melbourne yoga

How to tell when enough is enough


I do yoga every day.

When I tell people this, they often look at me in wonder, and I’m pretty sure they’re imagining that I spend an hour a day standing on my head, or doing 108 sun salutations every morning.

Nope. Some days I do five minutes. Nothing more. I only stand on my head rarely and I probably only salute the sun once a week.

This is enough. This still counts as doing yoga every day.

Once I finally got it into my head that one minute of yoga as often as I'm able is better than, say, three hours of yoga once a week -- that is, regularity is more important than the length of any given yoga session -- doing yoga every day became easy.

Image via the fabulous  Breanna Rose

Image via the fabulous Breanna Rose

So how much is enough? How often is enough? How dynamic a practice is enough? Is simply lying on the floor really yoga?

Here’s the thing: whatever you’re doing, it’s probably enough. Truly.

Yes, there's always more you could be doing, but just because there’s more, doesn’t mean you’re not doing enough. (This is also true of life more generally.)

Here are some specific signs that you might be approaching (or have gone beyond!) 'enough':

  • It’s difficult to breath relatively calmly

  • You feel exhausted (either during or after the practice)

  • You feel more than a little anxious (either during or after the practice)

  • You find yourself wanting to avoid altogether starting your yoga practice or going to class

This applies to individual yoga poses too. Yes, not every yoga pose will always feel like the most blissful place to be, but you want to feel like you can cope with where you are.

Because when we're coping with where we are in a yoga practice, we can build up the strength and flexibility to move on—either to something more, or just something different. If we're not coping, building anything is awfully difficult.

This is true of other parts of life too, of course, and those signs that you might have gone a little beyond 'enough' are pretty good ones to watch out for off the yoga mat too.

The other thing to remember is that 'enough' changes, on and off the yoga mat. It depends on what's going on in your life—and what's enough for you might not look the same as anyone else in the yoga class or in your life. And that's okay.

So take a mental load off (and a physical one too, if you like): you're probably doing enough.

Sore Back Yoga

Sore backs and sore shoulders are the most common complaints we hear from people.

My back’s sore at the moment, mostly because life's been a bit stressful and when I'm stressed I habitually tense muscles that put extra pressure on my spine.

Physical exercise isn't the only reason to do yoga: I need yoga to help keep me calm(ish).

Sore back + no yoga  = No Fun Sophie.

It's hard to know what yoga to do with a sore back: sticking to a samasthiti practice helps. Sama means 'same' and sthiti means 'stay'. Samasthiti practice involves keeping the body more or less symmetrical. The spine stays in neutral and the back muscles get to relax. It's great relief (and prevention!) for a sore back.

Here’s a sequence Nadine came up with that's really soothed my back. If your back is sore too, try this, and take it slowly. And if anything hurts more than doing nothing did, stop, okay?

sore back yoga.jpg
  1. Start in balasana (child pose) with hips a little off the heels so the back doesn't round. Think of tilting the pelvis forward and sticking your bum out, the same as you would in any other forward bend.

  2. Inhale to all fours. Press the heels of your hands, and the knuckles where your fingers join your hand into the floor. Make sure you're engaging the stabilising muscles in your pelvis (pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominus).

  3. Exhale, curl toes under and come into phalankasana (plank pose) or kneeling plank (don't do plank now if it's a challenge even on good days!). Keep those pelvic stablising muscles working. Stay there for several breaths.

  4. When you feel ready, exhale into Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog), with knees a bit bent to keep the back long. This is a great pose to allow the verterbrae in the spine to move away from one another and ease compression and pinching. Then go back the way you came: plank (phalankasana), cakravakasana, balasana. Repeat as many times as you want.

  5. Next, come to sit, and prepare for table top pose. Keep those pelvis stabilising muscles working. Hold the shape for several breaths.
  6. Then come to stand and practice urdvha hastasana: Inhale, arms out and up, exhale arms down, belly tones to spine.

After that, lie on your back and hug your knees. This is a lovely release for the hips and the muscles of the back.

Finish by putting your legs up the wall, or up a chair if you need something that puts a little less pressure on your back.

A short practice, but an effective one.

Just quietly, I think this is probably my most favourite of all yoga poses. 

