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.
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.
This is how I aspire to practice. The earth and the body in harmony. Not following prescribed poses called out from a platform, but doing just what feels good.
Yoga outside is the ultimate experience of the poses, for me.
Watch this and I guarantee you will be inspired.