Autodidact

Patience

Halasana variation, June 2020

An intensive yoga week came to an end this morning. I practiced 2 hours almost every day. I know too many asanas and variation that I want to exercise. Splits are always part of my program, but also back bending.

The pandemic forced me to practice again alone. I miss the other yogini. Yet the lock down was also an opportunity for me. I see my own responsibility for my practice. I adjust the Ashtanga Yoga series to my needs, skills and possibilities. Being an autodidact doesn’t mean to rely on oneself only. So many yoga practitioner have created and published useful videos. There are books to read. I’m a member of Omstars and get a lot of tips and tricks from the teacher on Kino’s TV.

The yoga community is so strong with so much knowledge. What a gift.

First we learn from others mainly. The longer we practice the more we become our own teacher.

Despite intensive practices it’s not guaranteed that progress comes quickly. Patience is required. One must find joy in the daily discomfort. It sounds like a paradox. Stretching and strength training come with unpleasant feelings. Not being able to master the vinyasa after more than a decade of practicing is frustrating. The practice gives the opportunity to face these challenges and to find solutions. Deep breathing helps to stand the discomfort, i.e.. Finding extra exercise might be a solution for challenging asanas. Observing the feelings that come and go helps to stay relaxed. What is practiced on the mat, is often useful in daily life, too.

Enjoy a rest day.

Searching discomfort

Bakasana, June 2021

In my Facebook stream and also in my Intagram stream a lot of advertising appears. The offers sound very similar: Splits in only two weeks. Handstand in 10 days and so on. This sounds familiar. The finance branch has similar ads: Become a millionaire in a year…… 10 % interest on your capital….

There are examples, who seem to prove that it’s possible, but mainly it’s not. Stretching needs time. Flexible people exist. They can learn the splits very fast. All the others have to put in the work.

Once I was told that I’d master an asana in my next life. This on the other hand meant that something went wrong, too. There is no next life. Yet the asana was within my possibilities.

It’s possible to speed up the learning process. In regard of stretching it can mean:

  • Hold the position up to 5 minutes.

  • Repeat a position up to three times.

  • Breathe and relax. Only a relaxed body stretches.

  • Increase the pain tolerance.

  • Exercise minimum once, better twice a day.

  • Apply effective stretching techniques.

  • Learn about anatomy to stretch correctly.

  • Avoid injuries.

  • Document your practice. It helps to stay motivated.

  • Find buddies.

All these points can accelerate the learning process. There are surely more tips to increase the learning process.

I know asanas, like the headstand that can be learned within half an hour.

Yet, when stretching and strength is involved, it usually takes more time, sometimes months or years (but not a lifetime).

The learning process can be an opportunity to get to know oneself. It tells how a person approaches a challenge.

Another tip to speed up the learning process is to search discomfort. I know which exercises I avoid. They seem too hard. They bring discomfort. Yet they are the key to get better. A good approach is to find the next tiny step and to increase the challenge and discomfort slowly.

Bakasana:

The discomfort one can face is the fear to fall forward when the arms are stretched. So learn to fall forward. Put a cushion in front of you and fall on the top of your head.

In order to straighten the arms the shoulders should be rounded. Bakasana requires core strength. To work on core strength is something that is hard. Yet this is what makes the difference. It’s something that I avoid, but try now to implement in my daily practice.

Know what you avoid and do it.

if you like, your comments on what exercises you avoid and what you’re going to exercise from now on are welcomed.

Two more practices this week. I’m looking forward to it.

Practicing alone

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Practicing alone allows me to adjust my practice to my possibilities on a given day. After a break I take it very easy. Usually very soon flexibility and strength improves. I take this time. No injuries is #1 goal.

Pashasana is a deep twist at the beginning of second series. The picture shows my alternate asana. It’s relaxing especially for the back.

It’s so rewarding to practice on a daily basis.

Health first. Especially during Corona time it’s so important to strengthen the immune system. I recommend a cold shower in the morning. Move the body and stay optimistic.

We’re gifted with a wonderful online community. I enjoy being connected with people around the globe.

Stay healthy.

Take care of yourself and others.

