Weekly Practice Dec. 20-26: Cultivating Appreciation of the Current Moment
As we know, yoga is more than a physical practice it is also a practice of cleaning up and focusing the mind. In any moment there are infinite possibilities to focus your mind upon, positive or negative. This week our practice is to actively choose to focus on what we appreciate in the current moment. Like any practice, it takes work.
From the Yoga Sutra's we are given the practice of Santosha. Santosha is translated as contentment. Like practicing Asana, we are not expected to master this or any practice right away. However, it is important to understand that like showing up to the mat to practice, we have a choice. If we live our lives thinking that we have no choice over the quality of our thoughts we are more likely to live much of our time in a negative whirl and we might even find ourselves miserable. However, yoga teaches us that not only can we focus the mind, but we can also CHOOSE WHAT WE FOCUS ON!
This is huge! This means that you do not need to focus your attention on what you do not like. You can instead focus on what you appreciate in every moment. Let us start it this weekend as we spend time with our families, without them, around trees, or wherever you might find yourself. Use this week as an opportunity to be aware of where you are focusing your attention and then actively choosing to be your own hero. To rescue yourself from focusing on the negative and then shifting your attention to something you appreciate in the moment instead. It can be your breath, the sensation of your heart beat, it can be the sound of music, or cars driving by... whatever it is, tap into your appreciation.
This practice will take you from showing up to a mat to practice to waking up and being in a yogic mind from your first thought forward!
The Asana Practice:
This weeks asana practice is here to challenge our perceptions. We are opening and stretching our quads & psoas which are typically a difficult & highly sensational part of the body to open & relax. When we release this part of the body we have the opportunity to release childhood and early life trauma that the body is still holding on to. So if you notice emotions rise up, please breathe with them and focus your appreciation on the idea of being free of whatever it was that you might have been unknowingly gripping to.
As we are in each posture we are going to listen to our bodies and make sure we are safe. As being practical and intelligent is not negative thinking, it is for survival. So if your knees feel like they are getting pulled or twisted you will give yourself more padding or ease up completely. Also, notice if you are grinding your teeth. This is an indication you need more time, padding or to ease up, so go slow while actively relaxing your jaw with sounds and maybe even fluttering your lips. You can do these postures as a practice over time. For example, Supta Virasana to me is incredibly difficult. I use tons of padding and take a lot of time to set up and this is still the case nearly a decade into my practice. All bodies are different. Listen to yours!
Once you are in a safe version of each pose it is your job to focus on what YOU appreciate. It can be the sensation of the body working and being challenged, the quality of your breath, the music you are playing or whatever feels authentic. My hope is that this practice will not only empower you over the holiday season but also give you the tools to be your own hero in any of life's difficult scenarios!
10 Yoga Postures to Help Release Negativity and Promote Appreciative Thinking!
1. Virasana (Hero's Pose)
Sit tall, Focus on your tall spine and breath deeply!
Sit in between your heals (on a block is my preference). Notice and appreciate your tall spine and your smooth breath. Close your eyes and center yourself in this sense of appreciation. This will allow all negative thoughts to fade away, you might even notice less attention on your feet and other areas of the body that tend to feel challenged in this pose!
2. Table Top Warm Up
Keep core active, stay in each option for 3-5 breaths.
As you are here, there will be all kinds of sensations, try to pick the best feeling one to focus your attention on!
3. Adho Mukha Virasana (narrow child's pose)
Keep your knees together. Breath into the back of your body. Find gratitude for whatever body parts or areas of the body that come to mind.
Try to keep you back heal on the ground. You might be able to take your hands to blocks much further forward than the woman in the photo. Feel pleasure in releasing your head.
5. Natarajasana (Dancer's Pose)
3 to 5 breaths (transition into Warrior 3 if desired)
Do your best! If you can only stand for a few moments, find apprecitation for even trying! Try to keep your heart lifted!
