as days when the practice just magically flows. It is just another form of sadhana, and when it comes to spiritual practice, as long as you approach it with an earnest and fervent heart, you are opening to grace.

There are ways however that you can avoid this kind of creative paralysis. 

1) Start gently! Remember that Sublimatio is when you are feeling your way into your body. Cultivate “beginner’s mind”. Allow yourself to be child-like, innocently exploring your being as though it was the very first time. In this way you avoid pre-conceived notions of what you could or should be like and take yourself into the here and now. Santosha, one of Patanjali’s niyamas, is often translated as “contentment”, but to me it really indicates being with what is really there rather than projecting. 

2) Assess what part of your being needs the most attention! Quantum Yoga offers the science of the Ayurvedic doshas as a useful aid in self-healing. Do remember that they co-exist and very often it is not entirely clear which one requires regulating. Nevertheless this system is a great aid in identifying what the overall flavour or tone of your practice should be. 

Vata: You require grounding. You are feeling unstable, flighty, impulsive, and dry, as though the state of warm and powerful stillness you originated from is but a remote memory.

Pitta: You need to chill out and cool down. In the midst of being pre-occupied with what needs to get done and how you will go about doing it, you have forgotten to actually experience the moment. You find it hard to be receptive or contain your passionate feelings, which alternate between anger and joy, which leaves you feeling exhausted. 

Kapha: You feel heavy and find it hard to gather the momentum to actually do something about it. When laziness overcomes you, there is a general sense of stagnation that leads to inertia, toxicity and lack of enthusiasm. 

Respond openly to the impulses you get whilst flowing through your practice. Asana-pranayama are such powerful tools to self-discovery that you may find you have to adjust your focus somewhat as you go along in order to maximise the benefits of that particular session. Nevertheless beware of the mind’s trickery and do not end the practice prematurely unless there is a real risk of injury or an emergency you need to attend to. 

3) Pick a theme! What inspires you today? Is there a peak pose you would like to work towards? Would you like to dedicate your practice to someone, an animal, a plant, an idea? Is there a certain flavour, colour, sentiment or image you feel would be useful to take yourself back to if the monkey-mind wanders? Setting a theme gives you a thread, and although you can be flexible and allow little sub-plots to form in the story of your practice, you always come back to that central theme and in this way integrate all parts into a coherent whole.

4) Play music! If you feel this will support your practice, choose some inspiring tunes to play. Again select it in accordance with what kind of charge you would like to give your practice. Don’t make an empty habit of this though. Many times it may be more appropriate to practice in silence. If you have the luxury of being outdoors in nature, the resonance of natural sounds can also have very beneficial effects. 

5) Be structured! Use the Quantum Grouping and Sequencing laws to systematically carry out a balanced sequence. Intuition and creativity are far more powerful when they are placed in a logical framework that has been prepared through years of research, as well as being derived from empirical knowledge as a result of trial and error. You can try Yoga Society lessons to learn different techniques you can try at home.

Do not linger too long in any one group. We have provided percentages of the time as a suggestion depending on what dosha you are regulating. Naturally these are only vague indications, as you may be preparing the body-mind for a peak posture that requires a certain aspect of the asana that may be particularly inflexible or weak in your body to be released or strengthened. Nevertheless, remember that all groupings will contain asana that allow you to work into these areas. For example, if preparation for deep backbending is what you require, it won’t just be in the Backbends section that you will find what you need. The body-mind must be approached holistically. The reason that you cannot do Eka Pada Shirsasana (the one-legged king pigeon)  may not be the backbend, but where you are bending it from, as well as the hips providing a stable foundation, the shoulders and arm muscles stretching and the heart space opening. All parts of the body must be in accord. This coherence extends to the breath, the intention and the state of mind from which the thought of celebrating this asana emerged. A deep understanding of structure and alignment, the energetic direction, as well as the observation of nature and philosophical underpinnings of that particular asana, will all contribute to its mastery. Ultimate mastery is a merging with the particular asana, the moment when your are no longer practicing it, but you have fully surrendered to its sacred geometry and aligned yourself with the elemental aspect of reality it reveals. It becomes you and that is yoga – union. 

6) Don’t be distracted! What are your priorities? If you view yoga practice simply as Me-time, the moment the going gets tough and you are struggling through and hating every bit of it, it suddenly won’t feel like Me-time anymore and will quickly be replace by another fad. Yoga is not pampering. Regarding a path that leads to the temporary dissolution of the idea of self and a realisation of the Absolute or divine Self as a practice that is me-time, is a contradiction in terms. It will be arduous and you will encounter pain and resistance that will be nothing short of unpleasant. It is therefore much more useful to be clear from the outset that yoga is a commitment to truth. Unpeeling your sublime essence through layers and layers of conditioning will require dedication, skill, faith, discipline, curiosity and a will to live life to its fullest. 

7) Don’t set yourself up for failure! If your goals are realistic, you may be pleasantly surprised. Remember again that the quality of your practice should not be judged by how fancy a set of asana you can perform, but by the level of awareness with which you practice. Often the capacity to fully realise the subtle effects of the simpler asana requires a higher level of concentration and a truly refined approach. 

8) Regular moderate practice is more effective than rare intense bouts. Your body-mind will respond far more favourably to short but regular quality time dedicated to spiritual practice, than infrequent punishing sessions that leave you aching for days. If half an hour is all you can manage, Quantum Yoga provides you with the possibility of a short but balanced and effective practice. It should be noted here though that times of intense immersion, such as going on retreat or just taking a few days off to re-connect, form an important part of most yogi’s path. If these times compliment an otherwise relatively balanced life, you will have found the best way. 

9) Begin by learning the Basic Quantum sequences and practicing them in alternation, choosing to regulate the dosha you know to be most pervasive in your type and present condition most frequently. This will constitute a fully balanced practice. Then introduce variations from other yoga styles, exercise routines or spiritual disciplines you know to be beneficial. Alternatively simply explore the possibility of constructing a sequence from different parts of the 3 Basic Quantum sequences, all the while adhering to the Grouping and Sequencing Laws.  Finally sit down and using the form on the next page, write your own sequence. Refine it with use. Eventually spontaneous creation during the practice will become possible, but just like any other craft, for the best results, you must hone your skill slow and patiently.

10) Aim high! I know this advice seems to contradict no. 7, so allow me to explain what I mean by setting high standards. In my many years of teaching, I have observed that most people particularly in the so–called West, tend to short-change themselves. We come from a culture that celebrates individuality, financial wealth and physical beauty as the ultimate achievements. Yet none of these things pertain to our inner wellbeing, or furthermore to our true spiritual potential that is the same for everyone. To some it may sound radical that I practice because I am after enlightenment in this life-time, that my aim is to be completely free from fear and permanently in touch with the existential bliss that the entire manifest world emanates from. How dare a person be so arrogant as to believe that we can access a level of consciousness that is beyond the ordinary? And that furthermore, every time we do so, we have set another milestone towards not only personal liberation, but universal peace and harmony. How could anyone possibly think that what we do matters so much! 

I know that every breath ever taken matters enormously and that in this intricate web we call our world, grace holds out her open palms at all times to catch anyone who turns to her. Our lives may seem insignificant in comparison with the enormity of the universe, but is it not our awareness of that very universe, which imbues it with relevance? Size dwarves in significance, as we enter the realm of pure consciousness that transcends all limitations of time and space. I humbly challenge you therefore, my dear reader, to entertain the possibility of freedom from the cage the mind can and will put you in if you allow it to. May our spirits meet instead in that infinite sanctuary of stillness and joy to which all yoga practice ultimately but invariably leads.