Quick fix

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Of course one can learn some skills very fast. Headstand (not handstand) can be learned within half an hour. The Sivananda Yoga schools still offer headstand workshops that last 30 minutes. I learned sirsasana from Sivananda teacher. The teaching was convincing. If one knows how to do it, one is able to do it. The issue in other yoga styles is that even the teacher does not know how to teach it. They send the students to the wall and this makes it very likely that this student will never learn headstand in the middle of the room.

I’m convinced that most processes can get more drive, more speed. Doing things right usually speeds up the process. Quick fixes on the other hand are often a bad solution to an issue or goal.

Yet in the meantime almost every branch offers quick fixes that are lousy solutions. Often it deserves the name fraud.

  1. A quick fix is to go to a restaurant. Since Corona I cook. The restaurants were closed. Yet I started to eat out for lunch since the restaurants are open again. Very seldom I eat out, but each time I regret it. It’s not a good solution when I want to eat well. True is that my stomach gets quickly something to eat. But usually I gain weight, I feel full after lunch. If I get only few vegetables I’m happy. I compromise already when I order a vegetarian meal as most restaurants don’t have vegan options. I get quick something to eat that’s the point. It takes time to cook. I must have ingredients at home, I must cook and do the dishes afterwards. But it’s so much better and healthier than a quick fix.

  2. Many doctors offer quick fixes. A patient has high blood pressure. Instead of talking about the possible causes for instance the weight, the doctor has a pill. This pill must be taken for the rest of the life of this patient. To lose weight would be the better solution, yet this takes time. It often requires that someone changes habits. A quick fix is often welcomed, but it remains a lousy solution in comparison to start a healthy life. There are pills for almost every ‘disease’.

  3. In the photography community quick fixes are offered, too. It sounds like that: Use square format. In addition use the filters we’re offering for only xy-Dollars and your pictures are better. Yes, might be. But nobody becomes a better photographer that way. Applying filters is fun, a quick fix. Learning photoshop takes time. It comes with frustrations, but it opens a world of creative possibilities.

  4. We all know the get rich quickly books. It can happen for sure. If someone has a strategy that makes him/her rich in 80 years, it’s not such a good strategy. If someone wins the lottery he/she gets rich quick. How often does this happen? There are ways to speed up the process of becoming wealthy. If someone offers 25 % interest or even more if banks pay 0 interest, one can be sure that through this quick fix someone will lose money. It’s fraud and no quick fix.

  5. Diets is another huge topic. Lose 5 pounds within a week. Most diets cause the opposite the client wants. The promise to lose 5 pounds within a week might be realistic, but what after the 5 weeks. Many people gain weight. Soon they weight more than before the diet. A quick fix was harmful.

  6. It’s now the same with yoga. Splits within a week. 80.000 went through the program and learned the splits already. I read the comments and found some critical ones. I saw this advertising many times already and changed the preset. Quickly a message by fb popped up. You were interested in ads like this. Have you changed your mind? Learning asanas takes time. It’s a journey. Splits require stretching and this takes time. Quickly one is overstretched and injured. Indeed one can speed up the learning process through right exercises, commitment, repetitions, daily practice. Some yogini learn faster than others. Some are talented and are able to do all poses almost at once. Most people have to start a learning process that last forever. If you stop practicing the splits after a week you’ll lose this ability to split. It’s that simple.

No quick fix for me today:

  • My yoga practice humbled me already. Since a decade I work on some poses. I’m still burning to learn kapotasana, standing up from urdhva dhanurasana and so on. I can tell already how it feels to face frustrations and joys, mountains and valleys, ups and downs. I keep practicing.

  • I have the motivation to prepare my own meal today, because it tastes so much better and it’s so much healthier. Staying healthy is important.

Daily practice is the key

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Slowly I understand asanas better and better. I know strength, stretching and balancing exercises. I know how to focus and breathe. My mind has learned to think: go for it, it’s possible. I also know that learning never stops. What we all know now, might be proved wrong tomorrow.

During my daily practice I always experience: Nothing is more important than the daily work, the daily practice if one wants to be a serious student of anything. The most effective exercise has no positive effect if not applied minimum three times a week, better every day.

That is after an intensive strength training, a break is recommended. Stretching must be done correctly as well.

