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’ve had a terrible habit lately of taking things for granted. I make weekly trips to the aquarium, the beach, the pool, and the farmers market with my son, and rarely do I pause to wonder if it is going to be the last time. Last week I interviewed for a job I know would suit me…I might be offered the position and suddenly be a working mother again, facing different adventures and routines.
I was thinking about this today on an afternoon walk. We live in such a beautiful neighborhood, we can walk out the front door and be engulfed in forest and nature moments later. Before we moved I always longed to get out of the house and look at the natural world, but living in the Boston area made it complicated. The parks we lived near were surrounded by highways, and even Boston Common couldn’t offer the serenity I get from forests. Today we easily got to see the real world: deer, squirrels, butterflies, snakes, spiders, flowers, frogs, a great spectrum of earth. I’ve been expecting a phone call all day though, so I had my phone with me. The baby had fallen asleep, and the dog was obediently trotting beside us. My hand seemed magnetized to my phone. Like just because I had it, and just because it was possible, my hand tried to check my email. I caught it, put my phone back in my pocket and took a deep breath of gratitude. I have few responsibilities, and few people rely on me right now. These days are surely numbered, whether I get a job next week, or two years from now, I know I will not get to spend all this time with my son, my dog, and the woods forever. I mustn’t wish for change, when one day I know I’ll be longing for these carefree–and yes, even boring–days of stay at home motherhood.
We ended up taking a very long walk. I fell into a trance, hypontized by the beautiful afternoon sun and clouds, the warm breeze. No mosquitos to chase away. I stared at the treetops for miles, wondering what I could do to have this view forever.
I go about the business of daily life now in miniature variations of its former rigid constitution:
Twelve minutes of yoga here. A shoulder stand on the nursery room floor there. I try to include a proper (pro-rated) savasana too.
Baby sized meals. Often eating whatever is leftover on my ten month old’s plate.
There is only time to do quick errands, between nap time and lunch time and story time.
The dog gets walked on a short leash now. Even though we’re far from any traffic danger, it lurks in other places, like shallow ponds and swampy marshes (snakes and alligators, not traffic, are the main concerns here).
We food shop for one or two days at a time— we only have two arms to carry things inside, after all.
In the end, everything adds up to regular portions. I have acquiesced my control over things, for now, which has made it essential to do things in bits and spurts if I want to eat and breathe. Life is a series of short, intense moments—of learning, play, and tears.
There are other things, though, that I am consuming at a much more rapid pace:
Books. I’m quickly reading literature again. Like 2 novels a week, devouring it, staying up late and waking up early to greet my titles.
Wine. A bottle every two or three days. It sometimes feels like life is a vacation. Husband prefers his icy Yeungling (maybe the novelty that it is available here) but sometimes he’ll share my bottle.
Showers and baths. They feel so good, morning and evening and sometimes afternoon cleansing watery rituals.
Sleep. I know should be letting my hard working husband sleep more than me. He’s the one at work for so many hours everyday, after all. I’m home: shopping, decorating, eating, napping, playing, and reading. But, he insists on letting me sleep in the mornings so he can play with our boy. Its hard to argue with that.
Phone calls. I always used to be the one who texts back to respond to a voice mail. I’ve talked the same amount in the last two weeks than I have the whole rest of the year.
This last month was about final times, goodbyes, boxes and packing tape, living out of suitcases, eating quick meals, waking up in strange rooms, and starting again in new places. I’m encouraged by our decision to move, and the change. Even though I knew, months ago, that this was the right thing for us, it is still sometimes hard to feel confident diving into unfamiliar territory.
I used to rely on my daily activities to derive a sense of balance. That is impossible now. Life as a Southern Housewife is a jumble of inchoate ideas for routine and activity. Its easy to feel like I’m having a bad day when my Vriksasana gets blown out of alignment because the baby wakes up early from his nap. Or I get hung up thinking its too late for lunch, too early for dinner. But, I try to remember to breathe, and that these are small troubles with easy fixes. So I’m relaxing into my new life here, aware that Friday nights may not be able to include a double yoga practice, but they also will never include sitting in smoggy traffic on the expressway. It is a welcome trade off after five years of city life. And honestly, even though I can count on four fingers the names of people I’ve met down here, I feel at home.
I’m six months entrenched in my new addiction. It follows me when into my dreams as I sleep, it comes with me to work, and I sit through meals fidgeting until I can politely excuse myself to go get a fix. I daydream about the moments I can sweep together from the day’s busyness so I can retreat to my desk to write. You might recall that my last post avowed a writing fast. It lasted about 36 hours. Pretty decent as far as comestible fasts go…but wholly failing in what I claimed to be doing.
In my weak defense, it was a tough week, and I was drained from adventures in extreme baby caring over the weekend. I longed for the comfort of my book and bed. The pressure I put on myself to compose quantifiable words every day was more than I could agree to, so I shrugged it off. It was a good example of irony though, as I wrote through the very anxieties I was experiencing. Maybe it was a way of giving myself permission to take a few days off from the 500 word/day minimum I set for myself. Yesterday morning, I woke, dressed for a run, then looked outside to see soaking, sideways rain–so I returned to bed for two more hours of sleep. Last night I was sleeping by 8pm after falling between the last pages of The Prisoner of Heaven. Yesterday I was gentle with myself, and it was all the fasting I needed.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
As a side note, I’d like to acknowledge a certain loved one who has presently decided to step out of my life. She has a history with a much more serious addiction than my tongue-in-cheek writing addiction I claim to have here. She knows who she is, and I can only hope she’s reading these inane blogged words in the rss in her email like she told me she was doing a month ago. Why she has decided to not be present in my life right now is not a question I’m capable of paining myself with anymore. My anger is gone; what remains is a deep welt of hurt, fear, and sadness.
