It all begins with an idea, often dressed up as a New Year’s resolution: I want to eat more healthily, exercise regularly, or write a book. More often than not, those plans remain pipe dreams.
What makes it so difficult for us to convert an idea into action, and how can we turn a one-off action into a sustainable habit?
Any new activity may feel, at first, physically and psychologically uncomfortable. Naturally, our bodies try to avoid pain and seek pleasure, so that we experience resistance to any activity that doesn’t feel immediately gratifying.
However, if we allow ourselves time to embody that experience, we may surprise ourselves.
The concept of embodiment (or embodied cognition) comes from psychology and means that all our experiences register on several different levels: in the body, the brain, and the mind. Our experiences are inevitably situated in the context of the environment we perceive around us, and actions through the senses and the motor system of the body. So, to incorporate a new habit on a deeper level it can be helpful to notice how the new activity makes us feel (physically and emotionally), and how we respond to the specific environment in which the activity takes place.
For example, let’s take this blog post. As I began writing, I experienced an initial resistance. I stopped. I began again a couple of days later, and again stopped prematurely. When I eventually managed to overcome my initial discomfort, I began to experience the writing as something quite pleasurable and rewarding.
Why such a change? Because, I argue, I allowed myself to engage with the task on both mental and bodily levels. Let me explain…
Writing requires, on the bodily level, prolonged sitting in one spot, i.e., relative physical stillness. Thus, bringing my attention to how I sit, and choosing a comfortable and quiet place allowed me to engage more with my experience.
To get through the first paragraph, I needed to concentrate, which involved the effort and application of my brain in such a way to facilitate single-minded concentration: I needed to create ‘space’ in my mind, free of distracting thoughts such as, e.g., what’s for dinner, which in turn enabled creative processes.
If we could attend to the small components that make up our chosen activity, we might be able to pinpoint the obstacle(s) interfering with our goal to keep it up. Developing awareness of our surroundings, our bodily reactions, and our thoughts and feelings in association with the task may help us adapt ourselves to that new experience. In my case, the obstacle to my writing practice was lack of focus, fed by my persistent thoughts of attending to other things. Following this realisation, I was able to dedicate a special time slot to writing this blog, which subsequently helped my focus. Had I not attended to my feelings, they would have remained undetected by my conscious mind, and stay unresolved, leaving the obstacle in place.
Ask yourself questions such as:
What else could we do to maintain our new practice long enough to embody it and turn it into a habit?
We can all relate to the times we decided to take up a new routine in the New Year, such as going to the gym, or yoga practice. We often start strong, but find ourselves dropping out around February. Feeling like a failure usually follows. And that feeling further inhibits our subsequent efforts to re-establish a healthy routine. There are certain things that have worked for me, and although we are all different, you might find some of the points below helpful to establishing a new routine:
Finally, listen to the wisdom of Buddha: “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”
Starting a new practice takes conscious effort to engage with the process on bodily and mental levels. Once this is achieved, the activity is incorporated into our body and mind, and the chances are high that it will transform into a natural and effortless habit.
Numerous studies suggest that yoga practice has a positive effect on cognitive processes such as memory and attention.
For example, one study found improvement in memory in Brazilian military recruits who participated in yoga as well as exercise compared to recruits in an exercise- only condition. Effects were particularly strong for those under stressful conditions and the improved memory effect persisted even after 6 months. (Rocha et al., 2012) Another study that recruited adolescents found that a 7-week yoga program improved memory and concentration. (Kauts and Sharma, 2009) Another example is a recent research that showed significant improvement on speed and accuracy in math computations in a sample of 38 adults who participated in a 20-min Tai chi/yoga class. (Field et al., 2010).
Although the studies on effect of yoga on cognition are preliminary, often based on a small sample of participants or lack an appropriate control groups, these initial findings are consistent with the notion that yoga can aid various aspects of cognition.
