How to do yoga at home
You’ve just floated out of your weekly yoga class and you feel wonderful. Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a way to feel this good every day? In the decade or so that I’ve been teaching yoga, many of my students have come up to me after class to ask how they can take their yoga further. By attending their weekly class, these students have tasted the many benefits yoga has to offer and they’re keen to learn how yoga can help enrich their lives further.
This is when I delight in sharing the joys of practising yoga at Home. Taking your yoga home provides you with your own portable, oasis of calm. Regular practice can also expedite your mastery of that tricky posture you’ve been struggling with for some time. Perhaps most profoundly, it may also bring some of the more subtle rewards that yoga affords those who start to integrate it into their daily lives.
Long-time yoga teacher and author, Eve Grzybowski, couldn’t agree more: “In the beginning, we use yoga for the goals we want to achieve and these can be as diverse as experiencing fun and enjoyment to healing medical conditions and injuries,” she says. “Once we take up regular yoga practice, over time, yoga begins to shape us in unforeseen and unimaginable ways. Ultimately, we may evolve into the truest expression of ourselves.”
Eve is so passionate about sharing the benefits of cultivating a regular home practice that she is working on a book on this subject. She sums up why home practice is so important when she says, “Practising yoga at home promotes coming home to yourself, to your own rhythms, a centring process that’s so needed in today’s stressful world.”
Traditionally in India, yoga was taught one-on-one. The teacher would work with the student on an individually designed sequence suited to the student’s unique needs. From a therapeutic point of view, it makes sense then to develop the time, space and skills to practise your own yoga sequence that you can adjust according to your changing daily and seasonal needs.
In the West, we have adopted a group class situation as the norm. However, when you practise yoga with others you are more likely to tempt your natural tendency towards competitiveness. You look over at the mat next to you and see she is touching her toes easily, with her head on her shins, and you want to do that, too, right now! Ultimately, being motivated by these external comparisons is counter to the spirit of what yoga is all about: union and the diminishing of ego.
When you start to practise yoga regularly at home, it really becomes your yoga; you start to own your practice. You are able to tap into the changing rhythms of your body and emotions and adjust your practice accordingly. For example, if you are feeling tired or stressed, you can practise more gently and restoratively and work with, not against, your energy. This is a good option if you’re practising at day’s end — see sidebar “Tired Days Practice” for a simple restorative practice.
For a woman, having your own home practice is a double boon. You can choose to do a special menstrual practice at that time of the month, prenatal postures during pregnancy or cooling postures to soothe the agitation of menopausal hot flushes. Over the years, your daily yoga practice can support you throughout the fluctuations of your hormonal life.
However, all this does not mean you should discard your class-pass to your favourite yoga school. John Ogilvie, experienced yoga teacher and Director of Byron Yoga Centre, explains that attending a yoga class can complement your home practice by providing you with fresh inspiration as well as the opportunity to have your alignment checked.
“You go to yoga classes to learn what to practise at home,” he says. He suggests that should actually be the goal of the yoga teacher: to promote the techniques and benefits of home practice.
“The combination of working with a yoga teacher in classes and then taking what you’ve learned home to practise means you begin to have a hands-on approach to the myriad benefits of yoga,” concurs Eve. She sums up that it is our own personal practice of yoga that makes “this age-old, powerful system immediate, individual and effective”.
According to John Ogilvie, these positive effects can easily be observed in someone who is committed to a regular home practice. They exhibit a “certain sort of serenity”, whereas a person who relies exclusively on yoga classes tends to display a “dependent type of personality”. “When you really take responsibility, having a home practice is part of taking that responsibility,” he attests.
John also believes your home practice needs to be broader than just the postures: “By regularly practising the postures as well as the meditation, pranayama (breathing techniques) and reading about the philosophy, we understand why we are doing it and the deeper significance of our practice,” he says.
OK, so you now know why yoga home practice is good for you. But where do you start? How do you know which postures to practise and in what order? Most importantly, how do you make this new habit stick?
Tips for developing your personal practice
1. Make a commitment to yourself to follow a regular yoga program for at least four weeks. It takes that long to settle into a routine and, after eight weeks, you’re likely to have formed a new habit.
2. As with any new commitment, it’s a good idea not to set unrealistic goals that may only leave you open to failure. That’s why most yoga teachers suggest you practise little and often. It’s preferable to practise 20 minutes a day, three to seven times a week, rather than for two hours, but more sporadically.
3. Make an appointment with yourself. Schedule your yoga practice into your diary so you take it seriously and consciously make space for it in your day.
4. Dedicate a room, or even just a section of a room, in your house that’s just for your yoga practice. Beautify your sacred space with flowers, candles or incense. You will be much more inspired to practise your yoga if you don’t have to move the furniture out of the way or declutter the space.
5. Find a time and place in your home where you will be undisturbed. Turn off the phones, close the door and savour this time you’ve set aside just for you. Early morning is often the best time to practise. Although your body may feel stiffer then, this is when your mind is freshest and you are less likely to be distracted by the obligations and worries of your day. You’ll be guaranteed to start your day feeling centred, calm and on top of your game. If you leave your practice till later in the day, you may also be more likely to find reasons to procrastinate or miss your practice altogether.
6. Set an intention for your practice. If you are feeling energetic, you might wish to focus on the more strengthening and challenging postures. Conversely, if you are feeling fatigued or stressed or are recovering from illness or surgery, you will benefit from selecting the gentler, more restorative postures and perhaps also emphasising relaxation and breathing practices in order to rejuvenate. More specifically, if your shoulders and neck feel tight, you might wish to focus on shoulder-openers and back-bends to release upper back tension (see sidebar ‘Neck & Shoulders Practice’ for a short sequence to release this area). Or, if your lower back feels tight, you may wish to include lengthening and tractioning postures and some simple twists. You’ll find that the options for theming your practice from day to day will keep you endlessly interested.
7. Familiarise yourself with some basic sequencing rules. A yoga practice is essentially composed of three parts: a warm-up, body and cool-down. Always warm up the muscle groups you intend to work on in the body of your practice and then allow ample time for counter-poses to balance the body. Don’t be tempted to skip savasana (relaxation practice) as this is vital for rounding off your practice and bringing your nervous system to equilibrium, particularly after a dynamic practice. If you’re unsure about how to structure your yoga practice, take notes from your favourite yoga class or even book yourself a private session with your teacher to have her/him design an appropriate sequence just for you. (For some simple 20-minute sequences, see the sidebars.)
8. Try to practise at the same time every day. You are less likely to make excuses to avoid your practice if it becomes a regular habit. It’s the Pavlov’s dog theory and it really does work!
9. Just make a start! Even if you don’t feel like it, get on your mat and start with one gentle posture such as
10. Utilise available resources for guidance and inspiration. There are many excellent books on yoga that explain the postures and their counter-poses and often include some sequences for you to follow. For a great way to support your personal practice, visit www.yogahomepractice.com.au for a variety of downloadable audio classes taught by many of Australia’s top teachers. Eve Grzybowski has also written a book entitled
Ana Davis is a writer and yoga teacher based in Byron Bay. She is on the faculty of Teacher Trainers at Byron Yoga Centre and also conducts regular prenatal and postnatal teacher training. E: firstname.lastname@example.org
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