For those of us introduced to yoga in a gym or yoga studio, the idea of a home practice can seem quite daunting. We've had the opportunity to feel the way a group of people practicing yoga together builds an energy that carries us.
Perhaps you've had a teacher guide you with clarity into shapes and movements that you wouldn't have thought to explore on your own (or frankly would have been afraid to attempt).
And while all of these elements (and others) are the amazing benefits of a group practice, a home practice carries its own unique gifts.
My hope is to encourage you to embark on a home practice that supplements and supports your participation in classes. Something that will be there for you when you travel or when life and commitments prevent you from making it to your favorite class. A practice that will support you when life is difficult and you feel lost or overwhelmed.
Expectations for Home Practice
My first suggestion when beginning a home practice is to set realistic expectations for yourself.
Be aware that a home practice will look and feel nothing like a group class. I think being aware of this truth is an important step to beginning your journey. Home practice is your opportunity to listen to your body and explore the detours and questions that surface as you move.
Practice simple, foundational movements with regularity and attention. Standing poses are the most important pieces of my yoga practice. They are the blueprints to all the more challenging asanas (including arm balances, inversions, and back-bends) and will forever offer new insights and understanding as you peel back the layers.
Your body and the asanas will merge in unique ways every time you practice. Notice "What is it like now?" throughout your practice.
Create a Sacred Space for Practice
Set aside a corner (it really just needs to fit you and your mat) of your bedroom, or office, or living room as your "practice space". If you have the luxury to have a whole room dedicated to yoga - amazing! (We are not so lucky in my home).
I use the front part of my living room. The front door makes a sturdy support when I want to use the wall for standing poses or inversions. There is just enough floor space between my tea cabinet, reading chair, and the rug by our coffee table. I'm able to begin practice with minimal set-up time and effort, and this is really important.
Leave Mat & Props Visible
Leave your props and mat neatly in sight as a reminder that this space is for you and your practice. By leaving your props and mat out and available, you eliminate one of the excuses of practice: I don't have time to set up everything I need. Or I have to run around to 3 different spaces to get my props.
My mat, strap, and blocks are easily accessible in a beautiful Japanese basket that I have. My meditation cushion sits in front of the window and invites me to sit and pause. My yoga blankets are draped over the back of my reading chair in the corner. I keep a folding chair just behind the futon. Moving all my props to the same place near where I practice has been really important in getting me on my mat more swiftly and more often.
Begin with Ritual
Begin each practice with ritual. Carefully set up your mat and props. Pause to honor your Self.
I encourage you to take at least 3-5 minutes to sit before you begin to move. This short moment of pause will reveal a lot to you about the current flow (or lack of flow) in your body and nervous system.
A brief check-in will give you the chance to feel and adjust your practice to meet you where you are today. You will have a clearer idea of what direction your practice will need to take and if what you think you "should" do aligns with what is best for you in the moment.
Explore Effortless Effort & The Pause
As you practice, continue to take time to pause and reflect. "What's it like now?" How have your movements and practices shifted your energy, attention and flow? Are you feeling more connected and energized? Or more scattered and tired?
Adjust accordingly and allow your practice to move like a "fine silvery stream. Find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices." Experiment with what feels right and adjust your level of intensity to feel effort without strain in the postures. In Buddhism, they refer to this as "effortless effort".
Commit to a Consistent Practice Time
By committing to a consistent practice time each day, you help to create a rhythm and routine for your practice.
For some, the best time is at the beginning of the day. This allows you to move through your day with more ease. It also helps to prevent the unexpected from getting in the way of your practice.
For others, right after work is the best time. This allows a transition from the tasks and responsibilities (and stress) of work to be set aside as you take time to check in with how you feel. It can be a really lovely way to move into a calm evening that allows you to nourish and rest before the next day begins.
Another option is to practice right before bed. If this is the best option for you, keep your practice slow, soft, and restorative. Anything too active will stimulate both body and mind and it may be more difficult to fall asleep.
A Little Bit Goes a Long Way
Twenty minutes of practice every day will serve you better than 2 hours every two weeks.
When practicing in a group, things seems to take more time. This means that you will find your self practice to be more efficient than a group class. If you take 20 minutes to concentrate on your body and sensation every day, you will see quite amazing shifts and will be able to explore a lot of different movements.
Over time, you may feel inspired to do a longer practice on your own a few times a week. This could be spontaneous and inspired by how you feel on a given day. It might also be dictated by your schedule and when you have more time available to practice.
From Exhilarating to Boring
Sometimes you will find your practice exhilarating and revealing. These moments are quite amazing, but they often happen few and far between. Practice anyway.
Know that the purpose of practice is practice.
Yes, things might change or feel different over time, but yoga teaches us that we practice to see more clearly what is present in the now. Not yesterday (and what you wish you had done differently), and not tomorrow (and what you hope will come to pass).
More being. Less doing.
Be Independent & Accept Support
The real magic of home practice is to be able to explore in the directions you feel called, but sometimes independence is overwhelming and paralyzes us.
There are many ways that you can incorporate support into your home practice.
One is to explore the new online video resources I am building. The first two videos are designed to show you how the inherent simplicity of a home practice is quite beneficial. Over time, I hope to create a video series with themes and instruction that is more like what we do in group classes.
Another idea is to practice with written sequences. This gives you a structure of postures to work with, but allows you to modify really easily. I'll be offering sequences like this through my email newsletter.
I've also worked with quite a few students in a series of Private Sessions that are designed to help them build and design a home practice. We work with the space and props that they have available, and we design sequences and practices that are helpful for their specific needs.
It's really fun and rewarding to work in this context. I offer individual sessions to folks who take regular group classes with me, and it allows them to deepen their practice and ask questions. Many of the students I work with regularly are unable to take group classes for various reasons, and we are able to offer a practice that meets their unique needs and helps them with what they need most.
When we look at the historical sharing of yoga, the modern yoga class is a REALLY new way of sharing this practice. Individual sessions would have been much more common throughout the longer history of yoga, and students would have been expected to study on their own between sessions with their teacher.
Inner Teacher as Primary Teacher
In my 18 years of yoga practice, I have explored many peaks, valleys, and plateaus in practice. In each of these times, I turned to different resources to support me and my journey. I'm excited to share what has been really helpful for me, and I look forward to supporting you on your own journey towards your inner teacher.
Start Where You Are
Start as you are, where you are, and do what you can. Take what works for you now, but keep asking "What's it like now?".
You will find that your needs change from day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year. Adjust your practice to accommodate these changes and discoveries.
Please reach out with questions, comments, & concerns. If you have tips and suggestions that you want to share, please offer them in the comments. Community dialogue will allow us to strengthen the foundation of our practice.