Field, T., Diego, M., and Hernandez-Reif, M. (2010). Tai chi/yoga effects on anxiety, heartrate, EEG and math computations. Complement. Ther. Clin. Pract. 16, 235– 238. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2010.05.014
Kauts, A., and Sharma, N. (2009). Effect of yoga on academic performance in relation to stress. Int. J. Yoga 2, 39–43. doi: 10.4103/0973-6131.53860
Rocha, K. K., Ribeiro, A. M., Rocha, K. C., Sousa, M. B., Albuquerque, F. S., Ribeiro, S., et al. (2012). Improvement in physiological and psychological parameters after 6 months of yoga practice. Conscious. Cogn. 21, 843–850. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2012.01.014
Numerous studies show that Yoga has beneficial effects on mood and anxiety. Anxiety and depression is strongly associated with the reduction in the activity of specific neurotransmitters in the brain called GABA and so people who experience depression have low levels of GABA. Research shows that practice of yoga postures substantially increases GABA levels, which helps regulate neural activity in the brain. This finding is important given that the commonly prescribed pharmacologic antidepressants also work by increasing GABA levels in the brain. Thus regular practice of yoga enhances overall emotional well-being and may protect against depression, with no harmful side effects!
Streeter, C. et al. "Effects Of Yoga Versus Walking On Mood, Anxiety, And Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study". The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 16.11 (2010): 1145-1152.
Louie, L. "The Effectiveness Of Yoga For Depression: A Critical Literature Review". Issues in Mental Health Nursing 35.4 (2014): 265-276.
Yoga breathing practice (pranayama) can rapidly bring the mind to the present moment and reduce stress. Breathing is the only autonomic function that can easily be controlled through voluntary effort. It serves as a portal through which imbalances in the stress-response system can be corrected. Our ability to deal with stress, as has been demonstrated through research, has an impact on the quality of life and on how we age. Research shows that stress, overstimulation, excess expectations, and mental turmoil drain our energy and our capacity to enjoy life. Mind-body and spiritual practices offer the sense of peace, joy, and relatedness that may enhance our lives and those who are around us.
Todays research provides us with clinical evidence for the use of yoga breathing in the treatment of stress induced bodily and psychological discomforts or even depression and anxiety. By inducing stress resilience, breath work enables us to rapidly and compassionately relieve many forms of suffering while promoting longevity and quality of living.
R. P. Browna, P. L. Gerbargb, Yoga Breathing, Meditation, and Longevity Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1172 (Aug 2009): 54-62.
"Can yoga help in loosing weight?' 7 ways in which yoga practice contributes towards maintenance of a healthy weightRead Now
In this short article I will explore the answer to many of my student's question: “Can I loose weight practicing yoga?”
The ancient text of Hatha Yoga Pradipika states “It is said that asana (yoga postures) is primary, due to its being the first limb of hatha yoga. One should practice that asana which is a state of steadiness, freedom from sickness, and lightness of the body.”
Yoga practice has a profound impact on the physical and ultimately mental and spiritual well-being. It is clear that the unhealthy body leads to physical discomfort and ultimately illness. Those ailments not only inhibit our physical yoga practice from advancing, but also prevent us from focusing our mind onto anything beyond the physical sphere, including the path to spiritual realization.
Maintaining a healthy body is a very important and relevant subject to our modern society. As our lives become more sedentary and reliant on sitting in front of a computer for long hours to earn a living, obesity rates continue to increase, and so are the serious health problems link to inactivity and obesity. Therefore I believe providing help for people to keep themselves healthy should be a primary concern of the yoga teaching community. Achieving a healthy and balanced diet and body weight ultimately free our minds from disruptions and take us closer to happiness and enables exploration of the subsequent limbs of the yoga.
Based on my practical experience, and supported by the yoga master's texts and recent scientific studies, I have created a list describing how yoga practice can help in weight management. In conjunction with a healthful diet, a regular yoga practice can assist in attaining your ideal body weight and keeping yourself healthy.
1. Yoga postures aid the processes of assimilation, digestion and elimination helping reduce the total body weight.
Here are just a few example group postures and their impact on the body:
Standing Postures stimulate downward movement of the digestive fire toward the elimination. Postures such as Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), Uttitha Trikonasana (Triangle) and Uttitha Parsvakonasana (Extended Side-angle pose) reduce fat around the waist and hips bringing the body into shape.
Twists and side bends squeeze the inner organs inside the abdominal cavity stimulating their blood supply. This aids digestion and elimination as well as detoxifies the body from the accumulated toxins. A result visible for the eye is often a beautifully toned waist!