My idea is to integrate supportive exercises in my morning practice. Sometimes I step on the mat in the evening as well, but not always. It’s summer time and it’s nice to go out for a walk in the evening.

It’s also important to find one’s own learning method. There are tested methods, but there is also an individual part. There is a tsunami of yoga tutorials on the internet. Many are produced so fast and they are so difficult to follow that they do more harm than good. I try to remember three exercises, when I watch a tutorial. During the next practice I try it. One cannot do everything. It’s too much. Everybody is a master today. Everybody has something to teach. To run from one exercise to the next makes no sense either. Firstly I’d like to being able to perform an exercise easily before moving on to the next challenge. Slowing down might finally speed up the learning process.

We learn from others a lot. It’s also possible to learn from the own practice.

The above exercise is a stretching exercise. Instead of virabhadrasana I practice the above pose as a preparation for the back bending.

My timer is always next to me. It’s easier to hold a pose longer when waiting for an external clue. The sound of a timer can get a lot of authority.

Become your own yoga teacher.

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In the beginning of any journey one needs a map. To go to yoga classes is a very good idea. Not everything can be learned online. Feed-back is necessary. Adjustments are very important.

Right from the beginning on one can deepen one’s own practice alone at home. Home practices are possible from the very beginning on. It’s good to establish very early in one’s yoga journey a home practice. This brings independence. It shows what is learned, which asanas one can remember. To practice alone develops discipline till finally the practice becomes a habit.

After years, many yoga classes later, many workshops later, many tutorials on YouTube later, one becomes more experienced. This is the point when the yoga student does not only repeat what is learned. Own ideas change the practice. It’s possible to consider the own strength and weaknesses.

Questions might help to deepen the understanding of one’s own yoga journey:

  • Are there variations of an asana?

  • What is an easier version of a pose and what is a more difficult version?

  • Perhaps blogs might support the journey?

  • Are there different vinyasa?

  • What else can support the practice? Strength training? A different diet? Pranayama?

  • Can it make sense to explore other yoga styles than the preferred one?

  • What eating habits support the practice. What diet supports the practice and the body.

The asana on the picture is a preparation asana for pincha mayurasana. I prepare myself for falling. I’d like to land safely on my feet, no matter if I fall out of the pose forward or backward. I want to avoid injuries. This is why I adjust my practice. This is possible at home.

This asana also intensifies back bending in general. It stretches the upper body.

My yoga week at home started today. When I take another day off I’m sure these days that my body needs it. Saturday and Sunday I relaxed. Today I started with primary. The mind was so unfocused that I forgot several times if I had practiced the left side already. Sometimes the body is weak, sometimes the mind is wild.

Document and measure your practice.

The first step of anything someone wants to learn is to find out about the current ability. From there the student can move on. An analysis at first allows to create a plan. The next steps can be defined.

Sometimes the analysis can take rather long. If someone wants to have better eating habits the first step is to find out how someone is eating and what a person is eating. The more data one collects the more useful. This might last a week. Everything shall be documented. The first mistake often happens during this first documentation. Soon scientists found out that people didn’t write down every ‘tiny’ snack, not knowing that these snacks have often the most calories and sugar. An improvement was to take pictures of anything someone ate. This is a faster and a better method to get to true data.

If someone wants to learn English or any other language, usually she has to pass a test so that the school can find out the current level of the student. This is important to chose a class that fits.

It’s the same with yoga. To document the practice and to measure the progress is a huge support.

I use my multi timer to start my practice. After 2 hours the timer stops with a sound. If I practice shorter I can switch off the timer. The App creates a journal of my practices. It allows me to check how often I practiced and how long. If I practiced only once a week I couldn’t expect miracles. Rather the opposite. When I see that I practice 6 times a week I give myself an opportunity to grow. What was a disciplined behavior first becomes a habit over time. It’s motivating to see last accomplishments.

On one of the walls here I draw lines. It helps to see how deep I bent backwards when exercising kapotasana i.e. I always want to reach the last line. It gives me an orientation of what was possible already. I’m looking forward to draw the next line.

Without these orientation I’d feel lost.

Documentations help to adjust a plan. It helps to see these little accomplishments, that deserve to be celebrated.

