I’ve come to believe that forming good habits would be a cinch if “first thing in the morning” could happen more than once a day.
Nothing lets us start a daily practice more easily than resolving to do it first thing. We’re fresh from sleep. The world has yet to place legitimate demands on us. As long as everything is set up the night before and ready to go, all we need to do is get out of bed and the habit we want to create – meditation, breath work, writing, asana practice, a long walk or a trip to the gym – can reliably be ours.
Problem is, there’s usually more than one activity competing for that single space. Sometimes it’s a 5:30 a.m. hockey practice, or a punishingly early start time to the working day. Other times it’s a choice between two activities we’d dearly love to make a part of our lives. But you can’t, for example, write first thing, accessing the pristine mind on the borders of sleep, and have the same mind available for breathing practice.
I can wake up and do breathing practice, no problem. I can, with considerably more struggle, have a cup of something hot to drink, and write as I drink it. (Shouldn’t I check email? What about the laundry? What if it’s a sunny day in February – shouldn’t I walk to the beach while the birds are at their most active?)
After that, all bets are off.
What I need is another “first thing in the morning,” and that’s not going to happen.
Transitional moments, however, come scattered through the day. And while they don’t have the magic of the transition from sleep to waking, as long as we slow down enough to notice and take advantage of them, they can work as hooks to hang a habit from.
This week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge is to find a time of the day to lie down and watch your breath.
If first thing in the morning is available, congratulations. Learn the setup and you’re on your way.
If early morning isn’t going to happen, there are other possibilities.
One of my favorite ways to get small tasks done is the pomodoro technique, which demands a five minute break every 25 minutes. That’s enough time stretch your shoulders or change a load of laundry over, but not enough time to lie down and breathe. But every four pomodoros demands a 20-minute break, which is ample. If you work at home, 20 minutes is plenty of time to lie down and watch your breath, and come back more refreshed than if you’d had a cup of coffee.
As long as you don’t have to rush to get dinner on the table, the transition from work to home at the end of the day is another excellent moment for breathing. Instead of sitting down to watch the news – it will, most assuredly, be on later – take the time for breathing, and perhaps some poses.
Then there’s the opposite transition, from waking to sleep. Do your breathing just before bed, and it will lead you to a sounder sleep.
Here’s how to set up:
Place two chip-foam blocks, lengthwise, on the centre line of your mat. Place a third block crosswise on top of the block at the head end of the mat.
Fold a blanket and line up the smooth fold with the edge of the crosswise block.
Set a timer for 8 to 15 minutes.
Sit with your knees bent and roll back so the bottom of your ribcage rests on the bottom edge of the blocks, and the back of your head rests on the blanket.
Check that your spine runs down the middle of the blocks, and your chest feels evenly supported.
Lift your pelvis and lengthen your lower back by taking your tailbone toward your ankles.
Roll your palms to face the ceiling. The knuckles of your middle fingers should rest easily on the floor. Relax your shoulders. Lengthen your legs one by one and let your thighs soften and your feet drop away to the sides. If your feet feel unbalanced, one side releasing more than the other, take your feet further apart.
Relax your face. Soften your eyes. With your lips together and your teeth slightly parted, exhale and relax your jaw. As you exhale, let the weight of your body sink toward the blocks and the floor.
Let your awareness rest on your breath. Notice the moment the exhalation starts, be aware of a soft, even flow of breath, and notice when it ends.
At the end of the exhalation, pause. Wait and let the inhalation come by itself.
When the timer goes off, let your awareness drift away from your breath. Soften your face and eyes, and rest for a breath or two. Bend your knees, roll to your right hand side, then slowly sit up.
If you’re intrigued by breathing, and want to go further, get a copy of Light on Pranayama, by BKS Iyengar, and start reading.
You’ll find a list of benefits for this exercise, under Ujjayi I, that includes: it “makes one attentive, invigorates the nerves, loosens any hardness in the lungs and prepares them for deep breathing.”
Photo by Keith Roper, Flickr Creative Commons
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