Setting your Practice

My mother is the ultimate party planner. No details are spared.

Mixed cheerful china patterns, crystal from generations ago and her own floral creations that are never set too high to obstruct a conversation.  Place cards are mapped after careful consideration of all the personalities attending.

I enjoy taking pictures of random spoons I find or pointing out an odd looking bowl and asking her what it is specifically intended for. Ah yes, a bouillon cup...not a tea cup. A mustard spoon…not a cute little baby spoon. Can I still use it for other condiments?

This all might seem superfluous for some. Why all the fuss? The company is what makes for a good party. While that couldn’t be more true, setting the tone of the evening can create a certain vibe. One that makes people feel both special and welcome. Designing an environment where folks feel at ease to interact with one another.

We conduct rituals for so many things in life. While they can give us the illusion of control, when not attached to the outcome, they help us to prepare. What if we acted as if everything we did was sacred? Not sacred in a religious sense necessarily. In The Mirror of Yoga, Richard Freeman defines sacred as “a captivating quality that allows the mind to flow freely.”

We would then need to ask ourselves, what are captivating qualities? Or perhaps in our case, what preparations can we make to set our mind up for that focused freedom.

How do you set up your physical practice? What have you physically and mentally ingested prior? We practice Ashtanga on an empty stomach because we are manipulating our insides around along with our arms and legs. It isn’t particularly comfortable otherwise. Practice the day after Thanksgiving is a bind-free zone for me. How much restful sleep you were able to get? Under six and it’s easy to feel slow and depressed.

Observing these factors helps us to manage our expectations by taking a genuine interest in what your body is able to do TODAY. You can start trying different timings of your meals, taking stock of what is easy for you to digest, going to bed earlier etc and see what logistically works best for you. You might not have control over some of these things at the moment but guilt and shame have NO home here. Any bit of practice is better than no practice.

Some historically recommended preparations include setting out your clothes the night before and showering before practice.  Minimizing the time you need to choose clothing and cleansing your body, set a tone of formality. If you start adding an air of importance to practice then it will become a priority.

What you read before practice can also have an effect. Have you ever read an article that got you fired up and then that’s all you could think about? The less mental stimulation the better! What we know to be true: Thoughts create more thoughts. All of these things can set up your intention in practice. Quieting your mind requires devotional care.

I know some of these things can be extra challenging for the evening practitioners. Try giving your body at least 4 hours to digest your lunch. Your body is more warmed up but your mind has had time for SO many thoughts. Maybe try starting practice in rest or doing some light pranayama or meditation to re-focus before you begin jumping around.

There’s also an element of your presence in the studio. Do you slam it down along with your props creating a loud smack? Do you slam doors or walk heavily? Do your eyes wander around the room looking for an escape route? All of this can contribute to the collective energy of the space. Ways to create positive energy I’ve observed, include introducing yourself to someone new in the hall or while you’re putting your things in the cubby. Sharing a smile when you walk in or bump into someone on their mat. This creates a compassionate environment. A safe place, where you respect one another’s desire to look inward.

So while some of these things might seem gratuitous, I suggest you give them a try. As you know, at the end of the day when the details aren’t quite right, it’s all about the company (YOU) anyway and that is the best party you can hope for.