When You’ve Gone Too Hard – what to do to sort yourself out when you’ve over done it in your practice

Firstly, I’d like to make it known, that not only hot headed, pitta type Ashtangi’s are the ones that occasionally find they have gone too hard. It can happen to any yoga practitioner- it’s happened to me from vinyasa classes, and definitely from Iyengar classes. Even from Yin self practice. Definitely from group Mysore practice.

Luckily, it’s less likely as you mature, mellow and grow out of your ego a bit. So, read on, whatever kind of yoga floats your boat/ navasana. This post is very much related to the last post “Effort in Yoga”

So the signs are there… maybe immediately after savasana, maybe a few hours after, or later that evening, even the next morning if you didn’t sleep well…. you feel like crap, or a bit like crap, or kind of awesome and light at the same time as feeling completely crap and about to fall apart at the seams.

Yep, you’ve overdone it.

In your practice that morning ( or whenever- some people actually practice at other times of the day, apparently, and to good effect… apparently):

You did a ‘new‘ pose.

Or you did a pose you don’t usually do.

You applied maximum effort in every single pose, pushing yourself to your limit (not me, not for some years now)

Or you did something incorrectly. Perhaps you played around with letting the buttocks go in backbend instead of your usual tightening- as you’ve heard conflicting ideas. Perhaps you doubted yourself, what you know about yourself.

Or you played around with sequencing without following yoga law and perhaps, if you are honest, that sequencing wasn’t the greatest (headstand in the first 15 mins beginning of class, anyone???… it happens, I’ve seen it! )

Or you did 108 backbends (shish!!!)

Or even 5.

Or you went ‘really deep

You forgot to engage your bandhas.

You over engaged your bandhas.

You over breathed (see Simon Borg Olivier on this topic- he’s the man)

Or you got an amazing adjustment in class. Or a shitty one (it happens)

You sweat a great deal ( doesn’t happen to me at all, I get a little jealous sometimes )

You practiced in a very, very hot room ( personally I’m not into artificially heating the body in yoga, though I know a lot of people just love it)

Or you didn’t do savasana at all or for long enough (don’t quote me on this, but isn’t it meant to be 5 mins savasana for every 30 mins of asana practice?)

Or perhaps you finished off your practice with some sex (perhaps not so common in class but in home practice, if you are both yogi’s, all those pheromones floating around….)

Whatever it was, you feel Jittery and Over stimulated. Tired- no, utterly wrecked, unable to do anything. Completely Distracted. Emotional. Off balance, Weird in your spine. Headachy. Spacey. Ravenous. Nauseous. Unable to translate concepts into words. Twitching in your eyes. Fluttering in your heart. You go outside to hang the laundry out and can barely lift your arms over your head…. and your heart pounds like it never usually does from just simple effort.

Any or all of the above ‘mistakes’ to some extent or another.

You’ve over done it. You naughty boy. Bad lady!!

Perhaps I’ve made it sound a bit dramatic. All these things above are not inherently bad in themselves ( well, not doing savasana is bad!!!! ) but they can all set you up for:

nervous system over stimulation ( jittery, spacey, weird in your spine, eye twitches, sensitivity to light and noise )

or muscle exhaustion ( pain and exhaustion, weakness ),

dehydration ( headache, nausea, muscle pain, cramps , cravings),

temporary blood pressure issues ( pounding heart, unable to catch your breath, feeling like your heart is beating behind your eyes),

feeling unmotivated – any of the above mistakes, but especially over effort, perhaps trying over and over to ‘nail’ a challenging pose. It is well known know that motivation/ willpower has a finite scope- we only have a certain amount of energy each day to do things. Use it all up getting out of bed at the cracker, in the dark and cold and going gung-ho doing your morning practice… and you may well be set to waste the rest of your day. Maybe that’s fine sometimes… but if it’s a pattern then something has got to give. If you want to contribute to, you know, the external world.

being utterly ravenous (over breathing does this, in yoga and in sport and other physical activities. It seems to be about the bodies need to return to homeostasis ) Often thirst is also mistaken for hunger, or poor food choices are made, which compounds the situation.

cranky, irritable and decidedly un-yogi ( over pushing AND over breathing, too deep and too fast, increasing adrenaline and cortisol in the body makes for a ‘hot head’– ready for some argy bargy. )

Traditionally, the aim in Yoga was always to increase the length of our breaths in each direction, slooooow inhales and even longer exhales- in order to decrease the amount of breaths we take. ( In Yogic belief, we are born with a certain amount of breaths and we want to learn to breath less in order to extend our lifespan ) SO MANY PEOPLE are over-breathing with their deep, FAST, forced breaths- in effect hyperventilating, and over doing it!