6. Half Virasana Forward Fold
Easing into it, for 3 to 5 breaths (sit extended leg's hip and upper thigh on block)
Be easy here, you might have to stay seated tall and just look at your leg rather than folding forward. Even here, notice that parts of your body that feel good. Be kind!
7. Supta Virasana (Half or Full with or without Support)
5 breaths on each side - 10 breaths total
You might want to do both variations of this. Or you might find that you can't even lay back on tons of support. That is okay. You can focus you appreciation on the fact that you have a new goal! If you do lay back, breath into the sensations of your legs and torso. Be sweet with your thoughts. Notice anything that comes up. Appreciate how incredibly complex and beautiful your human body is!
8. Janu Sirsasana
5 Breaths on each side (Gentle twist to start)
This is our twist this week. Be easeful. Try and take your time into it! Enjoy!
9. Baddha konasana
5 Deep Breaths (or more)
Feel your knees releasing, your inner thighs opening, your outer hips getting a release. Thank your self for how far you have come in this life. Everything you have overcome! You are a magnificent being! You are only just getting started!
10. Supported Savasana
You might lay with your legs crossed over a bolster, blanket or pillow for a few breaths at first. Then you can extend the legs and continue to lay on your back for as long as it takes to really soak in the benefits of your practice. Allow yourself to be flooded with sweet intentions for appreciation. Feel yourself getting charged with a new sense of purpose. Know that you are truly a hero! You are you own best friend! You are here for YOU! You got this!
Close your practice in a seated position. Dedicate your practice to yourself throughout the week and your life. Take time to intend to appreciate as much of your life as you possibly can! Om 3x.
Additional Tips for Appreciative Thinking:
1. Start the day with a Positive Thought
Example: "I am so thankful to be alive!"
Endorphin's cheer you up!
3. Surround yourself with Positive People
Negativity is contagious!
4. Be purposeful!
Set goals, decide ahead of time how you are going to respond to predicable interactions that in the past have caused negativity or misery!
5. Practice gratitude
Make a gratitude list every now and again! It helps you to really notice how much there truly is to appreciate in any given moment.
6. Notice how far you have come
You might not be as happy, successful, flexible or whatever else you want to be, however, take a moment to notice how far you have come. You will instantly realize you are getting there, and be propelled into appreciative thinking.
7. Take time to listen to music that makes you feel SO GOOD!
This is a major practice for me when I am in situations that normally promote stressful or negative thinking. If I have to speak in public I normally have music I really enjoy playing quietly in the background. If I have to go on the subway, drive in city traffic... whatever it is, it can take things from negative and miserable to a pleasurable experience that I am in no rush to end!
This is pretty self explanatory. Take time to spend time with people, watch programs and be exposed to things that tickle your fancy!
9. Tell people when you feel appreciation for them
This is massive. People love to feel appreciated, so if you are feeling it, let them know. Not only will they feel so very good but the energy they give you will fill you with even more appreciation for them. You might even find that they appreciate you more after that!
10. Come up with your own practice!
Appreciation is personal. What automatically brings you into appreciation? Going to shows? Painting? Spending time with children or cute animals? Make it a practice! You will thank yourself later!
Santosha or Appreciative Thinking is can be a very difficult practice. So please be patient with yourself. Just because you don't get it right away does not mean it isn't worth working towards. If I quit attempting headstand after my first 20 attempts I would have missed out on one of my favorite postures. The same is true for this practice of mental focus. It has personally transformed and saved my life.
With deep and loving thanks,
Nicole Lynne Hooley
Yoga, Reiki & Intuitive Healing
Brooklyn based Yoga Instructor & Reiki Healer, Nicole specializes in teaching Personal Empowerment & Self Healing inspired Yoga Classes, Workshops & Reiki Trainings throughout Brooklyn. Her Reiki & Intuitive Healing sessions have been called "an hour of unconditional love". Nicole has been highlighted by Huffington Post and YogaCityNYC.
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