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 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.
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.