This is not what Yoga is about, feeling like this! Yoga is about restoring the body, supporting it. Purifying it and making it ready for meditation. For union. For self, as in SELF realisation. Loss of ego. You know the score.

Effort is fabulous, and doing tapas is vital to yoga practice. A strong practice is great for many people. But going over board in any form of Yoga is not tapas. It’s not sattvic and it is not a practice of ahimsa, either.

aside: Here is a quick definition of tapas, from yoga journal. Thanks Yoga Journal, my motivation is running out 🙂

  1. The word “tapas” comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn.” The traditional interpretation of tapas is “fiery discipline,” the fiercely focused, constant, intense commitment necessary to burn off the impediments that keep us from being in the true state of yoga (union with the universe).

You can still be doing tapas without messing with your homeostasis, baby!

Ok, so I could go on at length. Ok, so I have already…

BUT what can we do when we have found, oh dear, that we have gone too hard. What can bring us back to equilibrium?

These things have worked for me in the past- back when I used to push it too hard in a younger, more pitta dominated time ( and when I could spend all day practicing then flopping around lazily post practice- and back when I wasn’t a parent and I didn’t see the direct consequence of being cranky/exhausted/overstimulated etc etc. Nothing is quite as irritating as the noise of children, even happy delightful ones, when you are fried/not in balance. )

Go back and do savasana… for at least 15 minutes. With blankets and eye bag even if it is warm. Go back to bed if you feel really crappy- if you have the lifestyle for it!

savasana

Drink more water… warm to hot, never cold. Dehydration takes a while to resolve.

Eat warm food, grounding food such as oats, buckwheat bread, eggs, soup. Root vegetables. Not salads. Not spicy curries. Not raw food. Not cold food. Not processed food. No crackers.                                               A little fruit could help- dates and figs are great if your digestion can cope- just one or two. Warm, cooked apples with cinnamon and a fat source like butter or ghee or coconut oil, unrefrigerated perfectly ripe mango, banana… no sour fruits or citrus. No yoghurt either until you feel in balance again.

buckwheat chia bread

Eat GHEEghee is good! I have studied pranayama several times with O.P Tiwari of the Kaivalydham and he always tells me to ‘eat more ghee’. prescribing 4 TBs a day for my needs- not easy to consume that much but I do my best. I make it every week and use it in everything. Here it is solid, being winter both outside and inside the house, but if you melt it, it’s easier to eat.

ghee

Rub your feet with ghee before going to bed and put socks on, if you feel overstimulated and are worried that sleep might not be yours ( upward moving energy poses and practices can do this- hence not doing headstand, uddiyana bandha practices or even backbends in the evening)

Give yourself a foot massage– again, with oils.

Put socks on- cold feet can really mess with the body after practice.

put some socks on

Drink some milk if milk is your thing. I can’t drink it so homemade, warm almond milk with spices and honey is a good one too.

Go for a quiet, slow walk, barefoot great if it warm enough. Keep your chest and throat and lower back WARM.

Go get some shiatsu. Tell your practitioner what you’ve gone and done to yourself.

Do some Alternate nostril breathing for at least 5 minutes. More is better. Without kumbhaka ( retention of breath ) is advised if you are new to it.

Do Shitali pranayam if you are irritated and cranky. It is a fabulous panacea for over heated, over stimulated post practice yogi’s.

Legs up the Wall pose ( Vipariti Karani) – what a magic pose over over stimulation. Or Legs Up the Couch pose if you find yourself without a wall to lean on. Having your legs above your heart does wonders for the nervous system. Stay for 10 minutes, keeping warm.

legs up the couch pose

Take a warm bath with magnesium salts – especially if you are feeling it in the muscles.

