How to Establish a Home Yoga Practice

My seven steps for creating a home yoga practice:

  1. Commit
  2. Plan
  3. Claim Space
  4. Sequence
  5. Rejoice
  6. Accept & Adjust
  7. Trust

1. Commit. The first step to beginning a yoga practice at home is setting your intention. Start small. Don’t go for a sweaty 90 minute flow your first day, and at the same time, don’t worry about only getting four breaths in your first down dog. Just decide, today I’m going to practice yoga, and take what comes.

2. Plan. An essential part of getting yourself motivated to step onto your mat each day is planning. Plan for something, anything. Plan to stretch your hamstrings. Plan to open your heart. Plan to turn off your screens and quiet that buzzing in your ears. Plan to release the anxieties of a bad day. With time, this step fades in importance because a home practice eventually becomes a habit, so each time you start you’ll realize what it is you stand to gain from practicing. Stay with me.

3. Claim Space. This is the most important piece, and the part I struggle with the most. Unlike attending a class at a studio where cell phones are verboten, napping children are miles away, and the only dogs you encounter are of the downward variety, for a successful home practice you must cultivate a place and space. Add to this other confounding factors, like maybe you live in a little house like mine, and don’t have a yoga room. Or maybe you have a newborn who needs to nurse every twenty minutes. Or your living room is messy, and all your yoga leggings are dirty. Take stock of your challenges and recognize that they are surmountable. Yoga requires very little square footage, babies eventually sleep, clutter can be transcended, and naked yoga is a thing.

Roll with the challenges that threaten to prevent you from breathing big. The days when the path to your mat is less fraught with demands will be the glory days. Remember that practice is practice–practice is never perfect. But sometimes we achieve what we are practicing for, so look forward with glee to the days when your home savasana coincides with the morning light streaming through your windows and your pug dog napping at your side. Staking a sacred place to practice is so essential, but it need not be on consecrated ground. Some of the best home practice spaces I’ve found are wedged between a bed and a bureau, share a wall with a noisy neighbor, and have squeaky uneven floor boards. But the spaces become sacred because they’re mine and mine alone and in this crazy world, and that is the best space I can hope for.

4. Sequence. Even though I have been practicing yoga for over 12 years, starting with a routine helps me commit to a more dedicated time on my mat. I think there are infinite variations of how you can start your practice; I like to begin with 5 sun A’s & 5 sun B’s, with a 5 breath count for each posture. After this foundation is set, I let my body flow through whatever I need for the day being careful to maintain balance–that is, a forward fold to counteract an inversion, or a heart opener to level out a twist, and respect for the left and right side bodies. I realize going with the flow isn’t for everybody, and I am thankful that I have a strong practice to allow me this extemporaneous flexibility and movement. For true beginners, there are several decent online streaming class websites that offer guidance. I have mixed feelings about following these classes, since it definitely takes away a piece of the “self” part of a home practice. But helpful nonetheless for new yogis. Instead of classes, I suggest getting a manual or flash cards, and flipping through images of the postures to move through. With time, you will learn to rely on these less, and part of your planning piece before you arrive at your mat can be spent watching short youtube clips on any specific questions you have about how an asana is performed properly. Always, whether we are beginners or lifelong practitioners, it is so important to follow the limits and abilities of your body. When in doubt, modify.

5. Rejoice. I said above that eventually a home practice becomes a habit. There are some harried days in my life that have been too frantic to take the time to roll out my mat. Some days, forward folding on the floor for two minutes while the oven preheats is all it takes to remind me how much I revere the simple act of breathing and stretching. Those days that feel scary or sad are transformed by a practice, and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that I rely on the comfort and safety of yoga to guide me gently through hardships and joys. The ecstatic moments when I hold handstand for ten breaths to a hip hop soundtrack are as empowering as the silent seated twists I have in the dawn lights. Realize that any instant we can capture for self-awareness and reflection makes us stronger and more joyful human beings.

