A home Yoga practice allows you to develop inner resources to help yourself; you don’t have to go to someone or something else to feel calmer, stronger, and more at ease.
There’s nothing like having your very own personalised home Yoga practice to really reap the benefits of Yoga in the most practical way: getting in tune with your own body & intuition, using poses that can help you balance what you do physically in your work, and learning how to find equilibrium in the midst of every day life.
Going to a group class once or twice a week is a wonderful addition to your home practice. Practising in a community of other Yogis for mutual support is part of the Yoga tradition, called a Sangha. But it’s not meant to replace your home Yoga practice.
When you attend a Yoga class, your teacher has many compromises to make. Everyone in the room has a unique body, mind, lifestyle history, and personality. Your teacher has to take a rough average of all that, plus any challenges with individual posture, knees, hips, backs, shoulders, necks, and more.
A highly skilled teacher can offer modifications and different ways of practising each pose, but this takes time and because it’s impossible to teach 15 different completely practices all at once, you still end up doing quite a few things that might be great for someone else’s body and constitution but aren’t wonderful for yours.
A home Yoga practice is ideally tailored to you personally, in order to find that physical ease and mental stillness that brings you home to your true self.
In your own home practice, you can choose poses that help balance out the effects of your daily activities, whether they involve working at a desk, carrying children, or any other challenging physical labour.
You can choose which mindfulness and meditation techniques work for your mind the best. You can set your own pace for sequences and for breathing. If you’re prone to stiffness in some areas, you can work on more mobility there. If you’re hyper-mobile or overly flexible, you can practice for stability and strength. And you can even choose silence, music, indoors or outdoors, and absolute freedom in the way you enjoy your home Yoga practice.
Personally, I love variety.I always include meditation and focus on the breath, but my practice one day will be slow, silent, and mostly sitting meditation while the next day I might do specific strength work in the paddock. The next day might call for intuitive Sun Salutes indoors to Salsa or Reggae music. No matter the type of practice, it’s always a haven and restores me to myself.
Many of my lovely clients prefer a short, simple, well-loved and familiar practice at the same time every day, such as first thing in the morning or last thing at night. The purpose is the same: to find ease, calm, and gather the scattered threads of ourselves back home into feeling whole again.
Where to start
Private Yoga sessions are by far the most effective way to get a personally tailored practice that meets your individual needs and suits your lifestyle.
If that’s not possible for you just yet, you can go along to several classes until you feel you’re getting an idea of what’s most useful for you. Some dedicated class teachers will offer free practice charts they’ve created for you to follow.
I don’t recommend YouTube videos. A glance through what’s on offer as “beginner Yoga” absolutely horrifies me, due to my experience working with real bodies that have been shaped by parenting, working, and life. Many bodies are not necessary loose and athletic and ready to launch straight into bendy shapes (and the usefulness or value of those poses for everyday life are questionable anyway).
You can try on-demand video services, but just bear in mind that the teacher has to take an educated guess about the average needs of their audience and sequence the practice accordingly. The teacher can’t see you so there can be no personal modifications for your body. This is fine if you have no injuries, postural issues, conditions or specific priorities and needs, but otherwise, find a qualified, experienced teacher and ask his or her advice. You could also try something gentle on video that’s suitable for most beginners, such as Gary Kraftsow’s video series available here: http://www.pranamaya.com/teachers/gary-kraftsow
Your practice should ultimately help you to feel more balanced, calm, and at ease. If it doesn’t, then it’s the wrong practice for you.
Some common questions and hurdles
How do I know what to practice, and if I’m doing it right?
You don’t have to re-create your class or private session, and it certainly doesn’t have to be as long. When I was new to Yoga, I started with one pose that I remembered because it was easy and I loved it, and one pose that I remembered because I couldn’t hold it and it made me wobble (I’m stubborn like that). Those were the only two poses I could remember from my weekly Yoga classes, but they helped me with many, many other Yoga poses.
