What is the best time of the day to do yoga?

When trying anything new, the question always comes up… what’s the BEST practice?  It’s natural to try to research anything before diving in. The same holds when staring a yoga practice (specifically asanas and movement).  What type of classes should I attend? Is hot yoga good for me? Should I go to a class or start at home? Are private yoga lessons worth it?

One of the ones that has come up lately is “when is the best time of day to practice?” The answer is, of course, all the time! Not the answer you were looking for, right? The choice of morning, afternoon, or evening yoga is really up to your preference and how you choose to work in yoga into your daily schedule.   There are definite and recognizable benefits to bringing a yoga practice into your daily routine.  That being said, there are certain types of yoga that usually work better for the different times of day.  

 

Yoga in the Morning:  

Morning yoga can be either a reflection or a kick start for your day ahead.  With either choice, any morning routine should start off with a gentle mediation.  This mediation can last anywhere from 1-2 minutes or can be a longer meditation session if you choose.  Mediation in the morning allows the body to wake up gradually and allows the mind to settle into a waking state.  It is also a perfect time to set an intention for your day. After sitting quietly for a time, you can begin to start moving.  This movement can either be simply gentle stretches if you would like to wake up gently or it can be a more lively practice.

Yoga in the Afternoon:

Afternoons are frequently a time for a lull in activity.  An uplifting and invigorating practice is usually the best at this time of day. Many times a short invigorating yoga practice will wake you up enough to finish your day. Although, if you have had a challenging day and are already amped up a seated meditation might focus you better to tackle the projects ahead.  

Yoga in the Evening:  

Evening practices that involve movement should be finished at least an hour before your actual bedtime.  Even restorative practices can wake up the body and the mind enough to disrupt sleep. The only pose beneficial immediately before bed would be legs up the wall or a variation of yoga nidra or yogic sleep.  

This advice, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt.  You will want to practice the different types of yoga according to your daily cycle.  The most important thing for yoga at ANY time of the day is to listen to your body.  If you are creakier in the morning, maybe a yin practice with longer holds is what is going to work best.  If an afternoon practice lends itself to more mediation and less movement, let that happen. If you happen to need a vigorous practice later in the evening, don’t shy away just because of the time of day.  Make sure you are allowing your body to find the normal rhythm that is necessary for a good day or a good night’s sleep.

Hot or Not: What is the best way to practice?

I am asked this question all the time… is hot yoga good for you?  With the prevalence of hot yoga studios popping up all over the place, it really is a great question to ask.  The last thing I want is for any of my students to walk out of a class in which they have stretched beyond where they are comfortable and cause themselves lasting injury.  The result is detrimental, not only for your body at the moment (and until you recover), but it may turn you off on yoga entirely.  I like to say there are two ways of practicing yoga… safe and not safe. We want you to practice safely, whether that means taking a step back or adapting a pose to your own individual ability.  

So… Is hot yoga good for you?  Yes… and no. Like all answers having to do with exercise and mind/body techniques, the answer is not so simple.  First, let’s look at the benefits.

Hot yoga definitely has its advantages.  

  • Hot yoga classes allow you to get into the deeper muscles that may not be accessible in a non-warmed class.  In the Vinyasa Style practice (the tradition in which I was trained) you naturally warm the body up with a series of sun salutations designed to create heat within the body.  This heat allows you to find deeper stretches and release in the deeper areas of the muscles. This is why you will usually start off with Sun Salutations in a Vinyasa Style class and then move into longer holds or more difficult poses.  This type of heat is essential to deepening your yoga practice.

 

  • In a hot yoga class, you can start with warmed muscles and experience a longer period of heated stretches designed to give your body more release instead of flowing through a series of vinyasa sequences to naturally warm up the body in a non-warmed studio.  This allows you to be more in that sweet period of release for a longer period of time – perfect if you only have forty-five minutes to practice rather than an hour and a half.

 

  • WINTER CLASSES!!! There is nothing better for my yoga practice than stepping out of the snowy weather to a warmed yoga room.  It’s like summertime in a bottle. I feel lighter and any seasonal affective disorder melts away as I settle onto my mat.

 

There are also several things to be cautious about when attending hot yoga classes.  

  • Hot yoga classes have the potential to cause lasting injury.  In order to get the most out of a hot yoga practice you need to already know where your natural edge is (the extent of your muscles in a non-hot stretch).  Hot yoga allows you to go the extra 10% that you couldn’t if your muscles were not already warm. If you aren’t aware of where that natural edge is, you could end up going an extra 30% over that limit and cause lasting injury to yourself.  

 

  • Certain conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy, and the intake of certain medicines may cause you to feel light-headed during a hot yoga practice.  For each of the circumstances above, I strongly recommend staying away from hot yoga classes until you get a doctor’s ok. Unheated yoga classes can still build heat, but in a safer and more supportive way for a variety of conditions.  

