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.
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.
(I have been thinking about writing this post for quite a while.)
There are possibilities everywhere, and it is hard not to let the mind wander toward exciting uncharted territory. There are the possibilities we actively seek out, taking their shape in goals, cover letters, bruised wrists, and brazen moves out of state. Then there are the possibilities that we can only wish and pray into being. We all wished to win the lottery (it helps to buy a ticket though), we wish natural disasters don’t occur, we wish for lovely weather when our far away friends visit; and I wished that I said the right thing in the right conversation that would have landed an offer of employment.
The HR rep greeted me warmly, and reminded me to “just breathe,” which I brashly shrugged off.
I could have used another breath.
I sat down parched, then thankful to see paper cups of water in front of each place. As the deputy director was going over some initial details, I gratefully sipped my cup. It slowly dawned on me that, in fact, there was no paper cup of water for me. I had just touched my lips and tongue to the executive director’s cup. Burning with apologies, I tried to move on from my error as the interview trio politely shrugged it off. There was probably a way I could have recovered from that egregiousness, but whatever it could have been was beyond me. Those interview questions I should have practiced would have come in handy then.
I walked out of that interview more defeated than I’ve felt in a very long time. I wallowed for the evening, and the next day. I perked up here and there, convincing myself my errors really weren’t all that bad. But they were. Oh reader, they were heinous.
This was April 1. For many reasons that I hope to go into with another post, I joined an instagram yoga challenge. So when I finally got that email that said, “thanks, but no thanks,” I had something else to think about. It was a moment of unseen, though very deliberate, creation, and it has re-ignited my buried passion.
I’ve done more yoga in the last two months than I have in many years…maybe ever. It has helped me realize that job was not my dream job, it was just a job. Looking back, I see my hesitations.
Self-sabotage of the best sort.
How did that spark inside me that trained to be a yoga teacher five years ago get so obscured? It is a little strange for me to be on the cusp of the next decade of my life, and still not know precisely what my career will look like. But I’ve been opening to new possibilities that I never would have seen if I got this 9-5 job I lusted after. Teaching yoga. Getting a 2nd Masters. Going to the beach every beautiful day with my son. Volunteering with the troubled local school system. Going to France and to live in a little cottage by the sea. Meeting and celebrating my new niece this summer.
Anyways, I felt like I needed to document this episode of my life, and thank you for reading. It is reassuring to know there is no such thing as a dream job, for me, right now. That position for included zero discussion of creativity. And yoga, definitely no yoga in the job description. So I’m settling in for a summer of possibilities manifesting, and setting the stage for a happy next decade of my life.
Surely Hafiz can’t be wrong:
“This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.”
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?
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 a terrible
stay at homemother.
I just want to admit it publicly, because too many people think I have it all together and apparently it looks like I know what I’m doing. Sure, I take my wee boy to play groups, feed him nutritious vegetarian meals, encourage him to express himself at the frustrating age of one. We go for daily walks, read for the prescribed 25 minutes each day, identify colors, practice sign language, sing songs. But I get bored spending 12 hours with a toddler every day. I’ve minded him in his room while playing words with friends on my iphone hidden in my lap. I do not always test the temperature of his bath water before dipping his toes in. I’ve found dog hair in his mouth, in his snot, in his diaper. His favorite hang out is the dog’s crate, and I’ve caught him putting his face in the water bowl. I’ll turn his stroller forward facing so I can have time to myself on walks. I use babysitters for no reason other than to catch a yoga class, or go downtown to get drunk with my friends. I’ve eaten the last piece of burrata I know he’d love. My bathroom needs come first when we walk inside after a long day. He cried it out. He has not tasted bacon. I
secretly can’t wait until he wants to watch Sesame Street and doesn’t need my undivided attention.