Forward bends such as Prasarita Padotanasana (Wide-leg forward bend) increase digestion power that is enhanced by the action of drawing the belly in while performing these asanas. (Which happens automatically to some degree). According to the Ashtanga master Sri Pattabhi Jois if we practice Prasarita Paddotanasana “…the bad fat in the lower abdomen will dissolve, the waist will become thin and strong, and the body will become light and beautiful. This asana also cures constipation…” Other forward bends such as Padangustanasa and Padahastasana (Standing forward bends) will tone the abdominal organs increasing digestive juices and activating the liver and spleen.
Core strengtheners such as Navasana purify lower abdominal and strengthen the waist. According to Sri Pattabhi Jois it also “cures gastric trouble resulting from food not digesting completely..”
Inversions reverse the pull of gravity, toning the inner organs, stimulating blood circulation and consequently aiding the processes of digestion and elimination. Another Yoga master Mr. Iyengar points, “The change in bodily gravity also affects the abdominal organs so that the bowels move freely and constipation vanishes”
Moon and Sun Salutations involve moving from one pose to another with the rhythm of the breath. They increase the heart rate stimulating blood circulation and oxygenation toning entire body and promoting weight loss. Research says that getting the heart rate up for a very short burst and then dropping it right down is far more effective in an attempt to losing weigh then getting it up and then dropping it down. This can certainly be achieved by an intelligent yoga practice that involves sequencing the dynamic moves with regular resting poses to allow the heart and the breath to return to a neutral level.
Restorative poses are those that stretch the muscles passively using the force of gravity as in Supta Badha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle pose) or Balasana (Child pose). Donna Farhi, a wonderful yoga teacher that has greatly inspired my own practice gives an insightful explanation of the profound effects of those deeply relaxing yoga poses in her book: “ When we are in a stressful condition the body redirects blood flow away from the internal organs to the peripheral musculature, preparing the body to "fight or take flight." When this sympathetic response become chronic and habituated it can affect digestion, assimilation and elimination as well as all of the organic processes that cleanse, purify and balance the blood. Deep relaxation helps to reverse this process, allowing the muscles to recuperate and release while simultaneously increasing blood flow to the purveyors of all our internal functions.”
2. Yoga asana practice has a moderate aerobic properties and its degree is dependent on the practitioner’s fitness level and the intensity of the class. An aerobic type of activity is defined by its moderation in intensity and high in oxygen consumption, which can be experienced particularly during Ashtanga and other dynamic forms of yoga. Meeting these two criteria the body will pull significantly more energy from its fat stores than from the carbohydrate stores as the oxygen will be used to convert fat into energy. Having said that what counts in the process of loosing weight is the total calories expenditure both from fat and carbohydrates. Therefore someone who does 15 minutes of yoga irregularly and sits for most of his day won’t likely loose much weight. However the chances are high that even with a short 15-minute daily yoga practice combined with other aero activities such as walking or jogging will decrease the overall body weight. This is because the total energy expenditure will add up and increase significantly.
3. Practice of weight bearing yoga postures tones your muscles and stretching lengthens them making them look slimmer and slender!. It is the fact! Lengthening of the muscles translates into leaner muscles and leaner muscles consist of less fat making your body looked beautifully shaped!
4. Yoga has a calming and restorative effect on the nervous system and unreleased stress often causes people to overeat and gain weight. Yoga teaches us how to release stress and tensions in the body. Through regular practice we gain more control over the sympathetic nervous system responses such as a “fight or flight” response. Being calm and in control of our habitual reactions to stressful situations brings in feeling of contentment. When we are happy and relaxed the need to consume the mood - boosting foods such as those reach in sugars and fats (and excess of calories!) decreases.
5. With regular yoga practice the likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight increases significantly! Unlike the quick fix diets that promise fast rewards and delivers a yo yo effect instead the regular practice of yoga over time will help keeping your weight stable. With the regular daily yoga routine it is likely that the bodily functions of digestion and elimination will get more regular too and your weight will stay on a healthy level. This proved to be true for me for many years!
6. Deep controlled breathing during yoga asana (postures) practice can contribute to the weight loss through the increased blood oxidation that helps in burning fat cells. There are also some specific yogic breathing techniques or pranayamas such as Kapalbhati and Bhastrika practiced separately from the asanas. They massage the abdomen helping burn fat faster around the mid-region. These techniques however are best to learn under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.