There is no right or wrong in Yoga. I do sometimes get asked to work with new private clients who have put themselves in pain practising Yoga in the past on their own, but this is often because they’re coming from a much more “hard-core” style of Yoga & trying to replicate that kind of class without any training in sequencing, or because they’re going for a “big stretch” (& haven’t been taught that Yoga is not about stretching) … or because they’re just generally trying way too hard. So just move in the easiest, most spacious (and definitely pain-free) way possible and most of all make sure you’re breathing in an easy-going, unhurried way.
If you’re a class participant and you can’t remember any Yoga poses yet, just 10 minutes of complete awareness of your breath while moving in any mindful, easeful way can be life changing. Try lying on the floor in a comfortable position with enough padding underneath your back to be at ease, observing your breath until it feels unhurried & smooth, and then slowly, with a sense of gentle curiosity, moving each part of the body in turn from the ankles up – try circling your ankles, your hips, then sitting or standing to circle your shoulders and wrists, and experiment further, never once holding or disturbing your breath.
How do I make time for a Yoga practice when there are SO many other things I have to do?
Here are some thoughts:
- We all seem to have a giant never-ending To Do list. A home Yoga practice is not just another thing on the list. It’s a gift of self-care and well-being, a joy and privilege and it’s what can give you the energy, health and focus to actually do all that other stuff. If you find yourself at the end of the day with another opportunity for practice missed, then tomorrow get up earlier and practise before you start doing all of those other things. Setting the alarm 20 minutes earlier for a practice will actually make your whole day feel slower, calmer, and generally more sane so it’ll feel like you’ve added hours of space and time, not just 20 minutes.
- If slowing down enough to practice seems to encourage more To Do tasks to pop into your head, have a handy piece of paper nearby to jot them down on. Then instead of carrying them in your mind through your practice, they’ll be waiting for you afterward, by which time you’ll be able to bring more focus and energy to them.
- Attach your practice to something you do everyday.If mornings don’t work for you, use a good end-of-day Yoga sequence and set a reminder for 20 minutes before your usual bed time. Use a slow cooker or cook meals ahead on Sundays so that you can give yourself 10 minutes before dinner. Invite a work colleague to join you in a 20 minute before-work practice in the board room (a practice buddy can be very motivating!)
- I bet you probably somehow make the time to pay bills, feed your family, help a friend in need, call an elderly parent or ill relative, help your child with homework, attend an extra work meeting or parent-teacher interview, do laundry, etc etc… Well, NONE of those things can happen if you don’t have health, mobility and sanity. Trust me, if you neglect your body & mind long enough, all those things grind to a halt…I’ve been there in my pre-Yoga years! It’s therefore logical to schedule your health, mobility and sanity in first.
My family / kids / dogs won’t let me practice!
No, they probably won’t for the first few weeks, until it stops being unusual and becomes a normal part of life. With older children and spouses, persist with positive reinforcement. Thank them, hug them and give them your full undivided mindful loving attention after your practice (you’ll feel you can, once your practice has replenished your energy). I have clients whose families end up saying, “mum/dear, maybe it would be a good idea if you went off and had a Yoga practice now” because they know they’ll get their sane, rejuvenated and fully present loved one back once they’ve practised Yoga!
With young kids, let them be your Yoga buddies. Make cat meows when you do Cat Pose. Lengthen your exhalations by blowing bubbles or singing their favourite word for as long as you can until you both run out of breath. Make a rainbow bridge and build your strength holding it while they run back & forth underneath it. These are the precious years when your practice has to be FUN!