6. Accept & Adjust. I’ve written before how the more yoga I do, the more yoga I crave. And it is so true that my home practice has morphed from something I used to do exclusively alone during nap time, bedtime, or in the wee hours of the morning, into an activity I invite my son to join me in. I have a much more playful practice when my toddler is afoot, but this does not lessen the gains. This step, I believe, is the one that has most sustained my regular practice. Because there will always be days when I would rather sleep in past 5:30am, I must grant myself the permission to practice alongside train track construction. Self-indulgent, maybe. But it is a variety of self-care that is hopefully teaching my son healthy coping mechanisms for living in this vast and unpredictable world. If nothing else, we can always return to our poses to take some breaths before we again face the busy world that demands so much.

7. Trust. The last step, I think, for establishing a home practice, is trusting yourself to do what you need, and to heed the yoga call. Sometimes in traditional classes, I silently ache through unnecessary explanations or poses that go on longer than I want. The process of changing into yoga clothes, traveling to a studio, paying $15 for a class, stressing about whether the babysitter will remember to offer carrots with snack, and wondering if I remembered deodorant that day or not is often more taxing than any relaxation gained from the class. But with a home practice, you get to choose what you want and leave what you don’t. It is a great metaphor for life, and one that serves me day after day. Trust that yoga is a legitimate priority, and take it easy on yourself if it takes some time to find a groove.


About the Parasympathetic System

There was a time, not very long ago, that writing in this blog was very important to me. I would clear off my desk and set to my writing task as if it was my vocation. It was my voice and outlet and connection with the greater world. I craved acknowledgement that I existed, however meek and feckless my Internet utterances carried forth.

But over the past few months, I’ve been engaged in other assignments and neglected this space rather intentionally. For one, I have a real job, and for another, we’ve returned to Maine where family and friends are always nearby. I don’t crave the same validation I did nine months ago.

That’s not to say I don’t have my same existential questions, my yearning for happiness and truth and peace circle around me still.  I have days I wonder why I’m not completely at ease with my life, and why I can’t be happy just because I wish it so. I still wonder what success looks like on me. Though I’ve had fleeting moments of triumph and insight into the world, I regularly question whether I’m on the right path in life.

Mostly, these questions abide with the day and surrender to the back corners of my mind. They do not plague me with insecurity, and I’m not an aimless 20-something anymore. I have a family, and work that satisfies. We have a beautiful home on an island, and I can see the ocean from my bedroom window. These were the things I wanted, and now these are the things I claim as my own. Simple things and important things.

I couldn’t let this year close without one final thought to carry me forward into 2014. I need more blind trust and faith that things are going as they should. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our quiet body processes. Rest and recovery, digestion. Crying. Functions of the body that we can’t consciously activate, but occur through our capacity as human beings.

I have goals and dreams for what my career and family life will look like in the future, but I think that I need to stop holding so tightly onto these projections. Because undoubtedly, there are parasympathetic happenings in the universe, occurrences for which we cannot know the causes. We will have trouble sleeping for no apparent reason, and failure happens no matter how hard we work at something. Letting go and believing that it is not defeat that defines me, but the ability to wake up the next day and to continue to work hard does.

While I’m unclear how often I’ll continue to write in this blog, be sure that I’m working hard on other aspects of my life. We have some amazing and exciting intentions and schemes for this next year, and all I can do is hold on to the people I love, work hard, and wait to see how things work out.

Until we meet again, my ever faithful readers…
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Saturday Morning

I woke up this morning and I wanted to exclaim happiness from the porch for the world to hear. Life is easy, life is dependable, and life continues to offer me glorious unexpected glimmers of joy wherever I look. Sometimes, like this morning, the joy bubbles up in my chest and I have to throw it somewhere. I’m blogging about it now because, well, its my modern version of shouting from the rooftop. This poor neglected corner of the Internet has been gathering dust in the last weeks, and deserves some light and love.