7. Through regular practice of yoga the mind-body connection heightens which in turn translates to better choices in your everyday life. With increased awareness of your body and emotions you will make better choices and consume foods that promote health and well being. Many regular practitioners will gradually move towards plant based diets and many of them will chose to consume vegetarian or vegan diets. Vegetarian diets—naturally low in saturated fat, high in fiber and cancer preventing phytochemicals and vitamins contain fewer calories than the meat diets and help to ease digestion.
Yoga is a life enhancing tool that, when practiced regularly will restore our physical and emotional balance. It can be practiced anywhere and every day as long as we have a will to make a positive change, a yoga mat and 2 square meters of space! A good way to start is to practice a few rounds of Sun or Moon Salutations every morning or evening to feel a fresh wave of energy and lightness in the body. It only takes few minutes (or more if you wish!) off our busy lives and about 4 weeks to establish a new healthy habit. Because yoga is so accessible and can be practiced without having to leave the house the reasons to procrastinate it are limited too. Once the practice settles into a daily routine the chances are high that the body will follow and the weight will settle into a healthy level too.
Things to know about Koh Phangan, Thailand, that can’t be looked up online (for budget travellers and everyone else interested!)Read Now
1. What to do in case of illness or accident
If you are ill or, knock on wood, got into a light motorbike accident here are a some recommendations on what to do:
a- If you feel you need to see a doctor, you can visit Dr. Worawut. He is a great chap and will not take an arm and a hand of you in order to get you better. He is the only public doctor in the island and you can find him at the Sri Thanu Public Hospital (8AM to 12PM – West side of the island) or visit him in his private clinic in Thong Sala (From 5PM - Worawut next to the Tesco store). At the time of writing (June 2013) the appointment in the hospital costs 500 Bath and in the private clinic 400 Bath.
b- Watch out for rip-off pharmacies! The cheapest ones are the small pharmacy behind the Thong Sala food market, on the road towards the north, or the pharmacy at the end of Chinese Road junction with Moo road(Weekend’s market road)
c- Stay out of the water! Keep your wounds clean and disinfected. Water in Thailand is warm all year round, that means bacteria also enjoys their time in paradise. If you have open wounds or scratches, stay out of the water. If you get wet, make sure you disinfect with Bentadine or similar products, maybe even apply local antibiotic (please consult your doctor).
d- We all love Kho Phangan’s free spirit; unfortunately we still suffer a significant amount of motorcycle fatal accidents, especially around the full moon party. Please make sure that you carry a copy of your identity card and an emergency phone number with you at all times! Getting to someone that can take control over a gnarly situation can make a big difference to your health.
In emergency dial the Ambulance number +66 (0)77429500
2. How to find a quality and affordable accommodation.
Most of the people who come to the island stay in the tiny bungalows or hotel rooms paying often double or more what they would pay if they rented a house. If you come to the island for at least 3-4 weeks you will be better off renting a house that often offers more space and is equipped with a kitchen. There are plenty of quality houses on the island available for rent to tourists. The best value for money ones can only be found upon arrival on the island. This is where we can help you as we know where to find those houses and can assist you in the booking process before your arrival for your peace of mind. It takes time to get to know the island and see where the hidden germs are located. It took us several months to spot the best ones out there! So if you don’t want to waste your holidays time to wonder around on your motorbike in search for a home please get in touch with us! The houses range from a simple wooden 1 room houses to 2 bedroom houses often with terraces or gardens attached to them. The best value for money ones are usually located inland in the jungle and some of them have a spectacular panoramic sea view. The former one can go quick off the market especially in the high season (Dec – April).
3. Quality, budget shopping
Fruits & Veg: While there are plenty of places to buy food on the island from street straws and markets and supermarkets the prices differ substantially. For example a price for a kilogram of mangos ranges from 40 – 80 Bath! Surprisingly at the time of writing the value for money fruits and veg are not to be looked for on the market but can be found at the Tesco Supermarket and the small street straws (but the prices at those can vary from one day to the other). For wine and some European treats we recommend the big A supermarket or the supermarket just opposite the big A, next to the 7/11 (it doesn’t have a sign)
Supermarkets: There is an ever-growing supply of supermarkets from Tesco Lotus in Thong Sala, to the Big A and the newly opened Big C on Moo Road (between Thong Sala and Baan Tai). The offering is limited by European standards but you will surely find almost anything to support your basic needs and treat yourself. The island is well supported by a selection of unbranded minimarts. Be aware that most of these guys buy their stuff from Tesco, make it up 100% and resell it to you. 7/11 is a Thailand institution and here you will find plenty of treats and basics. They are open until late and you can always count on them.
