10 Tips & Tricks for Establishing a Regular Home Yoga Practice.

Via on Feb 11, 2011

Giving yourself permission to just roll out your mat, and breathe.

My home yoga practice began in Glenorchy, on the deck of my Mum’s house during the spring of 2004. I was broken-hearted, broken-minded, just plain broke and desperate for anything that I could possibly do in the midst of all that brokenness.

In short, I knew I needed yoga.

But Glenorchy is a tiny township of only 250 people, nestled in the crook of converging mountain ranges at the tip of Lake Wakatipu. One road in, one road out.  Ain’t no yoga studios, and rarely any yoga classes going on there.

The only way I was going to experience yoga was if I did it myself. Hell, I didn’t even have any yoga videos or books, and the concept of online yoga hadn’t yet been birthed. Not in my awareness anyway.

So it was onto the front deck, and into sun salutations. A sequence I’d done enough of in various Ashtanga and general Hatha yoga classes to remember somewhat. No doubt I sucked terribly, but at least I was moving–away from brokenness and back to wholeness.

Seven years later, and my home practice has come a long way baby. It’s daily, it now includes pranayama, meditation, mantra, asana… and it totally rocks my world.

Which is why I’m here to share with you some of my tips and tricks for getting your yoga out of the studio, away from the class and into your home, ‘cos that’s when the real juice starts to flow.

1. Let go of all expectations. All of them.

No doubt you’ve been going to class for a while, and you think you’ve got a pretty good idea about what makes a yoga practice. Invariably it involves at least 60, if not 90 minutes on a yoga mat. Often it makes you sweat. Usually it involves working toward more and more challenging poses. Right?

Forget about it.

Holding on to these kinds of ideas about what a yoga practice is invariably leads to failure.  How often do you have a 90-minute chunk of spare time in your day? How do you think you’re going to remember all those sparkly sequences your teacher effortlessly reels off week after week?

Nope. Don’t expect your home practice to be… anything. At all. Forget about all ideas like:

It doesn’t count unless it’s 90 minutes long.
It doesn’t count unless I sweat.
It doesn’t count unless I do multiple variations of x–asana.
It doesn’t count unless…

Start with no idea at all about what your home practice will look like, feel like or be like. Blank slate. Beginner’s mind.

And realize that it all counts, which leads us to…

2. Giving yourself permission to just roll out your mat and breathe…

That’s it.

That’s all you need to do each and every day.

Get out your mat and sit on it. Or lie on it. Or stand on it. Whatever feels right to you today.

Breathe. And wait.

While you wait, check out the state of the nation–that’s you.

What’s your breath doing?
How does it feel in your body?
Where does it go in your body?
What does your body feel like?

Just get up close and intimate with the breath as it moves around the body. Understand that, eventually, giving yourself permission to just be will create space for yoga to happen.

Until then, though, you can use a few tricks to help it along.

3.  Set an intention.

Once you’ve got that sense of where you are today on the mat, taking into account things like the seasons, the lunar cycle, how busy you are, how exhausted you are or how energetic you are allow an intention to form.

Something simple like…

Today I want to soften.
Today I want to explore Warrior I.
Today I need to burn off some energy.
Today I need to replenish.
Today I want to play.

Whatever, it doesn’t matter what your intention is, just make it appropriate and real.

Toss the ego right out the door–no one is watching you, you’ve got nothing to prove, and if you can’t listen to your heart on the mat, then where will you be able to?

This intention is like setting your course for the adventure on the mat. It gives you something to set your sail to, although it doesn’t guarantee you’ll end up where you think you’re going.

4. Warm up.

Combine that intention of yours with movements that support where you think you’re going.

Be mindful of the whole body.

What does it take to get breath into every cell?

Sun salutations are an obvious warm up, but there’s many ways to work with the body. Give yourself permission to do what’s right for you.

Never underestimate the power of simple. Stay in Cat/Cow breath for ten minutes if it’s working for you. Take Child for half an hour if that’s what you need. Stand in one spot and shake it all about if that’s what comes to mind.

Trust those first flutters of intuition, even when they seem crazy or like they might not yoga.

At heart, your body knows what it needs. Listen to it.

5. Standing Poses, seated poses, backbends, twists, savasana.

That’s the basic class sequence, so if you’re stuck, come back to that. It’s just natural really.

Once the body is warm, you’ll likely feel like doing some standing poses. Don’t worry if you think you can’t remember what order they’re supposed to be done in. Keep coming back to your intention and just see which poses your body wants to do.

It doesn’t matter if you only do one standing pose. Sometimes that’s the day. It doesn’t matter if you do mainly standing poses. Sometimes that’s the day.

After that, hit the ground. Do some seated poses. Maybe some forward bends. Move into backbends now that you’re good and warmed up. Finish up with a twist and savasana. Nothing too complicated.

Whenever you don’t know what to do–which will be all the time at first–bring your awareness back to your breath and just feel it inside of your body.

Notice where it goes, notice where it gets stuck, let it guide you into posture.

