Written by Shay Sinclair | @shaysinclair
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If you’re like most people, your yoga practice is one of the high points in your day.
Even when you’re juggling groceries and work and what to make for dinner, even when you struggle to let go of the day and surrender to your practice, you probably finish with a feeling of grounded peace which seemed impossible when you began.
There doesn’t need to be a barrier between your life and your yoga practice.
After a decade as a yogi, I chose to deepen my practice in an effort to chase that post-yoga high. Instead, I found that I could only achieve my goals through re-working my life.
It wasn’t difficult, and it didn’t have a high cost in time or money. (I’ve spent $100 on this project, not including food, but you can start with what you already own.)
Here’s how I did it, and how you can too.
1. Build a meditation space
Creating a meditation space makes room for mindfulness in your home and your life.
All it takes is an empty corner, somewhere to sit, and objects of delight for each of your senses.
For example, my meditation space consists of:
- A zafu (a round Japanese buckwheat meditation pillow; you can use whatever works best for you)
- A low table for my meditation objects
- An African violet
- Chimes (for the sense of hearing)
- An aromatherapy diffuser (for the sense of smell; you can use incense or a scented candle)
- Candles (for focus and the sense of sight)
- Gemstone meditation beads I strung myself (for the sense of touch)
- A screen I can put up around my space whenever I feel the need
After meditation, I also treat myself to tea as a gift to my sense of taste.
Not including tea, the set-up cost me under $100. Considering I use my space daily, it was well worth the investment.
However, it’s completely possible to set up a meditation space with what you already have to hand. Consider starting with nothing but a tea light, a bedside table, and an ordinary pillow. Add objects you already own to cultivate a sense of pleasure and peace.
2. …And then meditate!
It’s so easy to begin with good intentions, then fail to follow through. Although having the physical space to meditate encourages action, you have to make a choice every day to embrace meditation’s benefits and gifts.
Part of the problem is sometimes finding the style of meditation which suits your spirit most.
Trāṭaka, or gazing meditation, is a good place to start if you’ve never tried before. One of the most traditional forms of meditation, it consists of gazing at an image or object (I like using candles) for an extended period before closing your eyes and continuing to hold the picture in your mind.
However, there are hundreds of meditation traditions to learn from if trāṭaka doesn’t work for you. Ask at your yoga studio; they may offer classes, or know of somewhere which does. (Meditation classes are particularly helpful if you struggle with an attention disorder, as your teacher will be able to offer personalised advice.)
For parents or anyone else who finds it difficult to incorporate meditation into their busy life, consider these tips:
- Find “empty” moments in your life and utilize them. For some people it will be their drive to work, while others might only ever be alone for a five-minute shower every day. Work within your life, not against it. Speak with an instructor to help adapt meditation to your needs.
- If you have older children or teenagers, invite them into your meditation practice. Help them create their own meditation spaces with their own unique mindfulness By opening your practice to them, they may be more understanding of your space.
- Remember that meditation is a crucial part of your life. Own it, and feel no shame for these moments you “spend” on yourself.
- However, if you’ve tried and failed to find the time to meditate, don’t hesitate to put it aside for now. It will be there to return to when you can. Focus instead on mindfulness and other practices which decrease stress in your life instead of adding to it.
3. Stay mindful
Mindfulness is a lifelong practice and a daily choice. Think of the soft focus you reach towards during yoga practice, then try to cultivate that from moment to moment.
One option is to designate something you do regularly as your “key.” Every time you climb a set of stairs or open a door, remind yourself to take a deep breath and experience your own self, body, and life as you do.
It’s alright if you forget; it only reminds you how often you allow yourself to dwell in dreams.
4. Honour the power of ritual in your life
What are your rituals?
We all have them: what we do when we wake up, what we do before we sleep. Whether conscious or unconscious, these rituals have power over us.
Give respect to those daily repetitions which bring you peace. Ritual is one of the oldest ways of changing consciousness, moving us from stress to serenity.
Here are some examples of empowering rituals you can incorporate into your busy daily life:
- Turning off all electronics thirty minutes before bed, then relaxing with a cup of tea in the quiet dark
- Greeting the day with sun salutations in your pajamas each morning
- Reciting a brief mantra, poem, or prayer before taking any supplements or medication
- Creating call-and-response good-nights with your children or partner (these need not be complex; as a child and now as an adult, my mother and I always said goodnight with “I’ll see you in the morning,” echoed by “I know”)
Experiment with your rituals. When we have signposts set up throughout our day, we’re given the opportunity to explore.
Like many of you, I always intend to breathe properly, but as the day goes on I find myself breathing high and tight in my chest.
You can achieve proper breathing in three steps:
- Find a comfortable posture which balances your spine and opens your chest
- Inhale slowly through your nose, focusing on “filling your belly” first; your stomach should move before your chest does
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting your body relax around it naturally instead of forcing the air out
Let go of expectation, and watch yourself with loving acceptance. Whenever you remember, try to breathe properly. Feel how it draws up prana (or breath as a life force) through your body, awakening and grounding you.
Gently remind yourself of how good it feels, and what a difference it makes to your mood. You might not always remember, but as time goes on you may find yourself breathing with deep calm more often than before.
