For years, I took for granted the convenience of walking to a yoga studio for my daily practice. Music humming in the background, mats freshly sprayed with a hint of lavender, and best of all, no planning required! Good yoga studios require one thing of their students: that they show up.
But what happens when we step away from this all? When our introductory passes run out? When we decide to travel? When we become curious and begin to wonder what yoga lies outside the studio walls?
The task of creating a personal yoga practice can be daunting. Until we realize that there's a template (and there are many!), the idea of conjuring yoga out of thin air seems mystical. All yoga, whether it's in a studio, your bedroom, or the middle of a busy sidewalk, stems from the same place: your body and breath. Even the need for a mat is a figment of our consumer culture's imagination!
Looking to expand your yoga? Here's a basic outline to create a personalized yoga practice in any style!
1. Set an intention.
What brought you to the mat today? What aspects of your life have provided you with the gift of yoga? Start your practice by noting points of gratitude. From here, ask yourself what you'd like to experience or practice during your yoga (compassion, breath awareness, relaxation). Take a moment to set an intention to turn this idea into reality.
2. Plan a playlist.
For me, a playlist is my timer. I use a song for my warm up, for my sun salutations, for my hip openers. If your yoga has a time limit, use music as your alarm! For some of us, the breath is our music, but if you like to shake it out on your mat, personalize your practice with a playlist that suits your mood.
3. Fire it up with the breath and the core.
You’ve set your intention and the music is all cued up. Beginning the physical asana of a yoga practice with the breath warms up the body internally. Tibetan breathing is a great way to build some heat. When the internal organs are warm, start with movements at the body’s center. Cat and cow stretches or even some basic abdominal work like a boat pose will enliven the body’s center.
4. Awaken the spine.
Once the core is warm, take an easy twist. Twists open both the front and back bodies, creating opening in the spine and heart center. Twisting is the next step out from the body’s core adding the cervical spine, head and neck into the mix.
5. Build strength, then stretch.
Muscles need to be warm to be lengthened. Sun salutation A’s and B’s create this heat. For a maximum warmup, use the one breath, one movement rule. This means on each breath in you are moving into a posture and each breath out you are moving on.
6. Open the front of the hips, then the back.
Use hip opening as a transition from yang to yin. Draw opening through the front body with an active triangle pose or three-legged dog with a bend at the knee. Move into the back of the hips with a twisted triangle or half pigeon pose. Experience what it feels like to balance the front and back bodies. If you're feeling especially active, move from a tree pose into a flying pigeon.
It's that time of your practice when the energy has shifted. You’ve softened, but still want to come off your mat ready to experience the rest of your day with some energy. It’s yoga playtime! Inversions revitalize the body. They also provide a space for exploration and creativity. Find your nearest wall and take a few kicks up into that handstand.
8. Bend backwards, then forwards.
The spine is warm and ready to move into that extra space you’ve created during those upward dogs. Back bending is one of the healthiest things we can do for our spine, provided it’s warmed up. Come back into your breath in your back-bending series. Expand the lungs and expand the heart as you press length up the spine. Then move into forward folds. Make sure that you're completely finished with your back bending before counteracting. Moving methodically backwards to forwards will provide maximum opening and release.
9. Twist it all out.
The body has lengthened, strengthened, and stretched. Twists give the body one final chance to wring out any toxins floating through. They enable not only a physical digestion but also give you time to mentally digest the yoga that you’ve explored. By providing a final sense of release, twists enable you to prepare for your final rest.
You’ve moved your body in all different directions, engaged and lengthened, and focused your energy. Now is the time to release your efforts. Take time for your savasana. Even if it's just a few minutes, enjoy some luxurious, untamed breaths, the weight of the body melting into your mat, and the release of both physical and mental control. Soak up the benefits of your yoga. You’ve earned it!