So: my dear sweet M, please know that whatever you’re going through, your recent actions are a thousand times more disturbing and upsetting than the catalyst. Shrugging me off is even more painful than it is to have lost my father. At least he didn’t choose to leave my life. Please come back.
We’re moving in less than a month. Besides that temporary sojourn to the Netherlands, this is the biggest move I’ve ever made. I’m legitimately allowed to bring everything this time, (except my house plants–more on that to come), and I have three live beings to care for, unpack, and help acclimate when we become Southerners. I’ll keep busy tending to our new home, hanging pictures, potting lavender, finding reading spots, testing out bathtubs. I’ll visit all 16 branches of the Charleston County Public Library System. I’ll organize my bookshelves by some new aesthetic postmodern cataloging standard. Maybe I’ll bake bread.
But the truth is, I’m scared to death about staying home all day with the baby. And before I launch any further into descriptions of what I hope my new life as a Southern Belle will be like, I feel the need to explain myself. Partly out of socially induced guilt (I have lots of friends who tell me “this is the best time to be home with baby,” or “a mother is the most important teacher to a child,”), but mostly because I used to love life as a lady of leisure. I didn’t get my first meaningful, moneymaking job until I was 26 (two weeks shy of 27, actually). That is barely two years ago, but so much has changed in that time. I’m a wife and mother now, and I’ve embraced my responsibility to provide and act as a role model with focused and tenacious gusto.
You see, growing up, my mother never worked. And yet she was present for fewer of my field hockey games and swim meets than my friend’s parents who worked as lawyers, magazine editors, and pilots. I regularly had to hitch rides home with these families because my own mother was too busy with her own life. Its not that she was a bad mother–on the contrary, she was superbly nurturing and caring. But she didn’t represent the archetype that traditional “stay at home mothers” portrayed in my small New England town. She is an artist, and by definition emotional, flighty, and self-absorbed. That she was teaching me about feelings, life, and the great world was irrelevant to me when I was a child.
I wanted her to be exactly like my friend’s moms who didn’t have jobs. I wanted to come home to freshly washed sheets, elaborate dinners in the process of baking, to find her on the back porch catching up with a neighbor over a pitcher of lemonade. Instead, she’d be shut off in her wing of the house (we were forbidden from entering if the door was shut). Sometimes we wouldn’t see her until hours (and as we got older, days) after we’d gotten home. Sometimes we’d see her after making our own dinner, she’d glide into the living room with her friends–the gay jeweler, the rambunctious Greek book artist, the waitress-cum-writer from their favorite restaurant. My sisters and I were doted upon by my mother and her friends during these impromptu parties. We had our portraits painted dozens of times, I had a jewelry collection to rival the Duchess of Cambridge’s by the time I was 16, (not to mention I was introduced to my first real Librarian–a mentor who still serves me to this day).
This was not the traditional life I wanted, but I know it was also not the artistic life my mother wanted. Her parents refused to pay for her to go to art school, so she studied archaeology and met my med school bound father instead. When he died, she was left alone with three young daughters to raise. I cannot even imagine how terrifying that must’ve felt–suddenly being solely responsible for parenting three children. I know she did the best she could. The same friend that told me mothers are “the most important teachers” a child can have also told me that as mothers, we have to find our own balance and take care of ourselves.
My great fear: that I’ll lose myself in my own ambitions. OR: I’ll lose my great goals for life while I’m busy playing baby games.
I know balance is the key to not falling into either seesaw pit of these extremes. But balance has been a tricky thing for me to grasp throughout my life. It usually takes me some trial and error. Like just now, two weeks before putting my career on hold indefinitely, I am getting into a groove with my writing, reading, spending time with my husband, with my child, running, sleeping, & eating. I’m even able to sit and breathe for a few minutes every day.
So, lovely lookers of my lexicon: please do not judge me too harshly, or write me off too quickly as a selfish person when I say I’m not super psyched to be a stay at home mom for the next phase of my life. But great things never came without some adversity first, right?
There are a zillion measures by which I can assess my life. Don’t judge, just obsere; the various ways by which I look back at my existence so far:
running routes I’ve mastered
Falmouth’s Woodlands; Portland’s Back cove; Nijmegen’s Groesbeekseweg to Heilig Landstichting; Paris’ Bois de Vincennes; Cape Elizabeth’s Route 77; Boston’s Mass ave bridge to Longfellow bridge loop; Quincy’s Wollaston Beach
toaster strudles, big sky toast & butter, honey nut cheerios & banana, fresh water and air, scrambled eggs & spinach, coffee & cigarettes, yogurt parfait, agave oatmeal
things I’ve given up
meeting real or imagined ideals, cow’s milk, meat, finishing books I do not enjoy, self-pity, an insistence that my closet be neat at all times, weekly manicures, monthly running goals, yearly resolutions
activities I’ve dabbled in
jewelery making, painting, smoking, drawing, dancing, political activism, theater, organized socializing
hobbies I’ve acquired
yoga, running, reading, body building, traveling, serving tea, writing, juicing