Just quietly, I think this is probably my most favourite of all yoga poses. 

How not to freak out too much about change.

Recently I had a week where I was so bone tired I could barely get out of bed; there was no way I was going to be able to focus on anything other than work that was absolutely necessary (even that was a struggle).

At the end of that week I got on my yoga mat for my morning yoga session and came into child's pose. Then I started crying. And there I stayed for my entire yoga practice.

Crying. And a little bit embarrassed about it.

Crying in child's pose: a legitimate yoga practice. Really.

Crying in child's pose: a legitimate yoga practice. Really.

I didn't really know why I was crying -- nothing had happened in that week to upset or tire me especially. It took me a little while to work out what was going on: basically my body and my mind were just…done...after several months of significant change in my life.

My work circumstances had changed, I'd started a research degree, and I'd moved house.

I'm very grateful for all of these changes —they've brought amazing things into my life.

Change is not inherently good or bad: usually it's a bit of both. But, big or small, positive or negative, it can be overwhelming, especially if we don't have the space to process how we feel about it.

The same thing can happen, hopefully on a smaller scale, when there's a change of plans in our day (think cancelled meeting or coffee date with a friend). Disappointment, upset, fear, anger, frustration, mild panic even. These are all normal possible emotional reactions to change, along with the more pleasant ones. But they may not be the best way to respond to change—a response being what we actually do with those emotions and the situation.

This is where yoga comes in.

Yoga is essentially a practice of noticing what's going on for us. It's supposed to provide a safe space for us to notice our stuff (sadly, we all have it) and just give it some space to breathe.

It's also about learning skills to deal with that stuff (because letting it all just hang around isn't really all that helpful, is it?) so we can respond to any given situation more *ahem* helpfully.

I've talked before about the fascinating research which found that different types of physical exercise stimulate different parts of the brain.

Anaerobic exercise, which is stretching or strength training (yoga, anyone?) appears to increase activity in the part of the brain that helps us to resolve conflict and to distinguish between confusing sources of stimulation. That conflict could be internal stuff, or it might be because someone has just cancelled a meeting on you for the third time in a row.

Moving the physical body is a pretty amazing mood regulator and will often help with whatever level of weird is going on in the mind.

If, like me, what you notice is that you're feeling overwhelmed, maybe you need to stay in child's pose for the entire practice, lie in constructive rest, or do some slow stretching. If you notice that you're more restless you might need to be more active (sun salutes and standing poses, perhaps) to use up some of that excess energy.

But how do you know unless you take a moment or two to notice?

Perhaps the biggest thing for me about learning to observe my mental and emotional states, as well as my physical body, is that I've gradually got better at seeing when I might need to go a little easy on myself (hint: more often than I actually do). 

To practice noticing, try this:

Sit or lie somewhere comfortable. Maybe even come into child's pose. Perhaps put on a piece of tinkly relaxy music that lasts for five or ten minutes.

Start by noticing the sounds you can hear around you.

Then notice where your body touches the floor and how that feels. Go back to noticing the sounds around you. Then come back to your body, notice your breath.

Go back to the sounds.

Come back again to the body, see if you can notice your heart beat. If you can feel or hear it, just observe it for a while. If you can't, that's okay, instead see if you can notice how your chest moves with your breath.

Now, do you notice any emotions or thoughts that come up, in just the same way as you've been watching your physical body—as if you're an outside observer? See if you can just let those things come and go for a while. Let your mind wander. If anything is a bit too much and you feel overwhelmed, that's okay, just come back to noticing your heart beat or your breath.

When your music finishes, bring your focus back to your breath for a few minutes. Wriggle your toes and fingers, take a few deeper than normal breaths. When you do get up, get up slowly.

You can do this sitting at your desk too, just sitting, without anybody noticing. And the more often you do it, the better you get at it. Practise makes... well, not perfect, but better. 

Legs up the wall is another great pose to do this witnessing exercise. Take a load off!

Legs up the wall is another great pose to do this witnessing exercise. Take a load off!

Yoga for the blokes

Blokes can sometimes feel a little left out in talk about yoga, because women do seem to love getting on their mats, and classes can be a little lady-centric. But we have a lot of men in our classes here at MmYoga, so we thought we'd dedicate an infographic to yoga blokey-ness.