 

  • Hot yoga temperatures can vary greatly.  While I like to step into a good heated room (around 80 degrees) in the winter, I can’t breathe in a class where the temperature is set to 100 degrees or more.  I barely enjoy non-heated yoga when the temperature gets to be 100 degrees plus humidity. Add in the humidity of a heated yoga studio with lots of people sweating and the temperature feels more like 120 degrees.  I personally have a history of asthma and attending this type of yoga class doesn’t support my practice.

 

Ultimately, your practice is your own.  Whether hot yoga supports your practice is something you will want to discover for yourself.  My advice has always been to establish a non-hot yoga practice to find a good baseline of where your natural stretch exists.  That way if you do want to find yourself in a hot yoga class, you aren’t going too far over that natural edge. Safe is always the best way to practice.  

 

What do you think of hot yoga?  Let me know in the comments.

How to keep up a yoga practice during the summer months

If you are anything like me, when the weather warms up and outdoor activities are more accessible (especially with two small kids – the snowsuit struggle is real) I fall out of my yoga routine. Early mornings spent at a yoga class get replaced with watering the garden or just hanging out and enjoying the warmer weather. Evenings or weekends get filled with other fun activities that take you outside. And then there is the heat. Who wants to get all sweaty in a yoga class when you can do that standing still? Here are some tips and tricks to keep up your yoga practice no matter what you have going on.

Have a plan.                        “An unexamined life is not worth living.” ~Plato~

When deciding on how to incorporate yoga into your busy schedule it’s important to recognize what works for you. If morning yoga isn’t your thing, then creating a schedule where you get up at 4am to practice isn’t going to have lasting power. If schedules aren’t your thing, make a goal to work in 2-3 times a week to hit the mat whenever you can. If you have 15 minutes to yourself, you can break out the mat and get some quick stretches in which will not only make you feel better about how you feel physically but can be a quick mental break to all that activity.

Find fun classes

In the summer there are all sorts of interesting classes that aren’t available during the winter months.  SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) Yoga is a great option and can be found at different locations around  Madison. Outdoor yoga is another great option. You can either join a class outdoors (check out my  Meetup group Madison Outdoor Yoga for more info on FREE outdoor yoga) or you can just grab a mat and head to a park. Many studios also offer different workshops and additional classes when the weather warms up, so check out your local studio or your favorite teacher’s website to see when and where they have special events planned.

Switch it up!

Depending on your yoga journey, you may not want the same type of yoga practice you had in the winter. Practice times may become shorter and may consist of a more free-flowing yoga rather than the Yin or Slow Flow yoga you were practicing in the winter. Maybe you want to focus more on your meditation practice rather than work on arm balances. Listen to your body and your mind to know when and where yoga will work into your busy summer schedule.

Don’t be so hard on yourself

When working yoga into your busy schedule, don’t beat yourself up for taking a day or even a week off. It’s important that you find the balance associated with yoga on and off the mat to really bring yoga into your everyday life. If you are constantly seeing your yoga practice as a burden you won’t find the relief that comes from getting on your mat, quieting your mind, and tuning into that authentic self.

What is the hardest Yoga pose?

For many people, they think that the hardest yoga pose is the one where some thin, blonde, model-y type person has managed to twist themselves around so that you can’t even identify how it could be accomplished.  

Clear your mind of that image because…for each person their “hardest” yoga pose is the one that challenges them the most.  For some people that may indeed be a pretzel-y pose where they need to work months if not years to stretch the correct combination of muscles to be able to successfully balance on one hand while holding their foot with their other hand.  Please don’t ask me to find a picture of that.    Just as a personal intention for your practice or a single class is different for each person or a life-goal is different for each person, your own hardest yoga pose is very individual.  

For me, the hardest yoga pose changes.  I’m currently working on arm balances, because I hate that I can’t do them.  I have worked for years to feel comfortable with my skinny wrists and to embrace their strength.  For me, this is what my hardest pose is now.  For many years it was hand to big toe pose.  I wanted that strength and stability that I saw in that pose.  Once I was able to accomplish it, you will find me doing that in my kitchen… just because I can.  

For others who are just starting yoga, savasana may be their hardest pose.  Just lie there.  Relax all your muscles.  Resist the urge to move.  These instructions to someone who is very animated or anxious may seem like a death sentence the first time they get into savasana.   It’s easy to spot these people, and I sincerely try to find a good balance when I am teaching to make the pose long enough for the people who love it and short enough for the people who find it challenging.   

