May 27, 2013

Do One Pose—Today. ~ Daisy Whittemore

I hear a lot of friends and yoga students talking about wanting to create a regular home yoga practice.

They simply don’t know where or how to start. They are often afraid they don’t know enough, will somehow do something wrong or will hurt themselves. One student recently said he was, “worried he would create muscle memory of doing poses wrong and wreck his practice.”

In response, what I want to say (but usually don’t) is that practicing yoga at home is not really that complicated or dangerous. It shouldn’t induce fear. It is very unlikely that you will hurt yourself. You are more likely to tear your Achilles playing tennis, blow out your knee running or even get into a car crash on your way to the grocery store, than you are of hurting yourself practicing yoga at home.

This is not to say there is no risk.

I am certainly not suggesting be reckless: all of you beginner yogis bustin’ into scorpion pose in your living room after dinner. The point is to try to lessen the angst and the mystery around yoga. I am also not suggesting you stop going to your classes. After all, I am a yoga teacher—I want you to keep coming to class. But I also want you to learn how to practice on your own. I want you to learn how to claim this practice for yourself. It can be very empowering and fun. It will build your practice dramatically.

The bottom line when considering a yoga practice at home: Be smart. Move slowly. Listen to your body.

Do what feels good. Use the information you are learning in your classes. Yoga is not about landing the picture perfect pose (although Yoga Journal and all of the pictures of perfect poses out there in the world tell a different story but that is a blog for another day). Each pose is a work in progress—for all of us. Each practice is a work in progress—for all of us. There is always more to do and learn and experience, no matter what your level. This is one of the great beauties of yoga. It is a practice: for studio, home and anywhere in between.

There are many avenues to exploring a home practice.

Lately (for my own attempts to practice at home) I have reduced my ambitions to simply this: Start with one pose today. A pose that I love to do—that makes me feel good. The thing is, yoga can be pretty simple. You can build your pose anywhere: by your bed when you are stepping into or out of it; in your living room; on your front porch; in your garden—or (where I spent two years practicing yoga) in your kitchen.

You don’t need a mat, or any props. Just solid ground and your body. As far as I am concerned, it can be child’s pose. Any pose. But build it with intention and care. Don’t just slam your body into it: Breathe. Move slowly and consciously. Place your body in the form and continue to breathe. Feel your breath moving through you. Feel your body in space. Allow yourself to settle into the pose. Feel your strength and your capacity for softness. Consider even closing your eyes (which may challenge your balance) and breathe some more.

There—a home practice. Right there, in one pose.

What I have found in the practice of yoga is, that just like eating one potato chip—it is very hard to do just one pose (no matter where you are in the spectrum of your yoga practice). My guess is that it may be the same way for you. Your mind (or better yet your body) may want to take you somewhere else from that pose.

For example, let’s say you just want to get your down dog on. You take down dog and your body might say, I want to lift up one leg or I want to plant my foot between my hands and give my hips a lunge. Your body might want to float forward into plank pose (this is not usually my desire) or you may think, I want to jump my feet to my hands and have a forward bend or maybe even, I want to flip my dog, and go wild thing.

Let’s say you want to feel warrior II—so you stand in your kitchen and make it happen. Your body (or perhaps your mind) might say: I want to goddess it and sweep my front hand over my head, then I want to bring my forearm to my bent leg.  Now I want to take triangle and then half moon pose—or, I could windmill my hands to either side of my front foot and push back into downward facing dog.

This just happens. The more you practice yoga, at a studio, in a gym, or in your living room—the more one pose will lead to another. So, my big tip lately to all of you who want to build a home practice is:

Begin with one pose, on one day.

In some cases, you may take a pose and realize: Hey, this doesn’t feel as good as it does when I am at the studio. In this case, consider why. Consider the poses you do in class before that pose.

For example, it may be that you want to take triangle pose (but wow!) you feel tight. Try a few other poses—for example, warrior II or side angle pose (something to get you into your hips) then a forward bend to get you into your hamstrings and maybe a downward-facing dog to open hamstrings and shoulders. Then, try your triangle again (one small teacher moment caveat: If you are taking a pose that has two sides, do your body a favor and do both sides).

If you listen to your body, it will likely tell you a few things (or a lot of things).

Sometimes it will tell you to back up; do some other things to warm up first. Other times it may say: Wow! Let’s keep going because this feels good. Some days your body may tell you that one pose was enough. Even in the latter case, you have done one pose at home. One pose is better than no pose. Doing one pose is planting the seed for more.

Either that day or the next—in a month, or in a year.

If this seems like a silly approach to you (or if you are scared to go it alone) there are other ways to build a home practice for yourself. They extend far beyond watching the same DVD over and over again (unless that works for you, in which case, keep on keeping on):

1.) Consider a service such as Yogaglo.com (which I love). It costs about $20 a month and brings endless yoga classes streaming to your computer at any hour of the day.

2.) Try another online aide (such as one that just popped up on Facebook) a 30-day challenge with free, short (under 20 minutes) yoga flow classes daily for a month or Amy Ippoliti does a 30-day pose challenge (which I have joined multiple times).

3.) For those of you living in one of the many yoga prolific regions, there are likely workshops at your local yoga studios to help you build your home practice.

4.) Ask your teacher for some homework each week.

5.) Roll out your mat every day and sit on it: see what comes. (Another very simple possibility, which a dear yoga buddy suggested to me when I was struggling with a consistent home practice).

6.) And of course, keep going to your yoga classes and building upon the wisdom for your home practice. This is not merely for brand new yogis—but for all of us.

The possibilities go on and on. I have done all of the above at different points in my yoga lifetime to spur me on, and then tried them again. Sometimes they work. When they don’t—I switch gears and try something else.

The bottom line is to: Start slow, start small, and start simple. Let it grow.

Don’t pledge to do 108 sun salutations a day, or practice for an hour a day, unless you already do something close to this and are trying to expand your home practice. Just like overambitious new year’s resolutions: lofty goals can often come back and bite us hard in bum. And rather than making us feel good about ourselves—teach us that we are failures.

Please don’t use a home yoga practice as another excuse to beat yourself up.

We all have different ways of learning, of making changes to the rhythms of our lives. If one attempt fails, try another (or try the same thing again). Be patient and kind to yourself. Beginning something new is hard.

For me (right now) the one pose—one day path has been fruitful. Try it. See where it takes you.


Daisy Whittemore is a mom, wife, writer, yogi, yoga teacher and recent blogger on a quest for life’s pauses: for the sweet spots—those moments, oftentimes slippery little cracks in the foundation of our daily lives—that give us pause (that don’t take our breath away) but give us breath. Just like those fleeting seconds at the top or bottom of your breath, between inhale and exhale, the pauses are always there—waiting for us to inhabit, explore, and experience. She hopes to encourage herself and those around her to find a little more pause in each day for silence, yoga, creativity, love, play, pleasure, or whatever it is that restores you. You can find Daisy on her blog: Finding Pause. Also ‘like’ her on Facebook.



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Assistant Ed: Dusty Ranft/Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Brittany White Photography}

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