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.

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InstaInspiration

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration. Where it comes from, how it waxes and wanes, the intensity of some moments when one just has to go write (or run, or dance, or sing). It is a funny thing, inspiration, and it can come from the most unlikely places sometimes. Like social media, and for me these days it is culled from: Instagram.

Towards the middle of February, my staled practice was galvanized into a new form when I stumbled across the different yoga challenges that take place on social media. It was a fortunate find, because I was suffering through bouts of seasonal sadness, and without friends and family around it was tough to stay positive some days. The challenges led me towards a deeper level of study and meaning when I saw all the beautiful yoga postures and wisdom coursing through my feed. Though most days I wake early and practice without struggle, the aspiration to full locust rouses me to it on the days I’d rather crawl under the covers with Mr. Murakami. Practice daily has become a mantra, and my virtual yoga community helps to keep me accountable.

Suddenly, out of no where it seemed, the inspired (me) became the inspirer (also me?!). photo

I moved away from pictures of formless landscapes and material acquisitions and have been putting my own form on display. Followers who I didn’t know gave my pictures a second glance began to comment about their attempts to incorporate more yoga into their lives.

Putting pictures of my Self onto the vast interwebs was hard for me in some ways, simple in others. When I was 20, my body was like a source of shame and the physical representation of a long buried sadness. In the years since, I’ve worked hard (some days and months I’ve needed to work harder than others) to move past my issues with the physical body.

But lately it has been effortless. A conscious choice to remove animal products from my diet (more on my new veganism another time…) has left me feeling calmer than I’ve ever felt, yet so energetic and full of hope. I’m proud of my more than five year progress with scorpion pose, and even though I can rarely hold it for more than half a minute, I am exhilarated by the strength of my muscles and my bones; I do not shrink away from the growth of my body–I am empowered by it.

For me, instagram ignited a circle of inspiration, inwards and outwards. Inside to myself, I reflect on my past, and celebrate my present. Outwardly, I share pictures of my asanas, not because I want to show off my body in a bikini or brag about my forearm stand, but because I want to acknowledge that I am happy, I am healthy, and I am dedicated to my yoga practice wherever I am in the world (right now South Carolina happens to be very hot). The encouragement I get from others inspires me back, and when people proudly tell me about their 30 minute practice on the beach, I am grateful that I am the one they want to share their accomplishment with. An ever broadening circle of inspiration.

I’m alone for much of my day. My son is still pre-verbal, and frankly I get pretty darn lonely. I post and comment on pictures throughout the day to keep myself company. I am wholly delighted that I am obsessed with yoga now, not calories, not shopping, and not comparing myself to others. I never care how many people like my pictures. My practice remains my own, and I always wait until I am done with my daily meditation and asana practice before shooting pictures. That they happen to add to the circle of inspiration that is the instagram yoga community pleases me greatly.


Too Much Yoga?

I have a question, and I would really love some feedback on this, my dear & sweet readers:

Is there such a thing as too much yoga?

Levitating, Meditating, Flute-playing Gnu

Levitating, Meditating, Flute-playing Gnu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last few weeks, I’ve been randomly asked how many hours I practice per day by numerous people. The answer, in case you’re curious, too, is: 3-4 (meditation and physical asanas). I want to meditate more, but right now it is between 20 and 40 minutes each day total (post-wake and pre-sleep sessions). I utilize the day care at the gym–my son enjoys his time there as much as I enjoy my 1.5-2 hours practicing. Then, I usually follow up at home for another hour to an hour and a half with certain poses I want to explore and track progress on while my child naps. In addition, I practice again when he is in bed for the night, often the shortest sessions of 30-45 minutes. Sprinkle in a few classes at local studios, and of course my ubiquitous beach yoga sessions, and I spend the majority of my free time doing yoga.

Is this too much? I still go about my other daily life activities. I don’t put off any essential responsibilities. The way I understand it is, I’m here in this new state with few friends, zero extended family, and a husband who often works long hours. If the option to hang out with people arises, I shorten or skip a session without a second thought. I don’t write as often, though. And I don’t run or play tennis. I haven’t been doing much css study, and I’ve permanently put my nano novel out of my mind.

So readers, I need some advice. Should I be reading more? Studying child rearing? Memorizing recipes? Cleaning the base boards more often? I don’t really know. I want to be a well-rounded person, and I’m either really excited or really afraid that I’m starting to identify as a yoga practitioner and structure my days around it.

I think I need to work on giving back to the world more. When I was working as a librarian, it was gratifying because I was working to further a societal institution. I’ve been volunteering in a library a couple of hours each week, but maybe that is not enough.

Would it be feeding my yoga addiction to seek a way to better the world around me through…well, yoga?

Related: I wonder if Betty Friedan would have done yoga if it was as accessible as it is today? I just finished reading this book, and it was fascinating!!


Practice, and all is coming

Something I am working on: meditation.

It is hard to get up earlier than early, but on the days my mind takes control over my body, I rouse from the warm sheets and sit outside and listen for my breath, for the world to wake up. I am assuredly a happier, calmer, more pleasant person on the days I meditate. My goal is twice per day.

old zen saying

A couple of years ago, I went to a yoga teacher training and we were taught meditation. In fact, the yoga poses were a precursor to meditation, everything we did led up to the 30 to 60 minutes of meditation we did each session. Asanas to calm the body so it can sit still and focus on breath and the present. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done–sitting still while I wanted to lie down and go back to sleep, or look around at the French trees, or just ponder my life and my plans for travel once the training was over. Some days I was successful, most days I was not. But I was lucky to have that highly disciplined meditation training, because it enables me to fall back on those patterns today, when life is no where near as spiritual and quiet as it was then. Meditation is the ultimate example of action within inaction.

If you’re just beginning on your meditation practice, I suggest you start with five minutes. Or two, and work up to five. Set an alarm if you must. Stretch your body before sitting down, so you won’t be tempted to wiggle. Sit comfortably, but not too comfortably–sit on a pillow, or the ground (no soft chairs, lest you get too relaxed). Find a relatively quiet spot. Do not think about how much time is left in your sitting–focus on your inhalations, your exhalations. If your mind wanders, do not give up, notice, and move back to your breath. Feel the calm energy it brings to your mind and your body, even if it is only short instances of focus. The goal is to think about nothing, but this is much easier said than done.

Practice, and all is coming. After you master five minutes of meditation, move on to 10 or 15. It does wonders for my spirit and soul.

And maybe I’m biased, but I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from meditation.


Primal Rage and The Holiday Spirit

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.