Yoga for men

What guys have said about our classes:

Nadine is a terrific communicator and teacher, who I would thoroughly recommend for corporate events or personal yoga teaching. She introduced me to yoga in a very patient manner, and was adept in managing my various pre-existing aches and pains. She exudes warmth and personality, and is very knowledgeable and passionate about yoga practice.

Bruce Hawkins, Consultant, The Lonsdale Group

Nancy has been really amazing, from explaining the poses to offering advice and answering questions after the class, if I had imagined a yoga teacher before my first lesson, Nancy is the embodiment of that yoga instructor.

Michael McKenzie, Mission Australia

The legal team at REA Group booked Karen through MM… Yoga to run a yoga session for us at the start of a full day conference. A couple of people in our group had injuries at the time. Karen actively changed her class program to accommodate for the unique needs of these people so that they could still participate in the yoga class. On the day of our conference Karen arrived early, and was well prepared, which helped me out as the event organiser. Throughout the class Karen’s instructions were clear and easy to understand. I found her class well aligned to the abilities of the group that she was instructing. Karen provided the group with an enjoyable, energising experience which prepared us to kick off our full day conference in a relaxed and rejuvenated manner. If we have a similar conference I would definitely book Karen again, as she was proactive, organised and flexible in her approach. I recommend Karen and MM… Yoga to other companies that want to provide their employees with a healthy, fun and relaxing experience.

Ben Hooper,

Beth was clear in her instructions that if you couldn’t do something, that you could do it with your “knees on the ground”, for example, or balance with just your toes on the ground and your heel against the other ankle. I thought that was good, in that respect. The lesson was more obviously easier at the start and harder as we went along, so I liked that, the gentle start and gradual building. She moved around the room a lot, it seemed, and talked to individuals. Got her left and right, right. And demonstrated from locations that were best – didn’t stay up the front all the time. She was here in plenty of time and helped move the chairs. So, five stars from me.

Mark Jenkin, former National PublicAffairs Manager, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Building a yoga habit

Morning yoga has become a ritual for me. 

I roll out of bed and do a few yoga poses on my bedroom floor in my pjs. I do this every day, sometimes just for ten minutes. It doesn't always feel good, but it tunes me in to how I feel, and I am usually calmer afterwards. 

This habit has a significant impact on the rhythm* of my day, my productivity in my work, and how stressed I do or do not feel. 

Rituals and habits are closely related. 

I think of rituals as habits that give us a little space to find meaning, or to remind ourselves of it.  

The dictionary definition of ritual is “any practice or pattern of behaviour regularly performed in a set manner”, and there’s plenty written on how rituals can give meaning to events (even a study that showed that performing a short ritual before eating food increased the enjoyment of eating it!), and how the things we do repeatedly are who we become. 

(These two, on the relationship between personality and habit, and on how long it takes to form a new habit, are particularly interesting.)

What does this have to do with yoga? Well, yoga is a tool both for noticing our habits (in posture, movement, thoughts, emotions) and for changing our them so we spending more time with the ones that help us.

And, of course, yoga itself can be a habit or ritual. 

Do you want to build a yoga habit?

I’ve written here before about how a home yoga practice can be an antidote to Busy. It’s also a way of noticing things about ourselves and how we are in the world, and, potentially, to begin to build more helpful habits in other parts of life.

But how to start?

I’m going to give just one piece of advice.  

Start small. 

A small change is easier to do regularly, and to form a habit we need regularity. (There's a great post here on the Zen Habits blog about forming habits.)

So perhaps start just by standing for a minute (yes, just a minute) each morning or evening in tadasana with your feet at hip width apart, spine tall, face muscles softening.

Or, you might like to try just a minute each day of any of these simple postures:

Build a yoga habit

Pick a time of day, and do it each day at (or roughly at) that time. Be flexible though. If the time doesn't work, change it until you find a time that does. Then stick to it. And that one little change may lead to bigger ones. After all, from little things big things grow.

*A note: I prefer the word ‘rhythm’ to ‘routine’ because it’s a little more flexible and a little less mechanical (and hey, life isn’t always predictable).