Before you move onto the next step, try this exercise while implementing the proper breathing described above:
- Inhale for a count of six
- Hold your breath for a count of six
- Exhale for a count of six
- Hold your breath for a count of six
If you find a six-count too difficult or easy, adjust for your personal needs. The important aspect of this “square breath” is to keep all parts of it in harmony. This breath exercise can be utilized at any time you need to quiet your thoughts and anxiety.
6. Seek out sunlight
Modern life shuts us inside, and fear of sun damage keeps us safely in the shade.
We were born to live in the sun. Stay safe, but make sure that you step out into the light at least once a day, or more often during autumn and winter.
Sunlight aligns your sleeping patterns, provides vitamin D, and raises your mood. Bathe in it.
7. Connect with nature
If you’ve never practiced yoga in a natural setting, go out and do it now. (Right now, if the weather holds. This article will still be here when you return.)
For the same reason that outdoor yoga offers something to us which is unavailable indoors, experiencing nature in our daily lives is a critical step in our journey towards a deeper practice and a more rewarding life.
Hiking and walking in natural settings – particularly mindfulness walks done in silence – are excellent if you have the time, but you can start smaller than that. Here are a few ways to get started:
- Learn the names of the birds and the plants in your neighborhood
- Grow a plant outdoors, even if it’s just a pot of lavender on your balcony
- Recognize the signals of the changing seasons
- Walk, don’t drive, if your destination is close enough
We are a part of nature. You don’t have to explore the wilderness to experience it.
8. Follow your natural rhythms
Just as you learn the rhythms of the plants and animals around you, you must also learn your rhythms.
When do you need to sleep? Eat? Rest? Work? Play?
These are vital questions, and ones which our culture attempts to fit into a routine: eight hours of sleep, then working from 9 until 5.
Begin with a log of your sleep habits, recording your hours of sleep and how you felt the next day. Once you get into that routine, also make similar notes on when you eat, as well as when you feel most and least energized to work.
Take these notes for a month, then analyze them.
Create space to understand what works best for you, and try to integrate those rhythms into your life.
9. Drink water
It’s that simple.
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty before you reach for a glass, but don’t force yourself to drink more than is comfortable either.
Just keep a glass close to you, and gently remind yourself of it often. You’ll naturally begin to keep yourself properly hydrated.
10. Eat the way your body needs
Like the other rhythms of our body, it takes time and space to understand what way of eating our body desires.
If listening to your body is new to you, keeping a journal might help. (You might want to incorporate it into your daily rhythms journal.)
How do you feel when you eat certain foods? Do you do better with three solid meals a day, or eating more often in smaller portions?
Educating yourself on nutrition is never a bad idea, but don’t surrender your needs to someone else’s advice. Eat in a way which leaves you feeling satisfied, energetic, and at peace.
11. Eat unprocessed food
Real, unprocessed food nourishes us. No matter what your diet looks like, real food (the kind that is still recognizable as something natural) should form the bulk of it.
If you’re unable to make it to a farmer’s market (few people are!), try shopping the edge of your supermarket while avoiding most of the isles: this is where you’ll find what is right for your body. (Frozen vegetables and fruits are also excellent and unprocessed, particularly for foods which are out of season.)
There isn’t room here to go into detail about nutrition, but a focus on unprocessed food constitutes the backbone of every healthy diet.
As Michael Pollan wrote: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (By “food” he means “real food” in this context.)
If you follow these rules, everything else you do with your diet is just a garnish.
12. Feed your mind
Do you nourish your mind as often as you feed your belly?
All the mindfulness and yogic breathing in the world will do little for your life if you only fill your thoughts with your Facebook feed.
As children, we are excited to learn about the world around us. It’s possible to return to this vital place of being.
Here are some ways to achieve this even in a busy life:
- Visit your local library regularly, visiting a new section each time
- Download non-fiction books onto your phone and dip into them when you’re standing in line or waiting at the doctor’s office
- Subscribe to a magazine or blog which suits your interests
- Sign up for a community class on a subject you know next-to-nothing about
Abhasan is the power of creation or the feeling of having formed something which can be touched or experienced.
If you’re already a creator of some kind, if you’re a crafter or a poet, you’ve experienced this already.
If you don’t think you’re capable of creation, you’ve experience this feeling anyway. Think about the first time you were going about your daily life and noticed the difference your yoga practice had made in your strength, flexibility, or peace of mind: that was a form of abhasan.
Do something with your mind and your hands: write, knit, garden, draw, or colour. Create, and grow to see yourself as a creator. Understand that perfection isn’t the goal, but the act of creation itself.
14. Find your drishti
You may have heard the term drishti in your yoga practice: it means a focused gaze. Nabi Chakra Drishti, for example, is focusing your gaze on the navel as seen in downward facing dog.
It’s possible to take the concept of drishti from your practice and apply it to all areas of your being.
Where is your focus in life?
Where are you looking today? Tomorrow?
I know that my focus regularly wanders, often towards subjects which do not improve my life. Yours probably does too.
That’s okay! It’s natural to lose focus sometimes, but we have to be brave enough to acknowledge that before we begin to look back towards what matters to us.
15. Surround yourself only with what brings you joy
In the 19th century, William Morris wrote: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
In the 21st century, Marie Kondō wrote: “Keep only those things that speak to your heart."
These ideas are equally valid in our homes and our lives.
Filling your life with joy is a lifelong process. Begin it today.
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