Writing here doesn’t claim much of my attention anymore. I’m not sure if that will change in weeks and months ahead. I’m busy with my job (which I happen to love), my son (at whom I marvel every moment), and my life, which is wonderful and miraculous. I still practice a lot of yoga. I still want to meditate more, and I’m almost always so full of gratitude I have trouble not smiling hugely at everyone I encounter.

Anyways, just a note from me to say: keep it up, universe. I’m totally in awe of your majestic workings. 001


Blind Pursuit of Happiness

Hotei, god of happiness at J%u014Dchi-ji temple

Hotei, god of happiness at J%u014Dchi-ji temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another blog absence coming to an end–I have been busy in the real world, scribbling notes in my bedside journal and the moleskine in my bag when I can so I don’t forget any insight I’ve grasped at in the last weeks.

We moved. Again. Actually, we moved home. All through the years we were in Massachusetts, and this past year in Charleston, we never stopped referring to Maine as “home.” It is comforting that we’ve returned to enthusiastic and open arms after so many years away. Though I am a bit sad to say it took a scary car accident and 12 months of melancholy loneliness to get to this point… such are the trials of life. We are happy now which is all that really matters. The past is over, we learned some things, and we have moved on. Moving into happiness is always the goal, right?

Marriage, moving, motherhood–all of these things are loosening my grip on rigidity and perfection. The more I seek perfection the farther away it seems. So I’ve let go of trying to be that perfect girl in my 20 year old mindset (I am 30 now, after all). That 20-something doesn’t have years of independent living in her memories, she does not do yoga, she is lonely and though she may look lovely and beautiful, she is sad. It took ten years of running–literally around the planet–to settle back where I began, but this time it is with happiness on my side.

Happiness currently takes the form of a toddler, a wonderful half Japanese man, a dog with a curly tail, a yoga mat and salty air, a deep bath, walks along the rocky coast. But my experience of happiness is fluid, and I am happy when I am soaking wet in the hurricane-like weather we had last week, running late, splashed with spilled juice, and in uncomfortable new shoes. Because happiness doesn’t really have just one form, or any form at all. It isn’t a big house in the suburbs with a husband making a gajillion dollars a day so we can stay home and eat bonbons and write poetry. It is not traveling around the world, it is not spending every day at the beach until the skin is tanned beneath earnest coats of sunscreen. It doesn’t have a designer logo, and it will never ask for dues. It is not a destination, as the saying goes, but a way of being and breathing.

Happiness is a feeling of peace. It is waking up in the middle of the night and being able to go back to sleep without worrying about the agenda for the day ahead. Happiness is a deep inhalation and a steady exhalation. It is a soft seat for a weary body. It is gratitude and hope and humility. It is quiet pride and loud reverence. Happiness is knowing when to be persistent, and happiness is knowing when to let things be still. Happiness is waking quietly in the morning, and sitting softly beside the bed, honoring another day we have all been granted on the earth together. Happiness is meditation, happiness is action in inaction.

Someday soon this sentence, sunset and life will be over, so what sense is there in crunching up over worries? It seems we’re all on a path towards goodness, and though there are difficult times in life, happiness is always just around the corner.


Southern Sojourn

So, we are leaving South Carolina. My experiment in southern housewifery is over, and I have to say it is with a great big sigh of relief.

A sense of relief not unlike the shockingly icy temperature of a Maine ocean on a hot summer day. I’ve been longing for that burst of coolness, refreshment from the stagnant. I’m actually looking forward to the fall and a change of scenery.

I miss my family, and we’ve done enough exploring here. The South is a different country from New England, with a different value system and culture from what we prefer. I want to raise my son in a place where being different is not jeered at, a place that values education and alternative takes on life. I’ve met acquaintances with many new variety of tree, plant and human. I recognize the weather, speech and traffic patterns, and I am okay with eliminating the term “y’all” from my vocabulary. Maybe some day I will curse the snow, but I miss those gray winter landscapes, and we all miss poking around in the woods without fear of lurking alligators and snakes. But, I have no remorse haughtily saying see ya to cockroaches. Its been like a year abroad for us, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience the regional differences in the country, not just overseas.

