Principles of creating a correct personal yoga practice

  • Regularity. If you are a beginner, you need to practice at least 2-3 times a week. If you take yoga classes in a group with a trainer, it is important to learn to practice on your own, too. It is important at the beginning not to try to do your maximum. Give your body and all its structures some time to adapt through consistent, patient, rational practice, applying all the important principles of its composition.
  • Persistence in practice. Remember that it is important to practice thoughtfully and methodically, without haste. At first, your practice can be mechanical, and thoughtfulness will come later. Do not panic, do not expect immediate results, everything has its time. If you are persistent in your practice, the result will surely come.
  • Keep in mind that your condition changes from day to day and your practice will change based on your condition. One day you are active, full of energy, the body enjoys every movement or impulse. On another day, it barely moves, is inert and unresponsive. Accept this fact. Relax. It is quite normal. Just be flexible and adapt.
  • Apply the 1st principle of yoga – the principle of nonviolence, not causing harm or pain to your body. The practice of asanas should not harm the body. If, due to the physiological characteristics (diseases, injuries, etc.) of your body, you cannot perform certain poses and their variants, then you should not perform them at all or you should perform easier variations of these poses. But you should study and familiarize yourself with them.
  • Listen to your body. Avoid destructive pain
  • If something does begin to ache, let this area alone for a while. For trying to be “like everyone else” or “better than everyone else” and work through pain is an incorrect practice. Pay attention to other areas. After all, there is always something to work on. Only you are responsible for your health. The coach only gives instructions, it is you who uses it.
  • Apply the 2nd principle of yoga – the principle of efficiency. Do not force the practice. It doesn’t make sense to move on to complex variations if the body hasn’t worked out the easy ones. It is the body that should be ready and let you practice the complex variations. You should not let your mind force you into this or that form. It makes no sense, and moreover, it is harmful to start practicing certain asanas if your body, for some reason (due to the peculiarities of your physical body or its condition at the moment), cannot perform them.
  • Never compensate for the lack of 100% capability of one area of ​​the body with another. For example, do not hold the asana with the lower back if it is the thoracic spine that should be engaged (Ushtrasana, Bhujangasana), or the center (Chaturanga, Virabhadrasana in balance). Do not enter Padmasana twisting the knee joint whereas it is hip joints that should work there.
  • Relax the muscles “unnecessary” in the asana, the ones that are not involved in maintaining the pose, up to the muscles of the face and limbs.
  • Remember safety precautions:
  1. Always maintain space for movement in asanas by stretching the spine. Before each twisting, arching or bending of the spine, it is necessary to stretch it.
  2. Take care of your lower back. There should be no compression or excessive bends in it.
  3. Take care of your neck. Do not throw your head back, always leave room for movement.
  4. The kneecap should not be overloaded. The knee joint will experience a destructive load if the angle between the calf and the thigh is sharp (in standing poses). The knee and the toes should face the same direction.
  5. Take care of your wrists. Distribute your body weight evenly over the entire palm, spreading your fingers.
  6. Do not let the “tail wag the dog” – the impulse of amplification and movement should come from the center.
  • Pay attention to your breathing during the practice, both when entering/exiting the asana and while holding it. Stretch your body as you inhale and enter the asana as you exhale. This will remove unnecessary tension and resistance of the body and mind. When holding an asana, breathe calmly, naturally, lengthening and softening the exhalation (Ujjayi).
  • Be guided by the principle of energy – entering and exiting an unfamiliar position should be soft and smooth. Mastering a pose should begin with the simplest version: You allow the body to stay in the version of the pose that it can hold easily, let it gently get used to the pose, get to know it, learn to relax in the position taken. Here you learn to accept your body in its current condition, to let it relax in those versions of the pose, which the body can do freely and naturally.
  • Know your limit. The limit is not a limiter, but rather a starting point of your practice. The body and the brain both need time to adapt to new physical activity. Everyone has their own limit of capabilities at the moment. With practice, this limit will transform. Trying to base your practice on someone else’s limit makes success improbable.
  • Apply the principle of consciousness. It should be done on the basis of the energy method (when the body is warmed up, when it has got used to the pose and learned to relax in a simple version of the pose). We strive for perfection of form and sensations in a pose, by overcoming ourselves, testing the limits of our capabilities, leaving the comfort zone. But be prepared for the fact that leaving the comfort zone, striving for perfection, the body may experience some resistance and tension in the early stages, which will go away with time.
  • Do not perform physical feats on the mat unconsciously (i.e. without knowing your limit and how to go beyond it safely). If you are afraid to do something, then don’t do it. If you are doing something, then do it right (following certain recommendations for taking the asana, so as not to harm your body).
  • Follow the principle of harmony – the balance in combining the principle of energy and the principle of consciousness (relaxation and tension, flexibility and strength, dynamics and statics). Develop yourself harmoniously, strive for a balance of strength and flexibility, tension and relaxation. Don’t just go into a relaxed stretch or forceful tension.
