What is the best time of day to practice Yoga? I feel really stiff in the morning, is it better to practice later on?

Morning is traditionally the time for our Yoga and meditation practices.  A morning practice helps us to set our energies for the day, creating a more peaceful and conscious way of living, and creates a space for Yoga as an integral part of our lives. As Yoga is best practiced on an empty stomach this is a very convenient time as well, and on a completely empty stomach your practice will offer far greater benefits in detoxifying the body.  As well, with the hectic nature of most peoples schedules, when Yoga is practiced in the morning, many students find that the tendency for the urgencies of life to interrupt their practice is greatly reduced.  Certainly our bodies are stiffer in the morning and we cannot always get as “deep” into our postures first thing in the morning, so it seems that an afternoon or evening practice is better. However, our stiffness in the morning can show us where we need to do our work, where we hold tension, where we are overusing muscles, and where our imbalances are.  Therefore, a morning practice helps you to get to know your body, and can assist you in finding a more graceful experience throughout the day.  With all of these factors in mind, I recommend that you enjoy your regular morning practice, but perhaps heat the room a bit to help your body become looser.  And, you may like to add to this a few evening classes where, in the safe hands of your instructor, you can find deeper places to explore your body, without creating or adding to tensions and tightness.

Is it okay to drink water during Yoga?  I went to a class recently where the teacher said not to.

It is best to drink your water before and after your practice rather then during the class.  In Yoga we aim to create an internal heat or “tapas” in the body that helps us to purify our organs and tissues, and assists in warming and loosening our muscles and connective tissue. If we drink water, especially cool water, we dampen that fire or “tapas” and reduce the purifying and lengthening benefits of Yoga. I have found in my own practice that quite often I reach for my water bottle when my mind is restless, or when I am being challenged.  But, if I move into my breath and observe for a few moments, the desire to drink fades and my practice can continue.  If you tend to be quite thirsty during practice, be sure to get well hydrated before your class begins.

Sometimes I’m not sure how far I should stretch, until I just feel it, or until it hurts?
The answer is, neither…or more accurately, in the space between.  In Yoga we call this the “edge”, the space between comfort and discomfort is the best place to experience any pose. If we do not challenge our bodies, they do not improve in strength, flexibility or stamina.  If we overly challenge, we create tension in the moment of the stretch, disrupt the conscious nature of body and breath that we endeavour to enhance during Yoga, and we risk injury.  A good guideline that will enhance your physical and non-physical experience is to feel for a stretch in the muscle itself, but not in the joint.  If you feel tension or pain in the joint, or close to the joint, connective tissue is under stress and could be damaging.  For instance, in a forward fold, feel the stretch in the middle of the hamstrings at the back of the thigh, not in the back of the knee or sitbones.  Learning to “contain” the pose is something that a good instructor and a patient practice will teach you.  Another good guideline is to observe your breath. If your breath is restless or wandering, try deepening the stretch.  If you are struggling to breath, ease off and find a place in the pose where you can maintain your breath consciously.

How many poses should I do every day?

There is no perfect amount of practice, and this depends on what you want to get out of your practice.  A few sun salutations every day can help to maintain your body’s suppleness and doesn’t take a lot of time.  But, for a deeper practice a good variety of movements is important.  Consider having a balance in your practice of the “6 movements of the spine” – bending forward, backward, bending sideways left and right, and rotating left and right.  This will bring your spine into balance and as a result, the whole body.  You can also consider having a balance of standing poses and floor poses, to balance strength/stamina with flexibility/elongation.  And finally, have a balance of doing and not-doing by taking time after your practice to rest in a seated position or in Savasana – lying on your back.  This time is just as important as your time in the “doing” of asanas, and will help you to relax, restore, and receive the benefits of your practice.

What is the best kind of Yoga, Hatha or Ashtanga?

Ashtanga is a style of Yoga that is still considered “Hatha”.  But, in modern Yoga terms, Hatha is usually used to describe a class that uses steady postures with more rest between each pose, while Ashtanga Yoga (or it’s variations of Power, Vinyasa and Flow Yoga) tends to be more dynamic and fluid, with poses flowing from one to the next connecting breath and movement.  What is most important is what method is right for you?  What do you wish to get out of your physical practice?  Are you looking for a hot, dynamic  experience, or are you seeking a quieter more introspective practice?  Do you wish to explore philosophy, technique, chanting, Any form of Yoga can offer great benefits of purifying body and mind, bringing health to all systems, and connecting body, breath, mind and spirit. I recommend you explore a variety of Hatha Yoga styles and teachers and find out what is right for you, right now.  Every teacher offers something different, and finding a teacher that can trust and that can grow with you is important.  And, be flexible, as your needs and interests change, be willing to continue to explore and experiment with styles, teachers, and forms of Yoga.  A few popular styles include: Sivananda, Satyananda, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Power Flow, Yin Yoga, Jivamukti, Anusara, Kripalu, Kundalini, Dru, Oki Yoga, and Iyengar Yoga.

First Published in the Mind Body Messenger Newsletter 2007

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