My seven steps for creating a home yoga practice:
- Claim Space
- Accept & Adjust
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.
Sometimes I just want time to stop. Or at least slow down so I can savor the day’s moments before going on to the next one. The azaleas, camellias, spirea, Dutch iris, anemones, and redbud blooms that all peaked last week are already colorfully decorating the ground. I thought I had time to enjoy them before they gave way to their hearty green leaves.
Milestones don’t stop happening when you become an adult. There are times that we grown ups finally learn to let in understanding, forgiveness, happiness. Maybe it doesn’t happen all of the sudden (maybe it does). Lately, I think of growing up akin to the process of letting my muscles become loose enough to comfortably sit in hanumanasana. It is said that the human body is innately flexible, that under anesthesia a doctor can contort his patient into any shape; but, the conscious nervous system prevents us from touching our toes when we want to, or flopping into double pigeon before a proper warm up. Little by little as an adult, I am learning what it means to hold grudges, to allow toxic people to influence my life choices, to be genuinely happy for the (seemingly) stress free life my sister lives. As I come to these realizations, I wonder if my busyness (you know, the pull to the iPhones, the computer, the newspaper sitting unread on the kitchen table) has been interfering with my ability to grow as a human?
This is a lofty question, and I do not intend to solve it on a quiet Sunday evening. But I am making a resolve: Sundays will be the day I unplug. I’m going to leave my phone where I don’t look at it when I am unoccupied for 30 seconds. I will use my real cameras. I’m going to stop checking social media on Sundays, devote this day to my family, my self, and the calming of my mind for a week ahead.
Upward and onward, is how I try to think about life. But sometimes, you just want to stay in bed. To rewind time and relive the amazing day you had with your family. Go back to the age of 1.5 and take back all the times you refused to nap and line them all up for an epic lie in. I’m not a lazy person, but who doesn’t long to linger in savasana? With this time I dust together on Sundays, I might make a dent in the to be read pile that is higher than the nightstand, finish a pot of tea, reuse the leaves and drink a second pot. On Sundays, I will stop hurrying the dog through his morning routine, and I might finally pot all the plants that are rooting in glass jars along my windowsills. I’ll read more books to my son, keep reading aloud even when his attention fades after five minutes. On Sundays in savasana, I will let myself cross that visible barrier between consciousness and sleep. I might fold laundry too, but only if I feel like doing it mindfully. No folding laundry begrudging the amount of socks my family wears. I can resume my despair of sock matching on Monday, but Sunday should be a day of peace. A day of action within every moment of inaction.
Don’t you agree?
Earlier this week, I was chatting with a friend who has a 6 month old baby. She returned to work after her maternity leave just as I left my job to move away, and though our circumstances are very different right now, we have a lot of sympathy for each other, mainly because having a child is hard work no matter how you spend the day.
When I went back to work, leaving my infant made me sick to my stomach if I thought about it too much. However, I was unquestionably fulfilled, stimulated and excited by the activities I did at work. But in the lulls of the day, especially when I looked up and saw a parent with a child my son’s age heading into story time, I longed to be that parent. Now that I am that parent, I look longingly at the librarians working behind their desks, busily involved in something greater than themselves. This is a big flip from my mindset six months ago, and I’m having a bit of trouble forgiving myself for taking my job for granted. At the time, my job so often felt like a means to an end, it gave us financial security, health insurance, professional credence. But now that my job is staying home with my child, I’ve been longing for the intangibles that a career provides. I miss the random witty chats with my co-workers and patrons, the grown up routine I created (involving 6am gym sessions and 9pm bedtimes), the healthy balance of time with my family and time away, dedicated lunch breaks, quiet moments at my desk, adult conversation, professional growth.
There is a lot of angst from American women that our country has unfairly short maternity leave policies. I might get chastised for being anti-feminist, but if we women want to be treated fairly in the workplace, how can we ask for our job to be held for 6 months or a year off while we care for our new family members? I think instead of longer maternity leave, we should be pulling for the fathers to take paternity leave–6 months is a very reasonable age for a new person to be cared for by others (mom takes 3 months, dad takes 3 months). The world will keep going. If we choose to leave our jobs for a while, that is a perfectly respectable choice, but more than 3 months, I think, is asking too much. I’ve heard confessions from lots of new mothers about how they were ashamed by how excited they were to get back to work after their leave. And that is where I am right now. Not on maternity leave per se, but itching to get back into the world of big ideas and projects and meaning.