Come back to your intention–ask what will support that. No good setting an intention to soften and then spending the whole time on the mat doing Warrior variations. Sure they’re great, but to soften… maybe you’re better off surrendering into forward bends.

If you notice that what your body feels like doing is different from the intention you set, ask yourself why? Was the intention set with the head? Or is the body avoiding what it needs? Always be the yogi–observing, questioning, noticing, accepting, loving.

6. Enjoy being able to take time in postures.

When you practice at home you’ve got the luxury of being able to take as long as you like to work your way into a posture, and as long as you like to stay within the posture and feel it. Enjoy this process. Surrender to this process. Let your breath be your guide, slow as it likes.

And then get curious about the posture. If you can’t remember if the thighs roll inward or outward, try it each way and see which one feels like it’s creating space.

Be an adventurer exploring the frontiers of the body from the inside out, like you’re the first one to ever do yoga and one day you’ll write about the process.

Mostly, trust that you know. Because you do, you know?

7. Don’t be constrained by how you think postures should look.

It’s so easy to get hung up on the idea that this is the way the pose is done. But we’ve all got different bodies, with different injuries and different proportions. Sometimes we’ll intuitively modify a posture to give us the exact opening that we need.

Of course, sometimes we’ll do the opposite too, and modify a posture to cheat a bit so we can avoid a tight or weak spot.

Thing is, you know which is which.

You know when you’re copping out, and when you’re not. So trust yourself when it feels right to explore a posture in a different way. Chances are, you’ll come across that modification in a yoga book one day anyway!

8. Be playful, and light, and joyous.

Make your practice fun because then you’re more likely to do it. Use music, if music’s your thing. Choose a beautiful spot to practice. Use lighting for mood. Keep a smile on your face. Hum a tune, or an om if that helps you relax your jaw. Use a mirror if that helps alignment. Pick a spot with a view of the ocean, if that helps concentration.

Practice just for the joy of it, and give thanks for having a body healthy enough to move freely. Take a moment before you start to just be grateful to yourself for taking the time to step onto the mat, to your day for offering space for you to step onto the mat, to the society you live in for allowing you to step onto your mat. Gratitude begets joy.

9. Make your daily home practice the one must-do of your day.

If your practice is your priority, it will get done because you’ll move everything else around in order to make it happen. Then there’s always room for yoga. Because with no expectations (see number one!) we know that ten minutes on the mat is oh-so worth it!

I mean, would you rather:

Watch TV, or play with yoga?
Cruise Facebook, or connect with yoga?
Sleep for an extra half an hour, or energize with yoga?
Gossip on the phone, or replenish with yoga?

Guaranteed, this will change your life. It will. No questions. No exceptions. No ifs. No buts. If you get on your yoga mat every single day, even if it’s only for ten minutes sometimes, your life will change. For the better, I promise you.

10. Be kind to yourself, and always, always, always get back on the mat.

There will be days, weeks, maybe even months when you and your home practice don’t see anything of each other. And that’s okay. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is you get out your mat, get on your mat and breathe.

That’s it. And see what happens next. It doesn’t matter that your last home practice was last week, last month or last year. What does matter is that you are practicing now.

And practicing now, with kindness for all the times you didn’t practice, will help you get back on the mat tomorrow and the day after.

Seven years after circumstances forced me to start a home practice (how I cursed the lack of a teacher then, and how I praise it now), I am grateful. So very, very grateful. Yoga has changed my life, because it has changed me. It has given me the tools to cut away the crap and banish the bullshit and dig up the dirt.

Results? A life that’s a whole lot clearer, more spacious, more joyous, more real and just plain… more.

There’s still pain, some suffering and lots of emotion. That stuff doesn’t go away, but it certainly becomes more and more bearable until you finally reach a point where even grief holds the tenderness of love within it’s embrace.

And that’s something worth getting on the mat for everyday.

About Kara-Leah Grant

Kara-Leah Grant is the author of Forty Days of Yoga - Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice, and the publisher of New Zealand’s own awsome yoga website, The Yoga Lunchbox. She has just released her second book The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga. A born & bred Kiwi who spent her twenties wandering the world and living large, Kara-Leah has spent time in Canada, the USA, France, England, Mexico, and a handful of other luscious locations. She lives in Wellington with her young son, a ninja-in-training.

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36 Responses to “10 Tips & Tricks for Establishing a Regular Home Yoga Practice.”

  1. Nice article and thanks for the reminders! I really love #1 – about not having 'rules' in order to make your practice count. I used to think like that….having to practice for nothing less than 90 minutes or else it wasn't good enough, etc. It took some real letting go to realize that's not what was important at all and of course this reflection helped me A LOT in my life off the yoga mat. Thanks for posting. Much love, Tanya

  2. Marianne says:

    Great post! Kara-Leah is also one of the guest teachers (with great insights into maintaining a yoga practice with a baby) on my 30 Days of Yoga course to help you establish your own, unique home yoga practice.