With dogs, build up their time slowly and use treats, walks, tummy rubs and other rewards after they stay on their mat patiently (hhmmm, not so different from human family members really!). My best friend Bonnie Dog thought I was crazy when she first came into my life. “What’s this insane human doing on the floor?!” she thought. “She must want sitting and jumping on!” With repetition and reward, she’ll now tolerantly wait in her bed a good 90 minutes and has learned my usual indoors Yoga routine so she knows when I’m nearing the end. Then, if I take a bit too long I might get a purposeful paw landing heavily and pointedly on the Yoga mat, and a very expressive look. But she knows she’ll get a big belly rub and a quick game afterward so she’s willing to be patient. If your dog doesn’t respond to training at all, we do usually have doors, and they can be closed, and they will survive for half an hour behind it. (Sometimes this may even have to apply to other family members as well!)
What if it feels selfish to take time to practice Yoga just for myself?
I know a lot of us feel like this. But honestly, how are you not doing the people around you a huge favour by increasing your tolerance and compassion, sustaining your future physical strength & independence, finding more energy,and generally becoming a more physically & emotionally capable and kind human being?
If that’s not logical enough for you, the behaviour you’re role modelling for the children and even other adults in your life will mean much more than anything you ever say to them about healthy lifestyle choices. Children, especially, learn more by observing and absorbing your behaviour than what you tell them. For example, would you like your daughter or granddaughter to grow up able and willing to take time out for her own health and well being? Of course you would! And she’s much more likely to, if she sees you doing it.
You can even dedicate the benefits of your practice to others in your life. If you’re spiritually inclined, you can do this in the form of a prayer or intention at the end of your practice. If you’re more into physically tangible ways of dedicating the benefits of your practice to others, then take those benefits with you off the mat and into your relationships. Did you know that if you’re sitting next to someone who’s feeling anxious or stressed and you slow down your breathing, then unconsciously, their breathing is likely to slow down too, helping to ease their stress?
Your practice can have a very positive affect on those around you.
“The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.” — T.K.V. Desikachar,
What if I don’t have a Yoga space yet? Or a mat yet?
If you wait till all the conditions are right, you might be waiting forever. Start with where you are and what you’ve got and improve conditions when you can.
You don’t need a mat or anything else to be aware of your breath, mind and body. I often no longer bother with a Yoga mat, especially when travelling, and there’s so much you can do without one. Floor boards are fine. In private sessions in clients’ homes, we use whatever is to hand; cushions, books instead of Yoga blocks, scarves instead of Yoga straps.
While it’s lovely to have a dedicated Yoga space, you can practice anywhere. I’ve practised in a corner of a shared bedroom where I usually had to clear dirty socks out of the way first (and they weren’t even my dirty socks!). I’ve practised on freezing cold mornings in a big house where there was no point lighting the fire because the place wouldn’t warm up enough until well after my practice – wearing a parka! I’ve practised when there was no separate space to practice in while visiting relatives tried to have conversations with me about their love life (even while I was trying to balance on one leg, for goodness sake!). I’ve practised in a tent, on a boat, in a desert, and while crying my eyes out. I’ve practised meditation on buses, handstands in an office during lunch break, and Yoga Nidra with headphones on in car parks. All of it was valuable.
Having said that, the more supportive you can make your environment, the easier you’ll find it to establish a regular home Yoga practice. If you’ve got a body-sized section of floor always clear and ready, it certainly makes it easier to practice than having to move lots of stuff out of the way first.
The biggest obstacle to having a home Yoga practice: being hard on yourself
Some people seem to build a home practice steadily and easily, gradually transforming their bodies and minds and enjoying the journey. Others seem to have a hard time at first.
It’s not discipline or some magic inner quality that seems to make this difference. What I notice about my clients who progress easily and steadily is that they don’t beat themselves up by focusing on what they haven’t done, or the ways in which they feel they’re not good enough.
Here are some things I’ve noticed about clients who develop their practice effectively:
They notice and acknowledge that they feel good after their Yoga session.
They start simply, even if it’s just remembering to stand in Mountain Pose in good posture while working in the kitchen, or remembering to take their time to breathe with full exhalations if stressed before a work meeting. When those things work, no matter how small, they acknowledge that they’ve achieved something themselves for their well-being. They feel empowered, and inspired, and soon they want more. Gradually, they find that they want to set aside more time to get out a Yoga mat and practice Yoga techniques for specific benefits, like sequences that make them feel relaxed, or stronger, or that make their shoulders feel wonderful.
