Going to a yoga class is a great opportunity to learn from a teacher and to be in community. It also doesn’t require much initiative—you get a place to be and a time to be there, and someone telling you what to do.
All of this is lovely.
However, going to a yoga class requires some expenditure: of time (90 minutes, usually, plus transportation and changing time), and money ($20 for an average drop-in class here in New York City).
Perhaps you can’t afford to do this every day.
Yet to really reap the benefits of yoga, you must practice “for a long time, without break, and with all earnestness.” (Yoga Sutras I-14)
A home practice allows you to put in the time, focusing on consistency over quantity. A few minutes every day is better than a few hours once a week (or month). If you're a teacher, this time at home on your mat is crucial; your own body becomes your laboratory and you can then share what you've learned in class.
But developing a home practice can seem very daunting. Our days are already so full. When would we have time to practice at home? How will we know what to do?
Here are 5 principles to help you get started:
1. Make it short.
Can you commit to 15 or 20 minutes? Experiment until you find a time of day that works for you. After you wake up and have a cup of coffee, but before you shower? Before dinner after getting home from work? If you're tired and hungry, have an apple or a juice, and then do it. When you find a time that works, stick with it. The routine will become self-reinforcing.
2. All you need to do is get yourself on your mat.
Meet yourself where you are. If you're very tired, or not feeling great, you may never get up and off of it! You might just roll around and stretch a bit, then rest. Often the days you feel the worst at the beginning of practice are the days you wind up feeling the best at the end.
3. Keep it simple.
One of the great things about going to class is that you don’t have to think too hard. Give this to yourself as you begin a home practice. At first, it helps to have a sequence you stick to every time (modified as needed; see step 2 above). Search the internet for yoga sites that provide a simple daily sequence for your level. The general order should be:
- sun salutations
- standing poses
- standing balances /or arm balances
- forward bends
As you get more experienced, you'll begin to feel comfortable deviating from the routine, perhaps focusing on a different family of poses each day of the week (for example) for a well-rounded practice over time.
4. Make it fun!
Yes, an eventual goal of yoga practice is pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind from the senses). And, in the meantime, we are physical beings and this is a physical practice. There is room in yoga for paradox. Make it delightful to your senses. Light candles, play music, create an atmosphere that is pure pleasure for you to revel in for those 20 minutes. It just might become one of your favorite parts of the day.
5. Have a few props handy.
You can buy a couple of foam yoga blocks at your studio (often), on the internet, or even where you shop for groceries! Add a yoga belt or two. You don’t need special Mexican blankets—just use whatever you might have at home if you need to create height or support for certain poses.
Anyone can have a home yoga practice; you do not need to be a teacher or an advanced practitioner. Of course, for safety and best results, it helps to have some basic knowledge of the poses you will be practicing (perhaps gained in class, from a video, or from a teacher one-on-one). Find a time, choose your routine, and get started. The countless benefits of a daily yoga practice will soon be yours.
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