Hide. Choose your activities. Going to the Southern Hemispheres largest mall for some ill advised retail therapy might not be the right thing to do right now (or ever?)

Ok, so say you’ve jumped in your car and are headed to work and you realise you have over done it. The ideas above might not be an option, right? Perfect thing for you to do would be to hum. humming is the way forward. Inhale long, quiet, slow breaths, exhale while humming- long, slow and completely. Inhale, repeat. For at least 5 minutes. Humming quietens down the over stimulated sympathetic nervous system and feeds the parasympathetic nervous system. Chanting Aum could do it, but try any humming- along to music if you like. When you hum for some time, taking care NOT to over inhale, you will notice the benefits. It helps you concentrate, too.

On public transport? Think humming might not cut it with your fellow passengers? Inhale very very very slowly, through the nose into the belly and only lightly up into the chest, ( yes, abandon bandhas for this, people) and exhale even more slowly, making sure to relax the belly on the next inhale. For as long as it takes.n’t reach for coffee, tea, chai or chocolate. But… don’t forget to eat! But then  also, don’t go overboard trying to replace that weird feeling with food.

Oh, one more thing. Get off the computer. Doesn’t help a bit.

Any others I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.

Finding presence. Yoga as Meditation.

In the first year or two of a solid, committed YOGA practice you are learning the asanas (yoga poses). Your body responds by cleaning out, your strength and flexibility increase, your energy begins to flow clearly and your muscles and joints re-calibrate. Your system is able to detoxify more easily and your metabolism increases. You may discover the breath and how very deep and wide- and how very shallow and still- it can be.

Over more years, more practice, more attention, you discover how the breath and the body and indeed the pose are all one and the same, simultaneously. You begin to find some acceptance of the body- as within the exploration of breath you realise the body is far bigger than you ever imagined. Without borders. You feel the breath as the ocean, swelling and subsiding, beyond the physical limits of the body.
You begin to know a pose as a path of energy encompassing the body mind and breath- often changing in nature from day to day. No longer a collection of arms and legs, muscles and bones- with the breath thrown in from the outside.

You begin to sense that – ‘hey… the body is not me. It is something providing sensation.’ You look at sensation and see – ‘hey… these sensations come and go like the wind, the sensation is not me.’
And the thoughts- as much as we believe they are us, and give them such primacy, such value- almost attributing them with substance- we come to realise:
‘hey… my thoughts are not me, they come and go but I can be aware of them’
You feel the flow of breath and you begin to have an idea that indeed, you are being breathed.

The mind, the breath and the body and the energies within are forever in flux- they can not be defined as self.

Within your yoga practice, especially evident in self practice, is the vital task of cultivating awareness of the sensations of the asana, and the movement in and out of each pose. Awareness of the way the breath feels as your lungs fill and your ribs expand. The sensation of the parts of the body that touch the mat, the stretch in the muscles, the skin, the placement of the bones. The shapes of the energy as it moves. The bodily feeling of being in yoga.

Naturally, with practice, with time and with intent, you begin to become aware of certain thought habits that tether you to a limited reality. The grasping towards the idea of singular self, the ‘me’. The ego at work. The self-categorisation ( I’m tired, I’m flexible, I’m strong, I’m hopeless at this, I’m so spiritual etc, etc ).
The self limiting boxes we place ourselves in.

The practice of becoming mindful of habitual thoughts is key to progress in yoga practice. It is an integral step towards going beyond the physical- finding the spiritual- in yoga. As you become familiar with your familiar habits of perception, the conceptualisations that we build and have had built around us, and you see that everything that is perceivable comes and goes in a state of flux- it becomes clear that what goes on in your mind has nothing to do with the Real.

They manifest in myriad ways, these patterns and constructs… it may be the way you are a little averse to poses that deeply flex the ankles ( yep, that’s me right there ), but love a good deep forward bend or could hang out forever in an incorrectly executed headstand.
It may be a habitual, unexplored way of doing a pose, or a stuck-ness in a joint or muscle system. A catching of the breath. A hesitation. The way a pose triggers a thought association that can lead you off your mat even as you continue moving the body…. the way the mind plays extended remixes of high drama, on replay, ad infinitum. These are only a few, but the ones I have personally seen play out, either staying around and playing for a while or slipping away as fast as they arrive- over and over- within the past 25 years of various Yoga practices.

