One of the most beautiful and liberating aspects of yoga is that you don’t need any fancy equipment or a designated building or field to practice. Yoga is accessible. The practice meets you where you are – as long as you are willing to approach it.
Sometimes it’s just not possible to make it into a studio for class. Perhaps this is because of financial or geographical restrictions or simply a matter of preference. Regardless, developing a home yoga practice and committing to it is a profound tool for deepening into your own personal relationship with yoga.
As a practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga primarily, I love the self-led nature of a Mysore practice within a group environment. But, it is not possible for me at this time to practice in a shala setting consistently, so here are some tools that have helped me in my home practice of Ashtanga and Vinyasa Yoga.
1. Stick with a set sequence. Practicing the same poses every day repeatedly is a powerful way to keep consistent with your practice. This repetition offers you a clear vantage point from which to watch yourself grow and change. The nature and sequencing of Ashtanga Yoga 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 drishti. This takes you into a deeper meditative and focused place, so that you will step off your mat feeling more present and peaceful.
2. Require a minimum of practice for yourself each day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, make yourself a promise that you will do your 15 minutes. That’s your practice - just that - everything else is bonus time! Start small (baby steps!); this way you can stick with your commitment and feel positive about your practice rather than guilty if you don’t have a lot of time/energy that day.
3. Prioritize and sanctify your practice. Make a specific spot in your home/hotel/dorm room that is specifically reserved 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!). Creating a small altar or having a special picture, token or candle 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 and 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, you will need to gracefully practice conscious communication with them in order to protect your uninterrupted practice time and space.
4. 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. 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 three 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.
5. Invert! Go upside down every day! Shoulder-stand, headstand and viparita karani are all fantastic practices. 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.
6. 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 and motivation for your daily home practice.
7. 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 local donation-based community yoga class to attend occasionally instead of breaking the bank on a $20 class. Learn from reading blogs and yoga websites, or even take an online yoga class if that’s what is most available to you. YogaGlo offers a free trial membership and classes with great, experienced teachers.
8. 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, gentle lunges are all good options.
Sun Salutations – ESSENTIAL! Both Surya Namaskar A and B. Really follow the breath. Be precise through the vinyasa positions – don’t skimp on your Chaturangas!
Standing and Balancing poses – Personally I don’t think a practice is complete without Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) or Parsvokonasna (Extended Side Angle Pose). The twisted variations of each of these poses are wonderful as well. Give your hip flexors some attention with runner’s lunge/lizard or a low lunge with the arms arching up overhead 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), forearm plank and side plank.
When you are properly warmed up, 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). It is important to 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 gentle forward fold to neutralize the spine after back bending.
End with inversions and other quieting poses (maybe some passive forward folding or restoratives).
Savasana – Give 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! An attitude of gratitude opens doors and hearts.
What helps you stay consistent, happy and balanced with your home practice?