Yoga is intended to be therapeutic. To create balance, wellbeing and transformation. Humility, curiosity and wonder help us on the way while learning to tune in. To read the signs our physical body, our thoughts and emotions provide. And to transform slowly yet steadily. To still the fluctuations of our mind.
A lot of people start January 1st with an intention, a challenge or try to build a new habit. I was thinking, why not take something you already love (your yoga practice) and just spend some more time on your intention (or focus) for each practice.
Depending on what works best for you, you can use this set-up as a 8-day yoga challenge, journal exercise, or a theme to work with within your yoga practice. Choose whatever motivates you the best and gives you the least resistance.
Because that is also yoga therapy: observing your own patterns and habits and to work with them instead of against them. It doesn’t have to be perfect (hint - it never is anyway). As long as it helps you to find a bit more wellbeing, your approach is wholesome.
You are already whole. Our own yoga practice helps us to become aware of it.
8 day yoga challenge / journal exercise / yoga theme
Day 1. Sankalpa - Set an intention for your yoga practice that helps you to create more balance. Whether physical, mental or spiritual
Include an asana with prayer hands (namaskar) in your yoga practice. Spend some time there while bringing attention to your hands and the energy between your hand palms.
Once you feel grounded in your body, bring your attention to your sankalpa, your intention for today.
Day 2. Listen to the intuitive wisdom of your body to find stability
Choose a warrior of triangle pose variation to focus on creating stability in today's yoga practice.
From a place of stability, it’s easier to find ease. How to place your body to find this stability differs from body to body and from day to day. Nevertheless, a lot of people feel more stability in the warrior poses when they keep their feet hip width (or sit bone width) apart, instead of on one line.
Something that works for a lot of people to find their unique alignment for good stability, is to lift up one foot several times and to place it down without too much thinking. By repeating this process several times in a short period of time, your body will intuitively find the placement for better stability.
Day 3. Move the resistance to somewhere more helpful
Resistance is something we always work with due to the gravity on earth. Resistance quickly sounds like something negative. However, it also provides stability and support. Like the floor is supporting you. Furthermore, you can transfer the placement of resistance between body parts by using your muscles.
For example in a standing backbend. When you keep your legs strong and firm - a form of resistance -, it’s easier to create more space between your vertebrae, which in effect create space for a backbend without hanging in your joints.
For your yoga practice today, play around with moving resistance in your body. Where can you create more tension to create more space elsewhere?
Day 4. Meet yourself where you are. Modify the pose to you (instead of the other way around) with your sankalpa in mind
Yoga poses have the most benefit when you are steady and at ease in the pose and when your breath is long and calm. So, deepening your pose for the sake of deepening is often counterproductive. By the way, are you aware that the shape of our bones affect the maximum depth your body is capable of in yoga poses (even after a decade of daily practice)? Furthermore, body proportions affect how the pose looks.
For today, you could choose a hip opening pose of choice and focus on how you feel. Which body parts do you feel, which less or not? Feel how you could distribute the stretch more equally over your body.
Day 5. Strengthen the weakest link in the chain
When you strengthen the weakest link, the whole chain becomes more dependable. However, naturally one has the tendency to improve what is already strong or flexible and neglect the weaker links somewhat. The problem is that this makes the difference in strength or flexibility between the links in the chain even bigger and so more susceptible for injury.
So for today, focus in your asana on strengthening your weakest link. Also include some spine strengthening poses like cobra, locust and/or bow pose. Observe around which vertebrae you already feel strength and space and which areas could benefit from some attention.
Due to the shape of the spine, it is usually more difficult to bend the upper part of the spine. Could you divide the bend in your spine more equally (to keep the pressure on each link - vertebra - distributed)?
Day 6. Inner space created by your breath
The breath affects so many aspects of our health. It affects our mind (and how calm we feel) and our nervous system (which affects our health in so many ways). It also moves the body from the inside out. Like a gentle massage, which is also very healthy for your organs. Further, one can also use the breath to create space to divide stretches more equally over the body.
For today, focus in your asana practice on how your breath feels. It’s interesting to do this in a sitting twist. Maybe you can even feel that it’s easier to breathe into one lung in comparison to your other lung (due to the position of your body). Feel how your breath moves your body from the inside out. How it creates space which each inhale, and how you body settles in with each exhale.
Day 7. Relax Into Action. Relax your face
By bringing our focus to all these details, we sometimes have the tendency to become so serious. We would almost forget to feel positive along the way.
Yes, emotions can not be forced. But our practice can affect how we feel. Like if you relax your face, you could let go of tension that often arises in the jaw and forehead. While keeping the muscles in our legs strong can actually help us in a warrior pose, keeping tension in the jaw or forehead hasn’t a similar benefit. On the contrary, it makes it harder for our nervous system to do its job to create homeostasis.
Further, creating a positive feeling state is a bit more complicated than just thinking positive thoughts. Creating equanimity has a big role to play; to be able to make the choices that help us in the long run (while feeling challenging in the short run). Otherwise, why would we even put in all that effort all the time?
Generally, feelings such as love, compassion, joy, gratitude, ease, large-heartedness, courage etc. are helpful feeling states to create. When you integrate them in your asana practice, it has an additional therapeutic effect due to the mind-body connection.
So, for today, focus in your yoga practice on relaxing your face and keep bringing your attention back to a chosen feeling state (such as love, compassion, joy, gratitude or ease). And combine it with a pose that brings you joy, just for the fun of it.
Day 8. Honouring yourself and the time you take for your practice
Even when you truly enjoy your yoga practice, it’s something that takes time and effort. Even though you do it because it helps you, the thing you did is something worthwhile! So be thankful for yourself. That’s not egoistic. It will benefit others one way or another as well.
Yet, here it’s also about how you talk to yourself. Maybe (or probably) even the biggest challenge. To learn to talk to ourselves like we would do with our best friend.
For today, honour yourself. Observe your self-talk. And then say something nice to yourself. Thank yourself.
Enjoy a restorative pose or meditate for a while. And each time your thoughts deviate, bring your attention back to a grateful feeling state.
Recommendation: print this blog and put it besides your yoga mat to use it in your yoga practice.
In the photo I am wearing the Yoga Democracy Flower Bomb legging of recycled plastic and the Draped tank by Moonchild made of organic cotton. Practicing on a sustainable Moonchild yoga matwith perfect grip.
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