In a perfect world, of course, I’d job share with my friend in Silicon Valley. We’d each work 20 hours a week, and spend the other 20 hours with our little boys. Maybe we’d even share child care duties so we could avoid the inexorable costs of nannies and day care. I can’t imagine I am the only one who feels like I need to be contributing to the turning of the world’s gears to feel value. Yes, raising a child has its rewards, but it can feel stagnant on those days he wants to go down the slide 50 times in a row. People have bad days at their job, too, but at least you walk away at the end of the day to something else.
Related: What would Betty say?
Hello, fair readers:
I have been absent from this domain for longer than I intended. Life, and then travels, interrupted my intentions, and I observe a connection between my peace of mind and writing. The holiday season is over now, and I can retreat to my corner of the world to regain some perspective.
I felt guilty leaving my last post here my reflections of the Connecticut tragedy. I was sad, and then angry, about that event for a long time, and it was hard for me to embrace the holiday season with this pang of sadness sitting on my shoulder. I found myself getting angry at small misunderstandings and conditions of life: we were told the wrong time for family swim one Saturday, a fellow air traveler with unsolicited advice about bottle feedings, the dry nosebleed inducing air of Washington DC in December, my aging grandfather who needs an aide 24 hours each day, the lack of parking along the National Mall, internet filters, out of stock books, unexpected changes of plans, forgotten kindle chargers, and tap water that tastes like pennies. But there was joy hidden among all of these moments, some I missed because I was too entrenched in my misery to look for it. I was with my family and friends, after all. We are alive and together this Christmas and New Year, what more is there to celebrate?
I don’t really make New Year resolutions because I am always trying to better myself. But this year I took a great breath of the cold December air and made myself promise to stop getting hung up on the little things. We’re all human, with our own individual perspectives and experiences of life, and so long as we’re here we should enjoy it. Meditation has been a hugely useful tool in this seeking of joy, and I am slowly mastering longer periods of sitting still. Here is a wonderful site for guided meditation, which I use when my mind is especially busy and reluctant to calm down. Looking inwards, I’ve found, is a powerful way to appreciate the world outside.
Yesterday afternoon, my husband called to ask me if I heard about the news from Connecticut. I had, but some innate defense sprang up and did not allow me to react until I had the space to do so. I listened numbly to the news on the radio, I even relayed the news to an elderly friend. I hugged my baby tight before putting him to bed, and only when he was sound asleep did I delve into the tragedy of yesterday’s news.
Tears were pouring from my eyes half way into a paragraph describing the scene, and I wavered between wanting to read more and being too horrified to continue. It breaks my heart as a human being, and injures a part of my soul as a parent. The hardest part for me is that it is a familiar ache, and though I have no relationship to the adults and children that died yesterday, I can’t help but remember what it felt like to lose my father.
There is no silver lining to an incident as horrifying as yesterday. It stirs difficult emotions in everyone, and I can only hope people will be as understanding and compassionate with each other as long as possible; towards people like my husband, who has never so much as lost a pet, but cannot stop himself from tearing up in public as he watches the news on the television at the gym. On days when the pain is especially raw, a smile from a stranger can be the motivation to keep going on with life, as random and hard as it sometimes feels.
Those poor families from yesterday have a long road of mourning and sadness ahead of them. We brought our son to sleep in our bed last night for a while. I stayed up late watching him, terrified and envious of the vast possibilities of life that lies ahead for him. Sometimes it is hard for me to empathize with death, losing my father when I was 10 infused me with a sense that it happens to everyone, and we’ve no choice but to continue on with our lives. I was sad when my 87 year old grandmother died last year, but I did not mourn her passing. She died peacefully. But a life that ends in violence is one of the greatest tragedies I can imagine, and I think that is part of the reason I am having such a hard time reading the news from yesterday. Post traumatic stress bubbled up in my throat, and I crawled into bed until my husband got home. I don’t deserve any more or less sympathy, but I feel especially vulnerable, and as a parent now I have to offer my child the courage to not be afraid, and the tools to deal with our sadness when it arises.
We’re all hugging our children a little closer today, cuddling our pets, being extra nice to each other. I haven’t felt this sad through my core in years. I hope everyone remembers their manners and compassion in the days to come, and the debate about why tragedies like this occur stay far from those closely affected. I plan to escape further into my re-readings of Ian McEwan. If anyone needs a healthy diversion in the form of fiction, please suggest Enduring Love. It is a portrait of a man who recovers after witnessing a tragedy (though in no great proportions as yesterday’s). McEwan offers realistic, strong and moral characters. I’m finding some peace re-reading The Comfort of Strangers.
I once could recite this by heart. Now it is just the last 2 stanzas I can recall. I’m re-learning it, and I’ll perform it for my husband and son on Christmas.
