For me, my personal ritual involves rolling up the oval braided rug in front of the wood stove (the only place in my house large enough to do yoga comfortably during the winter months, which, this year, seem to be lasting for-evah!), lighting a stick of incense, and lighting a series of candles on the mantle above the wood stove. I sweep the floor both before and after I roll out my mat. I put on some gentle music, but you may prefer to practice in silence.
Make sure you are unplugged so that you won't be disturbed - turn off the cell phone, turn off the ringer on your land line, shut down your computer. This is YOUR time, so make sure that it's uninterrupted.
For this first pose, you may want a folded blanket or a small pillow to tuck under your sit bones for comfort.
Easy PoseThe first pose that you learn in any yoga class is easy pose, or as my 6-year-old calls it, criss-cross-applesauce.
Basically, you come to a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed in front of you. You can have your legs stacked on top of each other, or they can be one in front of the other.
If you have tight hips and you find that you're having difficulty getting your knees to drop to the floor, tuck a folded blanket or pillow just under the very edge of your sit bones. You want to feel like you're about to drop off the edge of the blanket or pillow. And if your knees still don't drop all the way down to the floor, as long as you're comfortable without any pain, you're good to go.
You want to sit up straight in this posture, so imagine that you're slowly stacking your vertebrae up your back, one on top of the other. Imagine a string coming out of the top of your head, pulling it up. And finally, slide your head back just slightly so that your ears are over your shoulders.
This is a very grounding pose. Imagine you can feel roots coming out through the base of your spine, going down into the earth. Feel the strength of this seated position before you continue on to the meditation.
Basic MeditationThe basic idea of meditation is to connect the mind with the body through the observation of the breath. So as you sit in your easy pose, just search for your breath. Observe it. Don't feel like you have to control it or change it - just let it be whatever it wants to be.
We begin to calm the mind when we breathe through the nose. Inhale through the nose, exhale gently through the nose. Seal your lips. Let your abdomen and chest relax. Rest your hands, palms down, on your knees, or folded gently in your lap.
I like to remind people in my De-stress Yoga class to relax all the muscles in their faces as they practice. When your face is relaxed, it naturally comes into a gentle smile. And smiling feels good, right? So we want to cultivate that feeling of ease and relaxation that comes with a gentle smile.
As your mind wanders (and it will wander), just bring it back to the sensation of your inhale and your exhale. You can use this technique throughout your yoga practice. As you get into a posture, you may find that your mind starts wandering or coming up with things to add to the grocery list, errands that need to be run, emails that need to be returned... But as these thoughts come up, you can just acknowledge them, and set them aside, always returning to the inhalation and exhalation.
Sit comfortably for about 3-5 minutes to start. You can use your music as sort of a self-timer: pick a song that is around 5 minutes long, and use that as your guide for sitting in meditation.
To bring yourself out of meditation, take one last, long, deep breath, imagining the air traveling down your spine, and down into the earth.
Gently blink your eyes open. Don't forget to smile. See if you can carry that feeling of being relaxed with you for the rest of your day.