 


For those of you still needing some help finding your “hardest pose”, the way to find it lies in the following questions:

  1. What challenges you?  If that challenge is to sit still, then maybe a long yin hold is where your challenge lies.  If it is a challenge to see your own strength, then maybe a balancing pose (not necessarily arm balances) may be your challenge.  Maybe it has been your goal to touch your toes, so maybe a deep forward bend is your challenge.
  1. What is your weakness?  Now weakness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does show you where you need strength.  This can be both physical weakness and mental weakness.  If you find that sitting still for more than 5 seconds is torture, maybe a meditation practice is where you need to focus your challenge.  For me, my skinny wrists prompted me to find several poses where I could build that strength.  

 

  1. How do you identify yourself?  One of the best ways to find where you need to challenge yourself is to challenge the labels you put upon yourself.  If you strongly identify with being a certain age, then maybe your hardest pose should be one that makes you feel young.  Maybe you identify yourself as strong and sturdy, then maybe you need to find a pose that makes you feel vulnerable.  That is your challenge.  

Long story short… find your own challenging yoga pose.  For inspiration, check out the various poses on Yoga Journal’s pose page.  Find something that looks fun or challenging to you and research how to build the strength or the flexibility to make that pose your own.  As always if you have questions or want help to find a challenging pose for your yoga journey, reach out to me at 831yoga@gmail.com and I will be happy to discuss it with you and how you can get there.  

Private Yoga Lessons – What you need to know

For many people, going to a yoga class is a special treat – reserved for those times where you need to take care of yourself and get out of the house.  Once you set up on your mat, you realize how much better you feel after stretching your body.  Often this leads to other questions about how to keep this feeling after you step off your mat or how to find time for yoga in your everyday life.  Private lessons are a perfect way to begin this journey.  

Why you should schedule a private yoga lesson…

  1. Experience / comfortability:  Private lessons are perfect for those students that are just beginning their journey.  Many studios offer 101 classes, but this can be overwhelming if you are nervous about being in a class with other students.  If you are nervous around other people, the full benefits of the yoga practice might get lost in the anxiety.  Getting comfortable with both yoga etiquette and basic poses can allow you to enter any yoga class with confidence, even if you aren’t at a familiar studio or even if you are in a brand new city.  Yoga etiquette and poses translate all over the country.  
  2. Personal Goals vs overall stretching:  When heading to a yoga class you are on the instructor’s class plan.  The class will be geared towards an overall stretch or a peak pose of the instructor’s choosing.  While this is wonderful experience and gives great benefits, a private practice can give you the opportunity to discuss with your instructor your personal goals both physically and mentally.  Often in a private lesson, the instructor can create a personal class to focus on your needs and your problem areas (arthritis, back injury, flexibility, etc.).  I have personally taught standing yoga classes as well as chair yoga classes that are geared towards what the student needs to work on while recognizing their limitations.  
  3. Cultivating a Personal Practice:  Private lessons are a perfect way to cultivate a personal practice either in a group setting or in a home practice.  A one on one setting is the perfect way to craft a home practice routine designed with your own goals and problem areas in mind.  Back issues, maybe your home practice should focus on forward bends and restorative poses.  Arthritis in your hands, maybe it should start with seated hand stretches and breathing.  In a private yoga session, 
  4. In Depth Study:  Private Yoga lessons should not just be considered for the beginner yogi.  For the advanced practitioner, private yoga lessons can help you deepen and strengthen your yoga practice in ways a group class may not be able to offer.  If you are working with a certified Yoga instructor (registered with the Yoga Alliance), they are required to learn about all 8 limbs of yoga – not just asanas.  Depending on their focus of study and training heritage, a trained yoga instructor can offer a wealth of knowledge about Ayurveda, aromatherapy, or advanced yoga poses.

Common Questions:

