Recently one of my readers wrote me asking for advice about practicing yoga at home. She is moving to Paris (lucky gal!) and knows that paying (in Euros! Eeek!) for regular yoga classes in that city won’t be sustainable for her at this time. But that’s no reason not to practice yoga, so she’s looking ahead and making some plans for continuing her practice solo. Smart lady.
Building a fulfilling home practice takes time and patience. In my experience it has taken a number of years to get to the point where (most of the time) I feel like I’m getting what I really need from my yoga practice at home.
My self practice story: So, yes, I had a pink leotard and a yoga mat in elementary school, but really I began practicing yoga in high school with occasional Kundalini and Iyengar classes. When I went away to college I had a short and pretty irregular home (dorm room) practice and then I would occasionally go to Core-Power classes (but I pretty much always left that studio in a foul mood so I didn’t keep that up for long). Only during my Senior year in college did I get really serious about my practice. At this time I was doing my 9 month long Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training in Boulder. I was also attending Dharma Mittra style classes 5 days a week and practicing Kundalini pranayama, exercises and meditation every morning bright and early. Those 2 years after college I was a total gypsy (Minneapolis, every ski town in CO, Australia, Thailand, France, Cambodia, Spain, Virginia, California…seriously, where wasn’t I?). I found that my Kundalini practice traveled really well because I knew the practices well enough and I had manuals available for instruction of certain kriyas, so all I really needed was a timer and maybe some nice mantra music. I always traveled with a yoga mat and so every day I would do some Sun Salutations, a few nice stretches, some core-strengthening practices and then a KY meditation and/or kriya. During the summer of 2010 I was in my Vinyasa training so I was mostly practicing at a studio, but I was starting to learn Ashtanga’s Primary Series on the side too. I officially began Mysore style practice in a shala that fall. Since then I practice mainly Ashtanga (now at home mostly) but when I travel sometimes I pop into a Jivamukti, Dharma or Vinyasa class. I have maintained a Kundalini meditation practice since 2009. I normally do one meditation for 40 days or longer and then I switch to a new meditation for another extended period of time.
From these experiences here’s my advice for building a happy, healthy and balanced home practice:
Try sticking with a set sequence. Practicing the same poses every day repeatedly is a powerful way to keep consistent with your practice and watch yourself grow and change from it. Ashtanga offers this beautifully. You don’t have to think about what pose you want to do next, so instead you can focus on your breath, bandhas and dristi – this takes you into a deeper meditative and focused place so that you will step off your mat feeling more present and peaceful. This post from AY:A2 has some powerful advice for yoga practice – she really says it all better than I can!
Require a minimum of practice for yourself each day. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, make yourself a promise that you will do that 10 minutes. That’s your practice….just that…everything else is just bonus time. Start small, this way you can stick with your commitment.
Have a good manual handy. Invest in a book that lays out the sequence for you. There are a number of good Ashtanga manuals. I know the sequence by heart from learning in a shala, but for Kundalini Yoga I have lots of manuals! There are hundreds of wonderful kriyas and meditations for many different purposes so you can sit down with your book, pick what’s right for you that day and just follow along – simple!
Prioritize and sanctify your practice. Make a specific spot in your home/hotel/dorm that is specifically for your practice. When you roll out your mat, you are in your own little yoga studio, so be there! Don’t roll it out and then walk away and get on Facebook (guilty – I’ve done that – it does not benefit your practice!). Maybe creating a small altar or having a special picture/candle or something there to mark this as a sacred space for intentional practice will help you. When you practice, make practice your sole focus. Turn off the phone, music, computer. Honor your practice time as sacred and important. Make boundaries around yourself for your practice time. If you are in a house with other people, make sure that you practice uninterrupted by their presence if possible, so maybe that requires you practice a little conscious communication with them!
Take the time to sit and be still. Always include time in your practice just to BE – to breathe and to be present with yourself. Perhaps picking a gentle pranayama practice will help you. Or mantra meditation or japa. I like to sit still breathing slowly while I inwardly chant “Sat” on the inhale and “Nam” as I exhale. This comes naturally to me from my experiences with Kundalini Yoga, but you will determine what works best for you. Maybe it’s counting your breathing or using a visualization. Finding stillness in your practice will make you feel very nourished and peaceful and this will then make you want to practice with more consistency and devotion! Just 3 minutes of conscious deep breathing can work wonders! Practicing meditation will benefit your asana practice because it will help you build your powers of concentration. The inverse is true as well; practicing asana, especially with an intense focus on controlling prana through drishti, bandhas and breath, will make you a better meditator!
Invert! Go upside down everyday! Five minutes minimum if possible. Shoulder-stand, headstand, Viparita Karani – or a combo. There are so many wonderful health benefits from inverting. Plus it’s a great way to clear your head and get a new perspective on things. I always feel happier and better about life after a few minutes of hanging out upside down.
Go in for regular tune-ups. Occasionally give yourself the treat of working with a great teacher. Go in for a few classes or a workshop. This will help bring attention to areas of your practice that need assistance and it will also provide you with new inspiration for your daily practice.
Use the resources around you well. If you are feeling a little stuck all by yourself, look around for some help and a break in the routine! Find a donation yoga class to go to occasionally instead of breaking the bank on a $20 class. Learn from reading blogs and yoga websites. One of my friends has a monthly membership to YogaGlo.com and she loves it. Try that out occasionally for some new inspiration and energy.
Be smart about sequencing. So maybe you don’t want to do the same sequence every day? That’s cool, sometimes I like to just “play” Vinyasa style on my mat. If that’s what you are going to do – make sure your practice is balanced!
Tips for smart sequencing:
Start by getting in touch with your breath! Ujjayi Pranayama in Child’s pose or a seated position works well.
Warm up the spine and backs of the legs slowly with some nice gentle stretches – cat/cows, rag doll forward fold etc.,
Sun Salutations! ESSENTIAL! Both Surya A and B. Really follow the breath. Be precise through the vinyasa positions – don’t skimp on your chaturangas!
Standing poses – Personally I don’t think a practice is complete without Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) or Pasvokonasna (Extended Side Angle Pose). The twisted variations of each of these poses is wonderful as well. Give your hip flexors some attention with runner’s lunge/lizard or a low lunge with the back knee lifted and the arms arching up over head for a nice heart opening sensation.
Seated poses – Include forward folds, twists and hip-openers. Always practice equally on the left and right sides.
Include focus on building core-strength with strong, long Chaturangas and poses like Navasana (boat pose) and fore-arm plank and side plank.
When you are warmed up properly practice backbends – maybe just start with a Bridge pose. Locust, Bow and Camel are all great poses to build strength around the spine and to really open the chest. These poses will help you in Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana). Try practicing Wheel 3 times – inhaling to rise up each time. Stay really engaged with your bandhas in all your backbends. Having a strong lift at the navel will help make space in your lower back for deeper and safer back bending. Always practice a forward fold to neutralize the spine after backbending.
End with some inversions and other quieting poses (maybe some passive forward folding or restoratives).
Savasana – allow your body the time to integrate all of the energetic movement that you facilitated through asana. Let your mind and body relax and be receptive.
Sit and Meditate.
Express Gratitude! Give thanks! You are blessed to be practicing yoga – don’t forget that!
I hope this helps you with your home practice.
If any of you have other suggestions, please add a comment. I would love to hear from you.
In addition, if you would like for me to address a certain topic or if you have questions that you would like for me to try to answer here on Lila, please feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org