This week I practiced already twice. Only four further practices are planned. This seems doable. I’m looking forward to my morning practice.

These are the advantages of a home practice. Not everybody can use a timer in a class. To draw lines on a wall is impossible in a yoga school.

Documenting and measuring are part of a wise strategy:

1. step: What is the status quo.

2. step: Defining a goal.

3. step: Creating many tiny steps how to get there.

4. step: Documenting the practice.

5. step. Planning the next reflection and adjusting the plan.

To give life a structure helps to get things done. Time doesn’t fade away without contents.

Learn to learn

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On the surface we learn asanas. True is we learn much more than just asanas. Many things that we learn are not visible at first sight.

  • We learn that when we have the thought or the feeling we’re done, we’re still able to hold a pose a bit longer or to do another chaturanga dandasana. Beginner give up much earlier than more experienced yogini.

  • We learn to bear discomfort. In order to bear discomfort it’s useful to keep breathing evenly. This helps to relax despite the discomfort or pain.

  • With time we get to know our limits. We often can do much more than we think. This is the experience that we can make over time. With this knowledge we’re often able to do a bit more than usual.

This post got inspired by the Saturday night competition show ‘Let’s dance’. Twelve celebrity try to win. Every Friday a couple ( a celebrity who dances with a professional dancer) is out. The couples get judged by a jury and the spectators who can vote by phone for her favorite dancer.

The dancer have different qualifications. Some are sportive already, they climb and run. Others are musicians. Some have experience to be on stage. Others are not so experienced. Those who are not so experienced perform better when they dance in a group. They profit much more from the energy of others than those who are more experienced.

  • I think that the more experienced we are the more we’re able to exercise alone without the energy of a group. Everybody can profit from a group and group training, yet for those who are not used to exercise it can make a huge difference.

The Ashtanga Yoga week has started. At 6:30 am I began with the first sun salutations. The practice today was very intensive. Focus was back bending. Slowly it becomes again a joy to bend backwards.

Every practice is different

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Every practice is different. Not always it’s possible to give 100%. I even read that it’s better to aim for 90 %. This gives any practice a certain lightness. There is room for play. The body is not a machine. Sometimes more than 100% are possible. Breakthrough happens. Yet if one expects that some practices are low of energy then one is not disappointed if it happens. Sometimes one gets also surprised by a super good performance. Also the tolerance to stand discomfort differs from practice to practice. I remember a sentence by a cyclist during the Tour de France: Today I have heavy legs. Everybody learns this: Not every day is the same.

I’m more and more relaxed about the valleys and mountains that I face in my daily practice. More than 2 years ago I had serious issues with my sacroiliac joint. When I practice today I don’t need a single relaxing asana to calm my back. I adjusted few asanas. During my practice I can almost forget about the past injuries. I learned that nothing can be forced. Injuries are setbacks. They make modest and cautious. They are also huge learning opportunities.

Exercise smarter than harder.

Hobby athlete train often more than professionals. They have no coach, they don’t get massages nor do they have a physiotherapist. The value of breaks is not known. ‘More is better’ is often the thought. True is ‘smarter is better’.

The sentence ‘Practice and all is coming’ sounds great, but true is ‘Practice correctly and all is coming’. What correct is might change. To reflect from time to time (not every day, but every 6 weeks i.e.) on the own practice is useful. My injury two years ago forced me to reflect. I think I’ve learned something:

  • I established a home practice.

  • Rules can be a guide, but one must know when to break them.

  • Self-studying is important. I read books on strength training and calisthenics. There are good books on stretching on the market. Youtube videos can be helpful. The own practice is a precious source for insights. 1% theory and 99% practice might be a bit less theory.

My practice today started slow, then it gained dynamic and then it slowed down again. All asanas of primary felt excellent. The vinyasa were weak. At the end I was so thankful that I found something so precious for me.

You cannot climb the same river twice.

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Heraklit: You cannot climb the same river twice.