Pharmacies: I recommend buying in local pharmacies where the prices are usually twice or even 3 times cheaper than in the one on the main street of Thong Sala or Baan Tai. Also ask for the Thai equivalent of the medicine as they are often much cheaper than the western ones.
4. Eating Out and Bar’s
Eating out in Koh Phangan can be a bit of a hit and miss experience. While there are plenty of local and foreign establishments out there not many of them offer consistently good food. There is 4 off the beaten track restaurants that I highly recommend for the quality of food, consistency and service:
Kai’s Baan Tai (Jonny the Monkey): This is a must see place for every budget traveller and anyone who appreciate genuine, well cooked local food. Located in the heart of Baan Tai on the way to Haad Rin and just 50 meters before 7/11 supermarket. The restaurant has no English written name and can be distinguished often by the young crowd inside. We called it Jonnies because the owners own a monkey – Jonnie that give a special vibe to the place. Our absolute favorite dish there is the fried basil chicken, garlic tofu or any of the curries. The food is cooked by the mother’s family or one of her two daughters. One of the cheapest restaurants in KP but the food is excellent, honest and tasty.
Mama Poo’s (Cheap and Tasty): Located in Sritanu (west side of the island) next to the 7/11 supermarket. The place is run by a family and is very modest but the quality of their cooking is excellent. Aromatic curries, freshly made papaya salad and the unforgettable tofu dishes will overwhelm your senses!
Mr Pizza Wood oven: Located in the heart of Thong Sala on the back of the Tesco supermarket. Here you will find the best oven baked pizza on the island (and top 10 in the world for me)! The owner is very friendly and they also offer other foods at reasonable prices. The wood oven roasted fish is heavenly and one of my favorites!
The fishermen’s: Located in Baan Tai, very close to “The Jonnies” but on the sea-side of the street. Run by an Australian family this place serves good quality food at slightly higher price than the local establishments. The place has nice ambience, where you can enjoy variety of wines while enjoying the ocean view. Kitchen with cashew nuts is our best choice!
Bars, Snacks and Markets:
Rooftop Bar: On the way North West to Sirathanu, past Thong Sala on your right side, you have the Rooftop Bar. Located at the top of a mount is this small bar with breath-taking ocean view not to be missed! It opens late in the afternoon from about 6pm.
Handmade Ice-cream Shop: Another secret gem of the island, on the road that connects Chaloklum and Thong Sala, on the way north, on your right side you will find the “Hand-Made” Ice cream shop. Wonderful handmade Italian ice-cream worth the ride!
The Food Market & Other Street stalls: Despite the fact that the there is plenty of better places to try local street food, the Thong Sala market groups every possibilities in one single court. There are a couple of items worth trying, and once you loose your fears you will be able to find significantly better (and cheaper) BBQ stalls around the island. Try the chicken sticks, mango sticky rice, spring rolls, prawn cake and shakes!
Other eating out tips
Ask for food ‘on rice’ for extra savings: For those on tight budget or on a diet It is worth knowing that in all restaurants you can ask for the dish to be “on rise’ (cheaper as the price includes rise but slightly smaller portion).
Regulate the spiciness: If you can’t tolerate Thai heavy hand on the chilly, make sure to ask ‘No Spicy’ when making an order. If you are ready to be more adventurous you can slowly accommodate your palate by asking “1 chilli, 2 chillies, 3 chillies” according to your taste. It is a clear direction, better than the subjective ‘little spicy’ that can sometimes end up making you beg for water.
Keep it simple! Asking for a skinny decaf cappuccino macchiato al dente with caramel syrup can get you killed here! Keep it simple, respect and accept the culture and try the local delicatessens during your stay in the foreign land. (and simple freshly brewed coffee can be delicious too and surely more healthy!)
Sugar, Sugar and more sugar! Yes, Thai people like things sweet, and when I say sweet, I mean very sweet. Liquid sugar syrup is added to every drink and shakes you order. If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake make sure to order stuff with “No sugar”. In a way, same thing applies to salt…remember that soya sauce, fish sauce and salad sauce are saltier than the sea!