La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad
By John Keats
Source: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 1988)
I am confused! I used to love living in Boston, the construction and the sirens were a charming white noise, and the hot stepping industriousness of the masses excited me, even if I was just pretending to be part of the pack on my way to Neimans. I loved living in a 874 square foot apartment stacked neatly above and beside other square living spaces. It was liberating to go to the grocery store and keep my head down, not making eye contact was part of the game (judge people based on their walk and their shoes, not their facial expression, I learned). I rarely got upset by traffic, I began to appreciate public radio and audio books, I walked everywhere I possibly could, and I outsourced all my errands that there was a market for.
Living in the city, we started to hold hands when we crossed the street, not for safety, but to feel a connection among the multitudes of people we were surrounded by all day. I shared tables at the library, knew where all the free dog bags were, sat rubbing elbows with strangers at bars, and discovered the easiest route across Mass Ave during rush hour. I learned to strip my pants off at the gym mere inches away from other women (it is much more efficient to forgo modesty when you’re changing into a bathing suit).
But something about my attitudes towards city dwelling has changed in the last three months. I guess I’ve gone soft in my new state of semi-retirement and stay-at-home motherhood. I have an expectation that people will return phone calls, & emails, especially when one spends 45 minutes composing the latter to a fellow new mother with solicited advice on things already learned. I have little free time, and believe me, I would have preferred to spend it working on my nano project, taking a bath and eating chocolates, bouldering, or playing with my toddler; not recounting my days with the nightmare inducing medela pump, or reliving my first days of returning to work after maternity leave. Sure, we’re all busy, in the city and in the suburbs, but what is it about some people who have such colossal stores of disregard for other people? Boston traffic illuminates this clearly: try driving near the city on I-93 between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, and please, try to find me one example of someone who isn’t entirely offensive and self-interested. The dudes driving the new mercedes or giant SUVs are on the ultimate ego trips, if you ask me.
Anyways, I recently returned from a ten day trip to New England. We flew in and out of Boston in favor of convenient flight times, and though I had moments of awe as I looked up at the skyscrapers, I was mostly disappointed by what I left behind. I spent six years of my life running in the city rat race, though I didn’t really realize it until going back. I joined in on restaurant week fun, tried not to be appalled when a friend’s husband nonchalantly ordered $100 bottles of wine, shopped for cocktail dresses at overpriced boutiques I’ve only ever worn once, attended various bridal and baby showers at over-hyped trendy cafes. I guess I did a fine job of feigning interest, but I have no desire to take part in those activities anymore. Don’t get me wrong, Boston is beautiful, and I loved my time there, but looking back my attitudes were all wrong and much of the time I was helping to perpetuate the Masshole stereotype. I was pregnant during our last seven months of living in our little apartment on Beacon Street, and in that time my husband and I nested, lived quietly, walked the streets and observed small marvels of life existing there; we grew kinder. It was quaint, and I had as much fun in those months as I had when we were regularly meeting people out on the town.
Living in the South, I think I am starting to understand what the Dutch (and Europeans in general) meant when they said that people get colder the further north you go, and friendlier as you travel south. I don’t know if it is the cold weather in Boston that gets people going on the rude train, but it is a lifestyle I am so glad I am no longer perpetuating. I wish I could go back and apologize to all the friends I cancelled on last minute, all the times I snagged a taxi when someone else five feet away was looking at it hopefully. I want to take back the crappy tips I gave to delivery food drivers for being half an hour late with our dinner because of traffic, and I forgive the pedestrians who walked out in front of me when my stoplight changed before they could halt their stride.
I’m not saying that people in the South are superior. I am sure I’ll find their (our?) faults soon enough, but the common sense of decency, gentility, and genuine kindness here is downright intoxicating. Definitely a pay-it-forward kind of society, whereas in Boston, I look back and see all the times kindness stopped because it was more convenient for someone (myself included) to hang on to it to get a leg up.
Whatever happened to a quick chat over tea? Or shows of thankfulness and appreciation? This is the season for gratitude, and I definitely saw very little of it in Boston. It was barely discernible in Maine which was disappointing to me, Massholes be Massholes, but I expected more from my home state. I had a wonderful trip, all the family and friends I did get to see were amazingly kind and generous, and spoiled my son with more love and attention than I ever thought existed.
But I’m not eager to go back. Family and friends have promised visits here over their cold winter, and this way I can avoid the rude stewardesses who gawk at me shuffling down a narrow airplane aisle with 3 bags and 26 pounds of dead weight. I miss the birch trees, but I think palm trees are a great holdover until we go back.
your ever loyal bloggess
P.S. In case you wondered, I’m taking a little social media (read: twitter and facebook) hiatus for the rest of the year. Time to focus on the family I have here, my projects I want to finish, and the new goals I want to get started on.