  3. bill says:

    Nice bit of wisdom in this.
    We all get caught up in the 1 hour or bust routine, but where does that leave us? Sometimes aggravated because____fill in the blank.
    And yes 10 minutes on the mat will overcome 10 minutes on Sportcenter because of the authenticity of intention. It takes no intention to watch, but will fulfill us to be active instead…
    Thanks for the share…..

  4. GypsyWarrior says:

    Love it! What a great article, I'm going to share with all my students!

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Waylon Lewis, anniegirl1138, sunshine deal, Kendra Hodgson, Alison Boons and others. Alison Boons said: RT @elephantjournal: 10 Tips for developing a yoga at home practice: http://bit.ly/fmpCG6 [...]

  6. Sybil says:

    Great article. My ‘hang-up’ is that I think yoga HAS to be done in the morning. But morning yoga doesn’t work with my schedule. Rather than use that as an excuse, I’m just going to accept that yoga is yoga – no matter what time of the day I do it. 3-5pm works just fine for me. :)

    And, I like the idea of just showing up and not following a specific DVD or podcast or audio…..just do what flows out of my body. I’m going to try that today. I think I’ll find it much more enjoyable – and probably easier to establish my daily practice.

  7. Paul says:

    Kara-Leah, Nice to see your article from yogalunchbox in elephant journal – good for you! :)

  8. Great advice written with style and grace.

    More please!

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)

  9. Yogini3 says:

    As far as the practice of yoga asana is concerned, whether a half-hour, close to two hours, or 5 minutes of "yoga-to-go", you listen to your Uncle Nike, and "Just Do It" … swoosh! … I guess the same could be said for martial arts kata or t'ai chi …

  10. Tobye Hillier yogi tobye says:

    Just one critique would be that you didn't put any inversions in your list…. apart from that, loved it!

  11. Cathy says:

    Thank you – Number 10 has motivated me to get back to it… I will bookmark this page just to read number 10 regularly…

  12. that "it doesn't count unless…" stuff is the worst!

  13. Keith Baker says:

    Thank you for the excellent column. It's great to be reminded of such things so we aren't too hard on ourselves. I try to incorporate yoga principles such as breathing, opening my heart and melting my shoulders, and in general having good posture into all my waking hours. Using a Swiss ball for my desk chair helps too.

  14. SriDTMc says:

    Great advice. Love it.
    I struggle with the fine line between being gentle with myself and "copping out." However, I am way more comfortable experimenting with that line in the comfort and sanctity of my own space, as opposed to a studio full of other people i need to impress and a teacher egging me on.
    Thanks for sharing your practice!

  15. MEC says:

    Thank you for this – much needed and easy to forget!

  16. Lia Aprile Lia A. says:

    Kara-Leah!! This is so beautiful…one of the best things I've read in regards to developing a home practice. Thank you so much for this.

  17. Super article!
    Simple, inspiring and straight to the point!
    Thanks for reminding us Kara-Leah :) why we should do this everyday and how simple it can be :).

  18. Shawna Turner shawna says:

    This is lovely. I've been fighting (with myself) for quite a while now to get a daily home practice started. I could (and will) read this artlcle over and over for inspiration. thank you :)

  19. Thanks folks for all the kind words. Had a lot of fun writing this, and it's all worked in my own life. May you be blessed with joyous daily practice.

    KL

  20. [...] 10 Tips & Tricks for Establishing a Regular Home Yoga Practice. ~ Kara-Leah Grant [...]

  21. Tangled Macrame says:

    Rural, home-yogis unite! Ow-oh!

  22. Nancy A says:

    What a great post! I love the tips and even included a link to it in my lastest giveaway which is to help readers kick start a home practice. http://wp.me/pJNgg-74

    great great post!!

  23. Christine says:

    Wonderful and perfect timing! i will be returning to these tips often. Thank you!

  24. [...] 10 Tips & Tricks for Establishing a Regular Home Yoga Practice. ~ Kara-Leah Grant [...]

  25. [...] feeling the burn. There are ladies who know the moves like the back of their hands; maybe they practice at home, maybe they’re just born with the gift. There are also ladies who might not be as [...]

  26. [...] PUBLISHED ON ELEPHANT JOURNAL | FEBRUARY 11, 2011 [...]

  27. [...] 10 Tips & Tricks for Establishing a Regular Home Yoga Practice. ~ Kara-Leah Grant [...]

  28. [...] step number one: commit to a five-minute regular practice. I’d push for daily, but start where you’re at and build on [...]

  29. [...] my yoga practice hasn’t evolved enough to make me at ease with the uncertainties life presents to us, but I know [...]

  30. [...] days, I do yoga almost daily. I’ve developed a solid home practice and, when I have the time, I take a class at my favorite studio – simply to connect with others [...]

  31. [...] two great articles that you may find helpful: Kara-Leah Grant’s Elephant Journal piece on “10 Tips & Tricks for Establishing a Regular Home Yoga Practice”, and Judith Hanson Lasater’s “Bring Your Practice Home” on [...]

  32. tapikanonline says:

    thanks for this. I've been anxious about my practice lately. your peace is quite a source of confidence and calm. :)

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