A flatter tummy in one simple step? yep. But notice I said SIMPLE step, not easy. Because changing habits - repatterining your nervous system - takes effort and persistence. Back that thing up, you will get a flatter tum tum AND a happier back. Win.
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.
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.
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:
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).
My friend Kate and I were talking about our dodgy sacroiliac joints the other day. The topic came up because hers is hurting right now, following a popping noise in an early morning yoga class. Popping noises, when related to SI Joints, are alarming things. Popping noises, when related to ANY joints, are alarming things. Now, for the scientific lowdown on SI Joint dysfunction, please read this excellent wikipedia article.
I will add that in yogis, SIJ dysfunction is almost always a result of acquired hyper mobility in those joints. This hyper mobility generally develops over time, by repeated insult to the ligaments that hold the joint stable.
Extreme adduction (crossing the legs over your midline) and abdcution (taking your legs out to the sides), especially with bent knees, as in some of the poses below, is fine for many people. But not all. As a result of how our bones are shaped, and the loads and forces we subject them to (think tightening your psoas muscles and other external hip rotators with years and years of sitting), not all of us can move our legs in such a big range of motion in our hip sockets, and so, when we are trying to get into poses that we don't have the mobility for, we inevitably recruit flexibility from other joints - knees and SIJ's usually.
Over time, the ligaments that stabilise these joints get stretched and damaged, and the joints get destabilised. Not pretty. Very painful. Not necessary, but once it's happened, you live with the consequences for, probably, ever. Ligaments are generally accepted as being avascular - that is, they don't have their own blood supply, and since their job is to staibilise your joints, they are not very elastic either. Once they are overstretched, they don't go back to their original length.
(Side note: I found prolotherapy (a simple injection into the ligaments which causes them to form scar tissue & therefore tighten) useful, but the ligaments in my pelvis are still less stable than those of other people.)
My early yoga teachers didn't know this stuff, or if they did, they ignored it. I didn't question their teaching: I was too green back then to know that I don't bend right for yoga.
I got stood on in Baddha Konasana to get my knees to the ground (they still don't go to the ground, but now I have an unstable pelvis. Thanks, teacher, for standing on my knees).
I got taught to yank myself into twists, even the bound ones like Marichyasana D, below. The injury to my pelvis didn't show up until years later.
Things not to do with a shonky SIJ #1. With thanks to Ursula, whose SIJ seems to be fine.
I got taught (and, full confession, I WANTED) to reach for extreme ranges of motion, and then use my arms and legs as levers, to get into Supta Kurmasana, as below. My poor lower back!
Ursula again, with her (hopefully) well-functioning SIJ and bendy body...
Now, you can tell from the photos - some people can do this stuff. Not everyone. Certainly not me. Also, I have no idea if the woman in the photos has pain. She might - I haven't asked because I found her photos by way of Google, as you do.
Kate was asking whether I still manage my SIJ every day.
Yes. Every day, I work on strengthening the muscles that stabilise my pelvis and core. Every day, I work on improving the rhythm between my pelvis, low back and legs. Every day, I work on relaxing my psoas muscles.
And some days, I work on pain management, when my SIJ's are inflamed from too much sitting (on the back of a motorbike, for example).
Kate was also asking whether hip openers help with the pain or make it worse.
Mostly? They make it worse. Especially the kind where each leg is doing a different thing. I will republish the post about the things I do for happy SIJ's, soon, but for now, if you have SIJ pain, try practicing the constructive rest position:
Or Supta Baddha Konasana, possibly with a sacro-wedgy (or a rolled up towel, which is what I use). Hang out there for a long time, at least a few minutes, and you are looking for pain-free, or at least no increase in pain! THe picture below is old, so please excuse the terrible alignment. It's better now, I promise. Also, a lot of people with SIJ issues need to place cushions or bolsters under their thighs to have any chance of doing this without having pain afterwards.
Also, my all-time favourite psoas release, which helps immensely with the sacro-lumar rhythm, is this one from Katy Says: