Do you ever skip an opportunity to practice asana because you don’t think you have time, energy, or even enough space? According to senior Para Yoga teacher Karina Ayn Mirsky even just a few minutes matters: for physiology, vitality, and even our everyday habits.
Read on for tips from our interview with Mirsky on how to put together a sequence that’s only 10 minutes long, prepare for a short meditation, or even practice asana in the shower.
Why practice for only 10 minutes?
Because it will help you create good practice habits. I’m reminded of a story that Rolf Sovik shares about how he established a meditation practice. He would get up in the morning and go and touch his meditation cushion and then walk away. He did this for several days.
And then he would go to the cushion and sit on it for a moment. And periodically he would go to his meditation seat and sit on it for a few minutes longer, and before he knew it, he was established in the practice of taking his seat on the meditation cushion.
Even if we can only carve out a few minutes a day, if we make the commitment to practice, even for just a few minutes, we establish ourselves in the habit and that’s what’s really important.
Is there a better or worse time of the day to slip in a few minutes of practice?
It’s funny. My teacher, Rod Stryker says that the best time to do meditation practice is first thing in the morning, according to the ayurvedic clock. And the second best time is any other time. I think it’s true for this as well.
Give yourself 10 minutes, first thing in the morning. It helps work out the stiffness and soreness that may have accumulated over night; and your mind get clear and focused for your day. Otherwise what happens is you wake up, rush off to work, jump on the email right away and before you know it, your attention gets pulled in a million directions and you’ve missed your opportunity.
What should you focus on if you only have 10 minutes?
I love arm swings—the breath of joy—to get the respiration going. Use strong exhales, and a little bit of kapalabhati with those arms swings. This helps move lymphatic fluid, increase circulation, and loosens up the shoulders and the upper back.
I also like dynamic chair pose. Moving in an out of Utkatasana wakes up the upper back, increases energy, and stimulates the nervous system.
If I only have a few minutes I might move slowly through the sun salutation sequence. But any vinyasa flow will do. You could even move in and out of uttanasana a few times.
If I’m really limited, if I don’t even have ten minutes—there are certain things I’ll do in the shower. Agni sara is one. It’s part of my shower routine now. And there’s even a couple of shoulder stretches, warrior poses, with one hand against the wall in the shower so the hot water can run down the chest and work out any aches and pains or stiffness from the night’s sleep.
How long should someone focus on any portion of the practice?
It’s my understanding that if you’re holding a posture, that it takes about 60 seconds to affect the musculature system. It takes closer to 2 minutes to start making an impact on the nervous system. And more than 2 minutes to make an impact on the endocrine system.
When I do arm swings or breath of joy, because I really do want to get my lymph going, I’ll tend to do that for a few minutes. 2 minutes is the minimum.
But for chair pose, which requires so much muscular energy from the thighs, that I might do 6 to 9 rounds of extending the arms outward and then bringing the palms inward to the heart, moving in and out of the pose.
Listen to your body. We don’t always need to look to the science or look to our teachers. We can look to our inner teacher.
Do you have any recommendations for preparing for meditation?
Sometimes what we need to do is strengthen the core and the back body. The muscles of the abdomen and the lower back support the sitting posture and the spine, so it’s important to warm up and strengthen those to prevent back and shoulder pain.
Some poses to consider: Pilates exercises for the core. Dynamic locust, shalambasana, and dynamic cobra. These postures are wonderful for creating the stabilization we need for longer sits.
And foot and ankle circles—something most people wouldn’t think of as a warm-up for meditation. To gain the most benefit, circle each foot slowly and deliberately. Flex and extend the toes, extend the arch of the foot, and circle the ankle. You may even feel this simple movement all through the front of the shin, the back of the calf, and down into the hip joints. Foot and ankle circles prevent the feet from falling asleep and also from cramping. This technique increases circulation in the lower leg, supports the knee and the ligament along the outer edge of the leg.
Photo by Andrea Killam