Of course he is my joy, my beautiful son, and it is so rewarding spending my days with him, blah, blah, blah, but really, honestly……rare is the day I put him to bed and feel deeply fulfilled. I’m often overwhelmed and exhausted, even today, when I had 15 hours off in between shifts. It is this time, pecking away at my laptop, or the 30 minutes before this when I was on my yoga mat, that give me servings of self-hood. I genuinely enjoy being a mother, but most days are frenetic and full of haphazard attempts to entertain my capricious offspring. I was a great new mother, monitoring and observing every change to his tiny body. But he’s now five times his weight from his birth day, and we’re necessarily becoming more independent and less reliant on each other. He’ll always be a part of me, but not in the same sense he was when developing from a fetus to an infant, or an infant nourished by my breast milk. Most changes are gradual, but they’re visible to us mothers all at once since we see our children every day. I didn’t notice that his top 4 teeth were rupturing his gums until they were visible baby fangs. I used to rue being a “working mother” during his infancy because I was so afraid I’d miss a first. But the truth is, the first time something happens doesn’t have to be our official recognition of the event. The first time daddy saw him walk is a precious memory to my husband even though he’d been doing it all day. I feel like personal development is as important as time with my son now because we’ll get bored otherwise. He needs to see other faces than mine all day, lest I have a 29 year old living at home with me in as many years!
So when I write, or practice yoga, I regain my mother courage, to step away from my son and let him grow and learn about the world without me hovering above. Writing and yoga are chances for me to step back and look around, or look at myself inside. Everyone has their own definition of what makes them happy and there are many opinions on what constitutes a nurturing childhood. I think I am doing my very best to give my son what he needs. Sure he entertained himself on my ipad for 15 minutes after his bath tonight, but earlier today he looked at squid and jelly fish, touched a sea urchin, watched an underwater pumpkin carving contest. I’m not trying to justify my parenting deficiencies, just making sense of who I am and what I am capable of as a mother. I’m happy to bake some peanut butter banana muffins for our weekly play group (with coconut oil and South Carolina peanuts, of course), but I am not so sure I will be a rapt observer each soccer practice, and karate kick that I once assumed I had to be. There are all sorts of trendy labels people give their parenting style. Maybe my ever growing album of “baby-in-a” pictures (baby-in-a fountain, baby-in-a kitchen aid, baby-in-a purse, baby-in-a miniature Ferrari) could give rise to some witty name. Container parenting. Shifting boundary parenting. Senseless parenting?
I used to think my wedding day was forever going to be the most memorable 24 hours of my life. Yesterday was my son’s first birthday, and (forgive this hackneyed allusion to the archetypical woman’s life) I can confidently say his birth now ranks most memorable in my temporal lobe. Memories of a whole new person were initiated a year ago, and even though I sometimes can’t remember what I ate for lunch, October 23, 2011, feels like yesterday. I wonder if it always will.
So much has happened in the last year, but baby’s birthday is my most cherished memory. The smell of copal (which we only light on special occasions, like last night) ignites memories from our wedding, but I’m not able to remember the tiny details of that day anymore. I am glad there does not seem to be a fixed capacity in the brain to store sentimental memories. I would be tempted to choose reliving the days of being young, falling in love, and meeting my child over practical functions of the brain like walking, and remembering that 841 is one of my favorite non-fiction sections in the library. There is a lot of pressure in the beliefs I follow to stay in the moment and not to dwell in the past. But my dreams–a place where I spend 1/3 of my time after all–is made of beautiful and excruciating memories which have made me who I am today.
But on my son’s birthday, I feel justified to dwell on the past. He hardly appreciated our celebrations and special activities–a trip to the toy store, a walk around a special island, a visit from adopted aunties, and a waffle cone full of mint chocolate cookie, a special dinner. So I felt happy to accept the day on his behalf, reveling in the sun and the air, not trapped to a bed in a hospital. Life is so fair, because without a doubt, next year the labors from his birth will be a more distant memory, like how my wedding day is now. I will always remember the essentials: unyielding physical pressure, sharp seemingly unbearable abdominal cramps, the incomparable relief and overpowering happiness and love, a beating Mexican sun tempered by soft clouds and northern breezes. I’m glad I will always have my dear husband–and now my sweet child–to remind me of special days, physical proof that we existed in those pictures that simultaneously look like years ago–my baby is now five times the size he was a year ago, and yesterday–I have looked basically the same in pictures since I was 17.
Next year I’ll be happy to plan a real party for my son’s growing memories. I feel like your first child’s first birthday is for the parent’s nostalgia, and that is what we observed. Happy Birth day, mom and dad, and of course, our sweet son!