There are plenty of advantages to practicing in a class. We walk into a space dedicated to yoga (or, at least, physical activity), where, for a set period of time, we’re surrounded by like-minded folk while someone who knows a lot about yoga tells us what to do.
But there are some downsides: Classes take place when the studio decides, rather than when we wish them to. They contain students of varying experience, whose abilities may or may not match our own. Good teachers adapt their teachings, of course, but often the range of experience requires some level of compromise. Inevitably, we see a yogic Goldilocks effect: some students will find the level of challenge too hot, some will find it too cold, and some will find it just right.
In light of all this, I generally recommend a combination of classes and home practice. In my experience, going to class is essential to keep my practice fresh and to be part of a community. Yet I also advocate home practice as a laboratory for figuring out what works and what doesn’t, for deepening into poses that might require more concentrated attention than is possible in a class, and simply for times when classes are inaccessible.
Here are five ways to make the most of home practice time:
1. Decide how long you plan to practice, and stick to it.
That could mean 20 minutes, two hours, or anywhere in between. The length of time is less important than the creation of a container in which to practice. In a class, it’s done for us. At home, we have to do it ourselves. I find that when I leave my practice time open-ended, I lose intensity and end up less satisfied. When I determine exactly how long I’ll practice, I work harder and am more motivated to practice again the following day.
2. Turn off that phone.
It goes without saying that mobile phones can be a distraction, which is why we turn them off in class. (You do turn your mobile phone off while you’re in class, right?!) At home, it’s easy to forget this. Before long, we receive a text that we just can't ignore. An hour later, we’re wondering if there’s something important we’ve forgotten.
3. Practice regularly in the same space.
This may not always be possible, of course. Travel schedules, for example, may interfere. What I like about setting aside one room though, or even a corner of a room, is that it ritualzes the activity of practice. Whenever I approach my yoga space, my brain clicks into practice mode. This works for almost any activity (you’re probably a lot more likely to think about cooking while you’re in the kitchen versus the bedroom), and can be key to making home practice a habit rather than an occasional activity.
4. Music, maestro!
I know some people prefer to practice in silence. I find, however, that listening to music increases my energy levels and motivation. I’ve also experimented with listening to podcasts and TED talks during my mat time. Although I enjoy this, I find that absorbing new information while I practice can be distracting and that selecting new audio every so often interrupts my concentration.
5. Plan a sequence.
This can be a detailed itinerary or simply a basic framework. If you’re new to yoga, you may want to be quite specific. If you’re a fairly experienced practitioner, breaking your time into blocks (ie sun salutations, standing postures, backbends, inversions) and improvising as you go may be sufficient.
Either way, this approach has several benefits: you gain confidence constructing your own classes; thinking about which postures go well together invites you to explore the dynamics of asana practice more deeply, and, if you decide to teach, you already understand the process of creating a class.