Feeling like you're in need of a kick-start for 2012? Here are seven tips to energize your yoga practice and your life!
1. Integrate your asana practice. In physical exercise, energy can mean two things; Prana – life force or ‘food label’ energy – calories. During a vigorous yoga session, we consume calories. However, ideally we do our practice conserving rather than consuming our Prana. Yoga or union in its physical form means the integration of the body. This gives us a sensation that the limbs are connected to the trunk. On a subtler level it feels like energy flows freely between the trunk and limbs all the way to the hands and feet.
Often, if yoga is practiced incorrectly, the ligaments overstretch, which moves the bones further away from each other in their joints, and joints are allowed to collapse or lock. A yogi that is already sensitive to her pranic body experiences this as a sensation of interrupted energy flow. Indeed the Prana leaks out of the collapsed joints, which will leave us feeling drained after the asana practice.
To have more integrity in your practice focus on keeping the armpits hollow and soft to ensure the arm bones says in the sockets. Keeping elbows unlocked helps. Similarly remember to soften the knees til they look straight, rather than hyper extended. Keep drawing the femur bones into their sockets in all the poses to avoid any clicking from the hips. Another important focus point is to keep the lower front ribs in to keep the Solar Plexus and our personal power contained.
2. Remember to relax. Always finish your asana practice in Savasana, Corpse Pose. In deep relaxation first the muscular tension releases, which creates space for a smoother flow of circulation. Less tension in the body down-regulates the stress response and the parasympathetic nervous system is able to kick in. The brain waves slow down and the body starts resting and rejuvenating. After an adequate physical and mental relaxation, the body-mind feels energised and light, yet alert and ready to face the world with more energy and less stress.
3. Inhale. Exhale. For a long time science stated that autonomic nervous system is beyond our conscious control. This is fortunate, as it would be a full-time job to consciously breathe, pump the blood around body, digest food, balance hormones and take care of other bodily functions. However, yogis have found that breath is the link between the body and the mind. Even a simple breathing technique, such as breathing through the nose and lengthening the exhalations, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which gives the body a chance to relax. This in itself is enough. If you want to take your pranayama exercise further, slightly constrict the throat for Ujjayi Breath. The friction in the throat filters Prana from the air through a garden hose like effect. The energy is then held in the body by firming the pelvic floor and lower abdomen. This is an effective way to keep more Prana inside the system and therefore to feel more energised.
4. Dharana and Dyana. You might have heard the expression ‘where attention goes, the energy flows’. This principle reminds us that the two internal limbs of yoga, Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) work on keeping the Prana inside our system. When the mind stays concentrated on a certain focus point, Prana is drawn to that area. The focus could be anything, such as the breath, the heartbeat or physical sensations in the body. When the mind stays one-pointed over a period of time, concentration turns into meditation. Meditation is said to be the most effective way to tap in to the unlimited source of universal energy. In meditation we learn to observe ‘what is’ as it is without reacting to it. When we learn to not react to what’s happening in our internal environment, the fluctuations of our external environment affect us less. This means we don’t lose energy due to upsetting circumstances, but learn to stay calm and centered in the rollercoaster ride of life.
5. Go to bed early. Wake up early. Everyone requires a different amount of sleep depending on their bio-individuality. Yoga practitioners generally require less sleep, as they rest, relax and rejuvenate during Savasana and meditation. You don’t have to get eight hours of sleep, if your body-mind only needs six. Listen to your body’s need for rest and go to bed according to the cycles of nature. You might have noticed that sleeping 8h from 2am – 10am doesn’t give you the same refreshed feeling, as sleeping 8h between 10pm – 6am. Indian ancient healing science, Ayurveda, explains this with the cyclical nature of energies. If you fall asleep before 10pm when Kapha energies (heavy, grounding, solid) are predominant, your sleep is likely to be sound and solid. On the other hand if you go to bed after 10pm, during Pitta hours, the sleep will be affected by the active and restless qualities of Pitta and getting deep rest might be more challenging. Waking up before 6am during Vata hours stimulates the nervous system to wake up feeling light and energized, whereas waking up during Kapha hours after 10am keep you feeling sleepy and sluggish.
6. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Michael Pollan advices to ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ If you follow these three simple tips, you will feel more energized. Firstly, the energy levels are completely different if you eat a home-cooked whole foods meal compared to junk foods and other food-like toxic substances. The closer the food is to its natural form, the more Prana it still contains. Choose unprocessed foods over junk as often as possible. Secondly, it is important to eat the correct amount. Overeating makes us feel heavy and sluggish. According to Ayurveda, one-third of the stomach should be filled with food, one-third filled with warm water, and one-third left empty. Eat slowly, chew your food and stop eating when you’ve had enough. Thirdly, consuming more plant-based foods keeps our energy levels higher. Plant based meals are often lighter, so we feel lighter after a vegetarian meal. From an energetic point of view, plants contain energy from the sun even after they’ve been picked, and seeds are filled with life force even after they’ve been harvested, as they have the potential to grow into full plants. On the other hand, life force leaves the body when an animal is killed, leaving meat-based foods less energizing.
7. Follow your heart. People, who follow their life purpose, wake up in the morning feeling more energized compared to people who ignore the guidance of their intuition. People, who surround themselves with loving people and beautiful environment, feel more energized than people who stay in toxic environment with energy draining people. The choice is yours. Choose to spend time in the nature, listen to your intuition and follow your dreams. Spend less time in a job that you hate. Let go of unnecessary relationships that drain your energy. Live the life you dream of.
The more you listen to your body through the mindfulness practices of yoga, the more you tune in and start feeling the sensations of your energy body. Then the cause and effect relationship becomes clearer, and you will naturally start making energetically healthier lifestyle choices.