Our awareness of reality is clouded by avoidance and attraction- our minds swing from attachment to aversion, aversion to attachment, grasping in a habitual way.
Once we begin to even notice this vacillation between thoughts of
‘Oooh yes, I like this, I want more of this, I’m holding on to this’ and ‘No, don’t like that, yucko, I’m pushing that one away ‘, we begin to let it go.

Yoga is all about letting go.

Letting go of the grasping, of the pushing, or the fabrications and constructions. Realising that they are not you. Releasing, as they arise, the judgements and the comparisons. The personal and societal perceptions. The false concept that mind and body are split.

The lonely lie of the limited self.

Finding the neutral spaces between the grasping towards and pushing away, is finding yoga, the raw spaces where future thinking and past reflecting are not in attendance.

Yoga is finding and developing- with intentional curiousity and exploration– those moments where you can drop in to the presence that is ALWAYS ALREADY there. Always has been, always will be. Learning and practicing this focus is discovering freedom, for when you let go of boundaries, you find freedom. The presence of being..

Wat Po, Bangkok- Yoga sculputre- utplutihi

Where is your mind?

This is a little video I made a while back illustrating how easy it is to get lost in thought when practicing… or how concentration comes and goes, stuff comes and goes, interruptions come and go….

 In truth, practice is an exercise in allowing things to come and go.

Yoga should be a practice of mindfulness when possible, an experience towards meditation. Time- as in PRACTICE, committed and persistent- helps this as much as anything.

Coming back to the breath, remembering to find the bandhas ( muscular/energy locks), attending to drishti ( gaze points) and importantly… focusing on sensation all help encourage your practice to become a moving meditation. 

click below to view…

‘Where Is My Mind’- a video piece about concentration and the monkey mind

 

Why Yogaguerilla?

Yogaguerilla is about facing up to the fact that in our minds, in every human mind, is the capacity to fight… ( ‘guerre’ war, ‘-illa’ little).   We are ‘set’, conditioned to react, to judge, to have desire or aversion to every little thing in our world. This is the way the human mind works, a constant whirl of thoughts, feelings, judgements etc. It is a battle. 

However, going within and attending to the present moment, as it is, right now… in this moment… gives us a break from this, a chance to be here, now. It is something you have to take on yourself, like a warrior… no one can do this for you.

This is your own little battle you are fighting. 

Practicing Yoga in a mindful way, learning mindfulness meditation and practicing it both formally ( including sitting practices- with standing and walking practices too) and informally in every day life ( for example , cultivating a non-reactive attitude of equanimity when parenting, working, dealing with other people ) … all these are part of Yogaguerilla…. fighting the little war inside you.

As a yoga teacher, I am often aware that although I can have a good idea of what is going on within a students physical ‘body’- i.e. which muscles they are using, which ones not engaged, etc… I really can never know what is going on in their minds. Although there may be hints- a fidgeting, particular breathing pattern, loss of balance or a tight jaw… one can not be sure if the student is feeling the pose, or actually off writing epic ‘to do’ lists in their heads.

Some Yoga traditions, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa’s ‘tristana’, have guidelines of where to look ( drishti ), how to breathe ( ujjayi- a sibilant, warming breath that acts as a mantra ), internal energetic locks ( bandha )… but even with those, and especially with students who are secure in a daily practice- almost on auto-pilot… who truly knows what is going on within?

It was on learning Mindfulness Meditation that I began to really grasp the meditative aspect of my daily Yoga practice… even in a challenging practice or pose. Learning how to be present, not only within the tristana tools above, but with the sensations arising and passing, ( or indeed arising and sticking! ), the thoughts coming and going, learning to keep coming back to the present moment, again and again, moment by moment, breath by breath.

Truly being in the practice of yoga. 

If I can teach my students how to do this, give them guidelines towards finding the meditative aspect within their practice, whether in a class or at home, then I feel I can really share with them what yoga is about… as without mindfulness, yoga is not much more than a stretching and contorting to various degrees.

Yoga is and should be a transformative experience, not so much a set of exercises to beautify the body and build the ego ( along the way possibly attracting physical injury ), whilst just creating more ‘chatter’ in the mind.