I have made a list of things I love about South Carolina.

…in no order of importance:

  1. Meandering the trails at the James Island County Park
  2. Easy to one of the top ten beaches in America
  3. Sitting outside on the patio all year long
  4. This place. And the view from this bar
  5. Walking along the battery with iced tea on a Sunday morning, and stopping to let our son splash in the pineapple fountain
  6. The amazing quality of local fruits and vegetables available all year–and my new love affair with okra
  7. Hearing the trees rustle outside our bedroom windows (never the dull roar of sirens and traffic)
  8. The general lack of anything even slightly resembling traffic
  9. My rediscovery of a genuine yoga practice
  10. How my plants flourished here–my lavender blossomed this year for the first time in 6 years.

It has been a swell year, but I think if I was really honest with myself I knew we weren’t really going to live here for long. It was a fun temporary change, this sojourn in southern living.


Thought for the Weekend

Read this article, and then ask yourself where yoga will be for you this weekend.


The Emotional Workout

Something stirred inside me today. Some deep part of me that was buried– in my chronically tight shoulders or neck, I believe. Both are more open now, but it did not come easily.

Maybe it was the discouraging week I had, the rain and tropical storm warnings left few opportunities to be outside for very long, and I was starting to get quieted down and overly-rested with the weather. But then during this morning’s practice, something stirred, released, and left a multitude of emotions and feelings in its wake. It was about being assertive, knowing what is worth fighting for, and what to calmly walk away from. My quiet and grateful mood on the morning drive to the studio seemed to match the lunchtime traffic–aggressive and in a hurry. I wanted to be first in line at the farm stand, and I utilized my car’s turbo more often than I really needed to, arriving home with a shorter temper than when I left.

One of the things about yoga: it touches everything in your life, if you let it. My yoga practice is like wringing out a cloth, there is always more to be extracted and manifested. I return to it day after day (err, hour after hour…) because it brings me such a solid ground from which to move. So I am surprised and disquieted when I leave my mat feeling emotional and mentally weary, but I shouldn’t be.

Yoga has been better for me than my thirteen straight years of talk therapy. It usually gently prods free the things I’d rather not think about but need to release to make room for more love. It is very jarring to sit up from a savasana with less steadiness than when we start, but it is an important part of the process. Its like the newly released emotions are still powerful enough to wound again, live (invisible) wires shooting out of the chakras. The yoga mat is a space for the mind as much as it is for feet and hands to grip the earth during the asanas. As the body learns to let go of its long-ingrained holding patterns and rigid postures, folded within the tight muscles are little pieces of hurt, anger, frustration, embarrassment, fear, and anxiety. That is why we’re so loose as young children, we have no emotional attachments except for love, and that is all we need to be happy. On the yoga mat we learn how to take moments of meditation throughout the day, gaining an innate sense of what is right and wrong and what is possible at this point in time.

I know it might sound ridiculous, but think about it. Muscle tightness is one factor in the struggle to touch the toes to the head in scorpion, but the emotional bracing which forbids this movement is the key to unlocking the full expression of the pose. I think this is one reason people have a hard time sticking with yoga classes, or choose other more forms of active purely cardiovascular forms of exercise. Sure, yoga as exercise is part of the reason I do it, but I never would have stuck with it this long if it didn’t also stretch my mind, my heart, and my spirit.

Today I stewed over a few relationships and situations, berating myself for spending time even thinking about it. But then, sometime while I was at the beach with my family, all those urgent feelings of hurt and anger dissipated with a puff. They were uncovered during my practice, and then released into the hot salty sea air–the perfect place for such emotions to simmer away. I breathed love into places of my heart that had been overtaken by negativity. I’ll sleep without trouble tonight now that I have let go of some anger and confusion no longer bound within my hips.

 


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