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Lesson 209 - Fitting daily practices into a busy schedule
Date: Mon Jun 14, 2004 4:08pm
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Whatever system of spiritual practices we are following, chances are that we have heard,
or figured out on our own, that daily practice is the key to success. The journey of human
spiritual transformation takes time, and the inner changes that lead to our enlightenment
require daily cultivation. Daily spiritual practices are also needed when we already have
spiritual momentum, meaning we have some degree of dynamic inner opening occurring either
through previous practices or a "spontaneous awakening." If we rely only on the
energies that are moving in us spontaneously, then we can be prone to imbalances that will
make our journey homeward toward unending ecstatic bliss and divine love considerably less
comfortable, and potentially longer than necessary.
So, no matter what our approach or level of attainment is, reaching our destination in a
reliable fashion depends on having daily spiritual practices firmly in place. This was
emphasized in these lessons with the first instructions on deep meditation, and with many
reminders since then.
Way back in the lessons on meditation and spinal breathing, some suggestions were given on
how to fit these practices into a busy schedule. Wherever we may be, we can close our eyes
and meditate in trains, airplanes, waiting rooms, just about anywhere. The same is
true of spinal breathing. In fact, light spinal breathing can be done with eyes open while
on the way home from work in the car, without taking our attention off our driving. So, by
the time we are home we can go right into meditation. It is not ideal practice, but can be
done if the clock is pressing us at home. If we are willing to be flexible and compromise
on our practices from time to time, we can keep up the habit under the most adverse
circumstances. There is great value in this, for it assures us of a continuation of
practices over the long term, which is the key to enlightenment.
We do not live in an ideal world. Even with the best plans for regular practice in our
meditation room, it can all go out the window with a family emergency or other intervening
events. Does this mean our daily practices have to go out the window too? Not if we have a
strategy. That is what we will cover in this lesson. Ways to keep our practices going, no
matter what is happening.
As our routine of yoga becomes more sophisticated, involving more practices, keeping it
all going in a busy schedule presents both challenges and opportunities. With so many
pieces to work with in an advanced routine, we can be pretty creative in compressing our
practices when time is short. Where there is a will, there is a way!
Let's talk about the basics of establishing and keeping a habit of doing daily spiritual
practices. One of the easiest ways to do it is make a rule for ourselves that we will do
our routine before we eat breakfast and dinner twice a day like that. If the time
of one or both of those meals isn't stable, then we can tag it to be done upon awakening
in the morning, and as soon as we arrive home in the evening. If we are traveling, it gets
a bit more complicated, but practices can be done to some degree under just about any
circumstances, as long as we honor our habit.
Keeping the habit is not only about doing a full routine. It does not have to be "all
or nothing." The habit is an urge we build into ourselves to do something about
spiritual practice at the appointed time that comes twice daily. Having the habit is
having the "urge to practice." This cultivated urge is the seed of all daily
practice. It is like getting hungry at meal times. It just happens, and we want to eat. If
we have the urge for spiritual practices cultivated like that, then we will do them. Most
days we will be doing our whole routine. On other days, we may be doing less. But we will
always be doing something every session. This "always doing something every
session" is very important.
To illustrate what we mean by having the "habit," let's suppose we are hurrying
down a busy street. We are on our way to a business dinner appointment that will tie us up
until bedtime. We are walking quickly, weaving our way through the people we are passing
on the sidewalk. The restaurant is just around the corner now. Almost there. But wait! We
see a bench, an empty bus stop bench on the sidewalk in the middle of all the people
hurrying this way and that way. We have that urge built into us to do practices. It is
time. So what do we do? We stop and sit on that bench for a few minutes and meditate. It
might be only for two minutes. But why not? Who will miss us for those two minutes? And we
have kept our habit to sit. It is amazing how doing something small like that can renew us
for an entire evening centering for just a few minutes, picking up the mantra just
a few times. The nervous system says, "Thank you!" And we are calmer for the
rest of the evening.
But it is not just about centering for a few minutes. It is also about keeping our habit
of twice daily practices. If we are in a crazy schedule for days or weeks like that, and
can just sit for a few minutes before breakfast and dinner, then when we recover control
of our schedule we won't be struggling to find our practice routine again. The habit will
be there, and then we can indulge it with our full routine, which we know will fill us to
overflowing with inner silence and divine ecstasy.
So that is the first thing, you know keeping the habit, even if it for two minutes
on a bus stop bench. It does not matter where it is, or what is going on. We can keep the
habit if we are committed. Then it will keep us committed, because it becomes a hunger
that comes on its own at the appointed time. Then we will not have to struggle to restore
our commitment to yoga once we are free to do twice-daily full routines of practice again.
It is more likely that we will be faced with compromises in our practice time that are not
usually as extreme as having to take a few minutes on a bus stop bench. Let's talk about
If we are doing spinal breathing and meditation, followed by a few minutes of rest while
coming out, it is not difficult to tailor our practice to a time limitation. Say we are
doing 10 minutes of spinal breathing, 20 minutes of meditation, and 5 minutes of rest.
That is a 35 minute routine. Then one day we may find ourselves with only 15 minutes to
work with. We can just do 10 minutes of meditation, rest for a few minutes and get up. We
can also put a few minutes of spinal breathing in front. If we know we will be short on
time, we can start with some light "walking" spinal breathing before we get to
our seat. If we have to choose between spinal breathing and meditation, we always choose
meditation. One thing we do not do is combine spinal breathing and deep meditation at the
same time. The reasons for that are discussed early in the lessons.