  • Pay special attention to your weak areas. If you have an asymmetry in the body, then you should work even more with the weaker side (e.g. you do 1 approach on the strong side and 2 on the weak side, or hold the asana a little longer).
  • Combine dynamics and statics. Use dynamic asana practice as a warm-up and preparation for static practice.
  • Apply the principle of joy: The background of the practice should always be inspiration and joy from allowing yourself to relax and from overcoming yourself.
  • Quiet the mind chatter. Let your body speak. Listen to it. Let all your attention be absorbed in the sensations of the body. Let your body (rather than your mind) guide you in the asana.
  • Apply the principle of scalability (both while doing a certain pose and in your practice in general) – a gradual, patient and consistent mastering of the pose in several reps.
  • Use the principles of compensation. Hatha yoga practice comprises a wide range of effects on the physical body. In the physiological and anatomical sense, these effects shift the body toward an extreme to a certain degree. Therefore, to balance the system, subsequent compensation is necessary. For example:
  1. Compensation for the muscles: Static (isometric) tension of a muscle is compensated for by its extension, which, depending on the goal, may vary in duration (i.e. if your task is to remove excess muscle tone, then the extension may be equal to or exceed the tension – that’s the principle that the PIR (Post Isometric Relaxation) method works on. However, if you want to strengthen a certain muscle group, then, after tension, the stretching phase should be shorter. If a certain muscle group is difficult to stretch, then it will be competent to lead it to relaxation by affecting it indirectly: by working with the periphery and warming up the adjacent areas of the body. For example, if your task is to relieve tension from the back muscles and cervical spine, this can be achieved through work with the shoulder girdle and hands. Or by tensing antagonistic muscles (for example, after Ardha Navasana, to relax the rectus abdominis muscles and the iliopsoas muscle, Dvi Pada Pithasana (Shoulder Bridge) is performed with contraction of the extensor muscles of the back and gluteal muscles). Note: If you perform a block of asanas, for example, from a backbends series, then it is not necessary to do compensation after each asana, you can do it after completing the entire block. After deep positions (twists, forward bends, backbends), it is important to first bring the body into a neutral position, and then smoothly move on to compensation. 
  2. Compensation for the joints: In order to achieve a comprehensive effect on the joint, its neuro-receptor apparatus and cartilaginous tissue, after working with the joint in any one direction, it should be first brought to a strictly physiological position and then to the opposite one (e.g. extension after flexion, internal rotation after external rotation, etc.) For example, after Upavishtha Konasana, where abduction of the hip occurs in combination with external rotation, compensation can be Gomukhasana with adduction of the hip in combination with the internal rotation of the hip joints, or Virasana (internal rotation). When working with the spinal column, in order to exert a uniform effect on all its components – on all the intervertebral discs, the articular, the ligamentous and the receptor apparatus, extension should be followed by flexion, and vice versa (for example: Sarvangasana – Matsyasana).
  3. Compensation for the autonomic nervous system: In order to return the autonomic system to relative balance, sympathotonic techniques (such as Bhastrika, Kapalabhati, power and dynamic asanas) should be followed by parasympathetic ones (Uddiyana Bandha, Ujjayi with extended exhalation, stretching asanas, Shavasana).
  4. Compensation for the restoration of normal blood gas composition: Hyperventilation techniques with a decrease in the level of CO2 in the blood (Bhastrika) should be followed by kumbhaka (breath retention) during which active muscular work can be performed, which more actively stimulates the production of CO2: Agnisara dhauti kriya, squats while holding the breath, pranic kriyas, the ‘swing’ exercise.
  • There are no perfect asana sequences. First of all, the sequence should be logical. But everything will depend on several factors: your level of training, physiological characteristics, your condition at the moment. When creating a sequence, rely solely on your sensations. Beginners should consider all of these principles.
  • It is important to always finish each practice with general relaxation – Shavasana, in which, first of all, it is important to stop the mind chatter, the mental noise. Don’t train yourself to block this noise, but rather to observe it without being affected by it. Become a light and steady observer. Distraction in the early stages is normal. Just relax and return your attention to the unaffected space within over and over again.

For convenience, all poses can be divided into several groups:

STANDING POSES

SITTING POSES

BENDS AND TWISTS

BACKBENDS

POSES FOR STRENGTHENING THE ABS

ARM BALANCES

INVERTED POSES

SHAVASANA

Your personal hatha yoga practice can take very little time: 15-20 minutes. In order for the sequence to be harmonious, it is advisable to include at least one pose from each group in it. However, if you are limited in time, then you can exclude a certain group of asanas, and perform it the next day. But it is important to remember the principle of asana compensation, as well as the need to warm up the body. Best of all, the body is warmed up by prostration yoga practice and standing poses.

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Hi, I’m Olesya Shanti, an Open Yoga teacher based in Moscow, Russia. I teach 4 types of yoga (hatha, kriya, mantra, pranayama) & meditation, both in English and Russian.

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