Every practice is a new adventure. Not one single practice equals another one. Every day is new. So many factors have an impact on the body and the mind. How well did I sleep? What have I eaten the last day? How were my dreams? Sometimes the body is flexible and the mind is focused, the other day it’s the opposite. What will be possible today, is a good question when starting with the sun salutations. The limits of the body move. Every practice has highlights and disappointments. They alter. Sometimes the mind likes to judge, sometimes the critical mind is sleeping. Sometimes I’m ambitious, sometimes I want to bring the practice behind me. Sometimes I’d like to stick to the original series, on other days I’m creative.

I’m most of the time enthusiastic when I manage to practice (before breakfast). Ninety minutes of yoga practice make a difference.

Many yoginis practice at home these days due to Corona virus. It’s totally different than going to classes. It’s possible to adjust the practice. On the other hand the energy of the other yoginis does not exist.

I like to use my timer to stay longer in asanas. This is not possible in classes. I love to do extra exercises to work effectively on certain asanas. Also this is not possible in classes

Decades ago I attended my first yoga class. The one thing the teacher recommended was to exercise also at home. The class with this teacher was offered once a week, which is not often. A home practice can always accompany yoga classes. A mixture of both seems to be very good. In the beginning one might have the wish to go more often to yoga classes. After years of practice the home practices might be more fulfilling.

We yoginis know how to make the best out of these times where we’re advised to stay at home. If not yet used to a home practice, we can start cultivating it any time.

No single yoga practice bored me. It’s an exciting journey.

It’s Eastern: We stay at home. Too many people are careless, some even insolent. I regretted that I haven’t done all my grocery shoppings yesterday. Today the shops are crowded. A woman pushed me away from the fridge. She showed a combination of aggression and carelessness. As said, a day before Easter is not the best day to go shopping. At home I washed my hands at once. Stay alert, take care.

A friend on Facebook described how the Corona virus knocked him down. He recovered, yet a full recovery can last 3 weeks. I hope that I can avoid getting ill.

Greetings from home to home……..

How to learn asanas is important

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I’m much more interested in how to learn an asana or vinyasa than in what to learn next. The next asana is not that important. The next step forward is important. There are 6 different forms of asanas:

  1. forward bending asanas

  2. back bending asanas

  3. side stretches

  4. twists

  5. inversions

  6. balancing asanas

Everybody can start with an easy form. With time and exercise one can get deeper into forward bending, backhanding and so forth.

How to learn the asanas and how to speed up the process is my question these days. The method of Ashtanga Yoga is not up to date. To practice 2 and a half hours till I could focus on the one asana that I was not able to do was not successful. I want to exercise the difficult asanas rather early in my practice this is why I alter primary with second series. That way I can practice the challenging back bending asanas when I’m still full of energy and not at the end of 2 hours, after primary……

These days I do at least 3 things differently:

  1. I hold the asanas that are difficult for me longer than 5 breaths. The body needs time to relax. The body needs time to stretch. This is known in many other disciplines. I usually use a timer and set it to 1 minute for one forward bending asana, one backhanding asana, one twist…….. Sirsasana I want to hold for 2 minutes. Today I held it 1 and a half minutes. Then I got out of the pose. There is still work to do….This tiny alteration to the classic Ashtanga flow makes already a difference.

  2. I do preparation exercises before the challenging asanas and I repeat them. My body tells me when it’s enough. I listen to myself. Rules are guidelines and no laws.

  3. I use as minimum props as possible. I use them when it makes sense. The wall is my favorite tool, especially when I bend backwards.

An asana is accomplished when it has the wished form and when it feels good. One must have the feeling that one can sleep in an asana. Then you’re there.

More than anything else it’s important to establish a daily practice.

I keep practicing at home. It gives me the liberty to adjust the practice to my needs.

Self-study

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How to be an autodidact?

Those who practice at home are autodidacts. There is no teacher who can give feed-back. No adjustments are given. Nevertheless learning takes place. I think it can make sense to understand the learning process. It can accelerate it.

When learning a new asana it can make sense to divide it in tiny steps. Most of the time interim steps can be exercised. To progress slowly is not so frustrating than trying to perform the end form of an asana that is not yet possible.

Sometimes it’s also necessary to vary an asana due to injuries. This was not the case in the pose in the picture (ardha baddha padmottanasana), yet I know other poses that were not possible anymore after my SI joint issues.