5. Nuances & Things to pay attention to
a) Diverse wildlife: mosquitoes, sea urchins, snakes and a rich wildlife
c) Debris & Glass in the beaches
e) Drinking and Drugs
6. Activities Recommended sightseeing
Kiteboarding & SUP
Chaloklum to Thong Sala Coast Ride
Hike to the highest tip of the mount
When on beach holidays it is easy to find distractions and excuses to procrastinate our yoga practice. From tiny hotel rooms, catching up with sleep to one too many margaritas, wild excuses are always at hand. Fortunately the heat of the sun and the turquoise waters are also at hand and tempt us with a healthy daily dip & swim in the ocean!
It was once during those leisurely long swims that I started to feel the commonalities that exist between swimming and yoga. Later, back in the usual cold and darkness of Europe’s winter I would realize the impact those daily swims had on my practice.
Most of us can swim in one-way or the other. I am fortunate to be one of those to whom the love for swimming came naturally during childhood, and is able to swim effortlessly for a long time. I often get asked how can I swim for so long without being tired, and even I got offered a swimming teacher job back when I lived in Singapore! But how could I teach about something that I cannot explain? Eager to find the answer I submerged my self into researching the swimming mechanics during my daily swims.
Striving to swim mindfully I managed to break the technique into smaller pieces. The realization was exhilarating! Exactly as it is for yoga, proper breathing and correct body alignment are the key factors that define a good swimmer. Have you ever seen someone swimming with their chin high up as if they were scared of getting their mouth wet? Those are the people who can’t swim for a long time as they get exhausted very quickly. Why?
Firstly, the fear of swallowing water disturbs their healthy breathing pattern. Their breath becomes short and shallow, not only making them feel tired and dizzy but also removing the air in the lungs that makes us float better! Same as in yoga a slow, regular breath during movement and while holding an asana will slow down the heart bit and increase your stamina. More stamina will allow a longer, more efficient and eventually effortless practice. If you want to swim for long distances and not to sink you’d better watch your breath, keep the chin at water level and focus on your outbreath (blow your bubbles!).
Secondly, the fear of swallowing water makes us bring our chin too far out of the water. This in turn disrupts our body alignment. We overarch our spine, inadvertently creating more water resistance and facilitating sinking. The same in yoga, proper alignment optimizes one’s practice in many ways. So next time you take a dip, here are some alignment tips. Firstly, make sure to tack your chin in so that the back of the neck is in line with the rest of the spine. This will prevent the legs from sinking down taking the pressure off the upper body. Secondly, make sure your tailbone lengthens towards the heels and with regular and symmetric leg and arm strokes you will swim faster and feel lighter.
Ultimately the practice of yoga is in the increased awareness and can be practiced anywhere we are, whether on the mat, on the beach or in the water!
Developing a yoga routine at home is an important and truly rewarding step in deepening your practice. Slow and smooth transition into a regular practice proves to work better and last longer. If you are a busy person struggling to find some free time for yourself here are four easy steps to establishing your daily routine:
1) Wake up five minutes earlier than you normally would. Let your yoga practice be on top of the list of your priorities. If it doesn’t happen in the morning, chances are that it won’t happen at all.
Practice five rounds ofSun Salutations or Moon Salutations a few times a week for a month. One round takes only about a minute, and you will get to stretch and strengthen your whole body. Forward bends stretch your hamstrings and your back (Utanasana), back bends strengthen your back and stretch the chest, belly and the front thighs (Kobra or Upward Dog), and core strengtheners work the entire body (Plank, Chaturanga and Downward Facing Dog).
2) Continue with the Sun or Moon Salutations and, if it feels appropriate for you, increase the number of repetitions to seven for another month. You will be energized without feeling fatigued, and you will notice new strength in your body after only few days. Chances are good that you will actually look forward to your morning practice by the end of the first month (or earlier)!
3) Continue with the number of Salutations you are comfortable with, and add one spinal twist at the beginning (and the end if you have time) of your practice.This will release your lower back and you will find it easier to move in the poses. Try Ardha Matsyendrasana (seated twist), or one of the reclined twists. Complete with one of the seated forward bends, for example Pashimottanasana.
4) Go to yoga classes and explore different yoga styles whenever you can even if it means once a week. Stick with a knowledgeable teacher who you feel comfortable with and who is willing to answer your questions. During your self-practice try to include one or two postures that you have learned in the class.
Most importantly listen to your body, and enjoy this precious time being with your self!