Let's suppose we are doing a "full plate" of practices -- everything in these
lessons to a moderate degree. So let's lay it out. It is a typical routine. If you are
doing more or less of any of the practices, then you can make the necessary adjustments in
translating the suggestions on what to do when the schedule crunch hits you. The idea is
to develop some strategies that will enable us to keep our routine together when time is
short. Think about it in advance "What will I do if my practice time is cut in
half?" There is no absolute right or wrong answer. Beyond a few basics, keeping
practices going when time is short is an art. So here is our moderate "full
Asanas 10 min
Spinal breathing 10 min
Chin pump 5 min
Spinal bastrika 5 min
Meditation 20 min
Samyama 10 min
Yoni mudra 5 minutes
Targeted or crown bastrika (optional) 5 min
Rest 5 min (or more)
That is about 75 minutes an hour and fifteen minutes. There is nothing sacred about
the times in this routine. Maybe you are doing 20 minutes of spinal breathing, and no
samyama. Or maybe no asanas. Maybe no spinal or targeted bastrika. Whatever the
combination is, it is up to you. Just make sure you are not skipping meditation or rest.
Those two (cultivation of inner silence, plus a stable transition to daily activity) are
the foundation of all spiritual progress. Spinal breathing is right behind meditation and
rest in importance. So, spinal breathing, meditation, and ending rest are a powerful and
full routine of practices. All the rest of the practices are for enhancing and building on
the effects of these.
This "pecking order" is what we use as a guideline when we begin compressing our
practices into a tighter schedule.
So, let's say we have this wonderful one-hour-plus practice routine, and all of a sudden
due to circumstances beyond our control, we find ourselves with only thirty minutes to do
our afternoon routine. Without a plan, the inclination might be to just bag it for the
afternoon and try again tomorrow. All or nothing, you know. That is not a good strategy.
Not only will we lose the benefit of a skillfully compressed routine, but we will also
dilute our habit to practice twice daily. The urge to practice needs twice daily
reinforcement. Just remember the bus stop bench. If it was good enough to keep the habit
going, isn't thirty minutes in a relatively quiet room a luxury? It really is. So here are
some suggestions on what we can do.
First, we hang on to meditation. That is always the first priority. But we'd like to do
some of the other practices too, so let's trim the meditation to 15 minutes in this 30
minute plan. We know we need up to five minutes of rest at the end for a smooth transition
back into activity, so that is 20 minutes, leaving us with 10 minutes to work with. Next
is spinal breathing. We can do five minutes of spinal breathing in front of meditation and
then use the last five minutes for other things. Which practice should the last five
minutes be for?
At this point, it depends on our preference. If we love our samyama, then we can go for
five minutes of that and leave asanas, chin pump, spinal bastrika, and yoni mudra for
tomorrow. Or, if we want chin pump and spinal bastrika, there is a trick we can do. We can
marry spinal bastrika and chin pump together for three to five minutes that is
doing spinal bastrika while doing the chin pump at the same time. It is not ideal, but it
provides a combined injection of bastrika and chin pump. Two for the price of one, you
know. With this scenario, we are giving up the kumbhaka in chin pump, and probably won't
have time for yoni mudra either. It is also possible to incorporate chin pump into the
last few minutes of spinal breathing. You will recall that this is called "chin pump
Additionally, in less than one minute before we sit for practices, we can do a "sun
salutation- style" stretching routine that includes bending back, twisting left and
right, and bending forward and touching toes. A little uddiyana and/or nauli can be done
also. All of the elements of an asana routine can be touched on in this way in about a
minute. It is far from optimal, but it is something in the asanas department we can do
before we sit.
So, in this way, we can do a pretty good routine in 30 minutes if we are faced with a time
limit like that. It can be done in less time too. Of course, then we are dropping more
practices off. But we can always do something, even if it is sitting on a bus stop bench
for a few minutes, picking up the mantra and dipping into pure bliss consciousness.
Is should be mentioned that we don't have to give up any of the "parallel"
practices we do while sitting. These are siddhasana, mulabandha/asvini, sambhavi,
uddiyana/nauli, and kechari. To the extent we are practicing these, they can always be
incorporated with our core sitting practices in every session, no matter how short the
time is. Indeed, they will be found creeping into our everyday activity as ecstatic
conductivity is coming up in our nervous system. By then, mudras and bandhas have become
part of our normal neuro-biological functioning, and we will never lose them.
Of course, we have to be mindful about practices we are doing in public view. Doing
full-blown chin pump in a busy airport waiting room could lead to a call for the rescue
squad. Either that or an exorcist! A vigorous bastrika session might lead to a similar
call. But most of our practices can be done discreetly. That certainly applies to light
spinal breathing, meditation, samyama, mulabandha, mild uddiyana/nauli, and kechari.
Sambhavi is not noticeable if done with eyes fully closed, which is recommended anyway.
Even siddhasana can be done discreetly in a public place if one shoe is removed and our
heel is slipped up under our perineum. Sometimes where we happen to be will determine what
practices we will do. As the old saying goes "Discretion is the better part of
There are many ways to piece together practices if we are faced with a short schedule, or
less than ideal location. After spinal breathing, meditation, and ending rest are taken
care of, it is up to our personal preferences. Give it some thought. When the need arises,
we can find interesting and creative ways to keep our practices going. With bhakti, we
will find a way.
In this busy world, we will all be faced with the challenge of having limited time for our
practices. As we continue with yoga, our spiritual desire (bhakti) will become stronger,
and we will find ways to keep the necessary time available. Even so, there will be things
that come up occasionally that will limit our time, so it is wise to develop an attitude
of flexibility and a willingness to compromise when necessary to make sure that we are
always honoring our habit to practice twice each day. If we do that, there won't be much
in this world that can keep us from reaching our divine destination.
The guru is in you.
Note: For detailed instructions on building a
balanced daily practice routine with self-pacing, see the
Eight Limbs of Yoga Book, and
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