How to understand an asana:

  • The first step is to define the asana. In the above picture we see half lotus, a forward bend and a balancing challenge. To learn lotus pose might take time. To open the hips is not done in a few sessions. To bend forward means to lengthen the body first. The movement starts from the hips. In order to facilitate any balancing pose it makes even more sense to breathe evenly. to engage the bandhas, to gaze at a point and to keep the eyes calm. These hints can be a guide. They are instructions.

  • The vinyasa is important, too. Often several ways to get into an asana are possible. The above pose usually begins with posing the leg in half lotus. If this is not possible to look for variations starts here. I.e. one can put the foot against the leg. To do this the hips have to open much less than they have to when performing half lotus pose. This might be a first step.

  • It’s important to find out the own limits. Then one can push them. Forcing oneself into a position that is not yet possible makes not so much sense. Observe your face. Is it relaxed?

Performing easier poses that are doable or exercising interim steps is not the recommended strategy of the Ashtanga yoga community.

Due to my back injury I was no more able to perform asanas that used to be easy for me. I had to exercise variations. I had to omit asanas. That’s why I withdraw from classes. I had to….. This helped me to heal. Yesterday I practiced primary at home with no back pain at all. I could do all the surya namaskara A and B. It exhausted me, but I could do them. I got so weak, but I got stronger already. Patience is necessary. I’m more than happy that I can practice again. That this injury would last 2 years is still a shock for me. I’m so happy and thankful every time I’m on the mat. I see much light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a lesson in being patient and trusting that everything can get better again.

Summary:

Define the asana and find interim steps to get to the final pose. If the final pose is easy, one can search for asanas that are more demanding. Listen to your body.

To document the practice

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This year I started documenting the frequency of my yoga practice. Of course, if one doesn’t write down the practices, the document is of less value. I had to get into the habit to document it. So this calendar is only an orientation. I got into the habit to put the calendar on the table next to my yoga mat. At the end I make a sign that I practiced. A1 stand for Ashtanga primary. A2 stands for Ashtanga second series. It’s indeed satisfying to jot this down. ‘Done’ is the thought that comes up. It gives a feeling of accomplishment no matter how the practice was.

  • Three practices in a week means that there is the possibility to progress.

  • Less than three practice a week, means that one still hasn’t forgotten to practice.

  • Less than one practice a week means that one loses abilities. One gets weaker very fast. Soon one gets stiffer and less flexible, too. The discipline to step on the mat weakens. As a consequence of this all the motivation to practice drops Yet it can be of psychological value to practice here and then. It can mean one is still into it.

More is not always better. This is also true for the asana practice or parts of it. For instance the strength community agrees that after a strength training the body needs a day off in order to integrate the training. Stretching can be done more often, pranayama and meditation as well.

Looking back I think that my body needed the breaks to heal, also the long ones. One cannot find out 100% what was the cause for this back pain that lasted that long (2 years). The character of the pain changed over the two years. Lately it felt as if something was torn. Each time when I practiced I scratched on the wound till it bleeded. Then the healing process had to begin again. In the beginning of the year when I had finished a yoga practice I couldn’t take the steps here without pain. I had to hold myself on the handrail in order to take the steps. This was a bad situation that didn’t motivate me to practice often. Perhaps these forced breaks allowed the body heal.

The frequency of my yoga practice of the last year was not often enough to get back to my level of 2 years ago. Healing came first. I pick me up where I am now. Every day.

As mentioned, sometimes breaks are the best what one can do. I kept the fire burning for this body art also when I practiced only once a week or even less often. That was enough. And since several weeks my back feels so much better. I even forget it when I practice. Sometimes I make a movement that feels awkward. My back quickly reacts with pain, but as quick as the pain comes, as quick it disappears. I always sigh and I’m glad. What progress.

To document the practice can be very useful:

  1. It tells me where I am. The frequency of a practice is often the reason why no progress can be seen. Or the opposite.

  2. It gives me hints for the activities that could make sense to do.

  3. It can help to spot mistakes and to avoid injuries even.

What to document:

  1. The frequency of the practice via a calendar.

  2. The progress of the asanas via pictures and films.

  3. Also the nutrition can be documented.

A calendar, a camera and a blog or journal are the tools.