The focus is on joy, feeling the benefits, celebrating new milestones no matter how tiny, and the journey is always transformational. They turn themselves into Yoga practice addicts with positive reinforcement, natural mindfulness and compassion.
And then there’s the clients who give themselves a hard time:
These are the are clients where I turn up for the second session and they feel terrible because they “haven’t done anything” between our sessions. But when I ask what they remember from our first session together, they remember everything, because they thought about standing in Mountain Pose with good posture when they were in the kitchen, and they noticed their breathing got shallow if they were stressed, so they breathed more mindfully.
In fact they do everything that the successfully practising clients did.
They just feel that it’s not good enough. They don’t get to celebrate the way those things make them feel, because they’re too busy being hard on themselves, worried that they’re not doing enough or that they’re not getting it right. And this creates an entirely different result. It sometimes takes us a while to get past this and it’s the biggest hurdle there is to a home practice, because you are not going to do something you don’t feel good about.The negative feelings of not being or doing enough are not inspiring or encouraging, so the practice doesn’t grow and then there seems to be even more lack to feel bad about, creating a negative cycle that is so unnecessary.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that if negative thoughts proliferate, we can practice replacing them with positive ones, cultivating the “opposite mental attitude”. He doesn’t say we should squash or banish negative thoughts, or punish ourselves for having them – just that it’s useful to cultivate positive ones.
So, if you start a home practice one day, and then you miss two days, what are you going to allow to happen next? Instead of letting self-defeating dialogue start up, such as “I’m obviously not disciplined enough”, or “I should have practised, I’m so slack”, you could:
- Notice that inner dialogue
- Let it go
- Remember how beneficial that one practice was,
- Acknowledge that you were capable of setting aside the time to do it
- Focus on the positive feelings about that practice so that you feel more like doing it again.
Or if that seems too tricky, here’s a favourite phrase I like to use: “That was then, this is now”. Let go of “then”, let go of self-judgement, and focus on what you want to feel like right now. If you want to feel more pain free, more at ease, stronger, calmer, happier, and you focus on wanting to feel those things, then practising a bit will seem like a great idea.
If the positive reinforcement, natural mindfulness and compassion toward yourself doesn’t come naturally to you, you can cultivate it, and this in itself is a Yoga practice – an even more important one than fixing a sore back or getting some core strength, although this approach will help with all those things too.
- If you can, get a round of private sessions to craft a personal practice to suit your unique body, mind and lifestyle. If this isn’t possible, ask your class teacher if he or she can provide a general practice sheet or recommend some resources. If it ultimately helps you to feel more balanced, calm, and at ease, then it’s a good practice.
- Don’t worry about whether you’re “doing it right” or doing “enough”. Whether you have 10 minutes in the park or 20 minutes before morning chaos, just do it for joy, sanity, ease and to take time out to nurture yourself. And remember, your self-care is good for everyone around you.
- Give the people around you time to get used to your practice and don’t give up too quickly. This can take a few weeks. After that they’ll find you so boring while you’re practising that they’ll focus on something else. Or if you have children, teach them some poses too and make it fun.
- Attach your practice to another daily activity if you can, or to a regular time, to make it a part of your routine. If you have a clear space ready to practice in, that’ll make it even easier. But don’t wait until your conditions are perfect or until you have Yoga gear. Just start.
- Don’t focus on when or why you didn’t practise. That was then, this is now and you can always do it now. Instead of using words like “should” in relation to your practice, use words like “I get to”. As in, “this morning I get to do a Yoga practice”. It’s a gift and a joy, not another thing on your To Do list. After a session, acknowledge the effort you made and the awareness you’ve gained, or the benefits you feel.
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life” Jean Shinoda Bolen
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