  1. Who should you seek out for Private Lessons?  When looking for an instructor for a private yoga lesson, look for someone who speaks to your style and what you want to learn.  If you are preoccupied with the yoga instructor’s music or tone of voice you won’t get much benefit of a one on one with that instructor.  Many students seek out someone who has offered them good advice or given them an “ah –ha” moment in a group class.  If advancing your practice you should seek out someone who is trained in the area you wish to explore.  Most instructors will have a focus of study and can offer a wealth of knowledge in a private setting.  
  2. Should I do at home lessons or go to the instructor’s studio for a private?  When deciding on a yoga instructor for a private lesson it is important to discuss setting.  There are usually two options when deciding on a location for a yoga private.  Some instructors will be associated with a studio where they can book the studio for a private lesson during off-class times.  Other times it may be more convenient for you or the instructor to come to a location of your choosing (often your home or the instructor’s home).  There are a couple different factors you want to consider when choosing a location.  
    1. Time – Private lessons at a studio will be restricted to off-class times.  Lessons at home can be scheduled when both of your schedules permit.  If you don’t have an instructor in mind, you can also contact a yoga studio to set up a private lesson with an instructor that fits to your timeline.  Many studios will be able to accommodate your request and be able to suggest a teacher for the time you request that will be a good fit for your needs.  
    2. Props – Private lessons in a studio will usually have free reign of any props that the studio has for regular classes – giving you more options if you are working with an injury or want to try out various modifications.  Private lessons at home are restricted to any props that either you or the instructor have for personal use – which can be beneficial if you are cultivating a home practice and need to see what you can use in a home setting.
    3. Location – Time in a studio will provide ample space and usually a good solid working surface for yoga.  A private practice at home may require you to move furniture or find room in a location not usually dedicated to laying out a mat and/or balancing.  If a home practice is your goal, the instructor can suggest areas in your home that may work the best with minimal rearrangement.  
  3. What do I need to know before setting up a private?  There is really nothing you need to know before setting up a yoga private.  It is beneficial to tell the instructor whether you would like additional time before the lesson to talk about your particular goals and limitations.  Usually the instructor will allot a small amount of time at the beginning for this purpose, but if you would like a more in-depth talk then you should let them know beforehand.  Sometimes a get-to-know-you session is best in this type of situation and can be set up to meet in a lounge area rather than on a mat.  
  4. How do I prepare for a yoga private?  Like any new experience, come with an open mind and don’t be afraid to speak up about what you need.  The instructor is just as curious to know about how they can help you as you are to learn.  A good instructor will take the time to evaluate your needs and goals before suggesting exercises, but only you know your body and how certain poses make you feel.  It is important to work with your instructor and make known anything that makes you uncomfortable.  The goal for both of you is a safe and enjoyable yoga experience.  

 

More questions?  Interested in what a yoga private can do for you?  

Space?

5 elements

For the past several weeks I have been speaking about space in my classes.  This subject first came to me while feeling very claustrophobic in my own life.  A little background with me.  I don’t hide my emotions easily.  If I’m sad… I LOOK sad.  If I’m happy… I am the bubbliest thing on earth.  My class themes usually come from a very personal place in my life.  I usually try to bring either what I need in my own life or what the people around me are struggling with to my students.  For example, if I am feeling very child-like I teach a class on finding your playfulness on the mat.  If various people around me are dealing with loss – I try to bring compassion and acceptance of emotions into my class.

So back to space.  This is such a complex subject in yoga.  There are so many ways to find space: physically, psychologically, mentally, spatially, metaphysically, etc.  So now we are going on 6 weeks talking about space.  Seriously.  First we started out very basic and brought space in our bodies through stretching and expanding through the breath.  From there we have explored space for our yoga practice, space to be unique, space to be exactly who you want to be, and space to be in the present moment.

Whew!  Is it sad I think that space is pretty awesome?  There are so many ways that space can come into our yoga practice and into our lives.  Every time I think that I’m running out of space to talk about space (yes, I meant to do that), I come up with another way that space can come into our lives.  From the moment we wake up we are creating space; space in the world for ourselves and our ideas our personalities and our voices.  There is no way to avoid creating space.  So… in that inevitability, shouldn’t we be mindful about creating our spaces?  Shouldn’t we care about what we put out into the world because eventually whatever we put out there comes right back to us?

Today I challenge you to choose one aspect of space (see list of suggestions below).  Take a WHOLE day – from the moment you wake up to the moment you finally curl up for the night – and think about that space.  Make those conscious choices.  Choose what type of space you put out there.  See how that affects the space of those around you.  Just this day. Just this moment.  Create your space.

Examples of SPACE:

  1. Space in the body from stretching (muscles and subtle body space)
  2. Space created in the body from the breath (prana).  Where does the breath go? How deep is the breath? Etc.
  3. Space for your yoga practice at home (asanas, meditation, etc.)
  4. Space for your yoga  practice in your everyday activities
  5. Space for creating your creativity
  6. Space for your childlike aspects (curiosity, looking at life with fresh eyes)
  7. Creating space for your personality in your yoga practice (dancing to music, paying attention to transitions)
  8. Creating space to be silent

You see where I’m going with this, right?  So try it out.  Think more 8 full limbs of yoga rather that just asanas/ poses.  Let me know what you think.  How does being mindful of space affect you?

When did we stop feeling comfortable in our own skin?

This wonderful video was the source of my inspiration for my latest class.  My question to my own class was… “What popped into your head when I asked the question, ‘What one thing would you change about your body?’… “What would your “kid” answer be?”  Realizing the things we would change about our bodies brings a new realization that we, as yogis, need to accept those parts of us that we see as flaws.  When did that idea of our own perfection leave our minds and our distinguishing features become our flaws?  I encouraged everyone to think of their ‘kid’ answers and to let that acceptance and love of self follow them throughout the day/week/month.

Watch the video for yourself and think about your own answers.