...and watch your practice deepen and become transformed.  Adding a few simple steps before you begin your daily Yoga practice can help you go deeper, stay more present, and get more out of your practice, even if a few minutes is all you have that day.

There is a lot of research now coming out about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, and we can incorporate some aspects of mindfulness into our daily Yoga routine to elevate it from mundane, tiresome, and obligatory as it may sometimes feel to become unique, uplifting, inspiring, and profoundly spiritual - as it is meant to be.

Incorporating a ritual to enhance a spiritual experience is nothing new.  World religions have long relied on ritual to help the mind get to that special place of inward awareness.  Sometimes these rituals are so elaborate and over the top that they become a means and an end, displacing the actual purpose for their existence.  So let us be clear - a ritual is a tool, to be used sparingly, yet with precision, to make our path to our spiritual center clearer.

You can come up with your own ritual, as I have done, to help you get in the mood for your practice.  I am sharing mine here as an example to inspire you and to give you ideas.

Every morning for my Yoga practice, I go downstairs into my home studio.  Practicing Yoga in the same place at the same time creates a certain conditioning that allows you to quickly drop into the appropriate mindset.  When I go down the stairs into my sacred Yoga space, every step takes me deeper into my inner spiritual space.  I know that I have there everything I need.

There is my loudly ticking clock, keeping the beat and the rhythm for my Pranayama.  There is a selection of mats, but I have my favorite.  I unroll it in the same place for my practice (which is different from where I put it when I teach a class there) - the place where I am a humble student of Yoga.

On the windowsill I have a candle, matches, some fragrant herbs I use instead of incense, and a Tibetan singing bowl.  I approach my little "altar" and address each element, evoking its powers:

- Sacred Fire!  Burn away impurities of my body and mind, help me transform the food I eat into nourishment, and the experiences of Life into wisdom.

I light the candle.  When I blow out the match, I address the smoke (or sometimes I light the herbs and let them create the smoke).

- Sacred Smoke!  Protect my body from disease, my mind from troubled thoughts, my spirit from doubt.

I direct the smoke over myself.  Then I pick up the singing bowl.

- Sacred Sound!  Protect my mind from negativity, displace all unwholesome thoughts with pure light and peace.

I make the bowl send its beautiful vibration of sound, and then I move the bowl all around me from left to right, from top to bottom, to "bathe" myself in its sound.  Then I choose a Mantra to use in my practice that day, and get on my mat.

At the end of the practice, I would blow out the candle and say: "Sacred Fire, Namaste!", direct the smoke over me and say: "Sacred Smoke, Namaste!", and strike the bowl one last time: "Sacred Sound, Namaste!"

Ever since I started doing that I noticed my practice become deeper, I am able to quickly drop into the meditative state, and afterwards I feel the effect of my practice stay with me longer.  It has truly taken me to a new dimension, and I hope you try it as well and see for yourself.

Create your own ritual to make your practice feel sacred, beautiful and special every time, so that you crave it, so that you look forward to it.  May it bring true healing to you on every level!  At my home studio I have candles set up for my students to light before practice and to blow out as they leave.

Share with me your special ritual - what do you do before or after you practice?