Since being immersed in yoga during my teacher training, much of my practice is done at home, in the little space I have carved out for yoga.
I love attending classes and workshops where I can pick up little teaching tips or get guidance on developing my practice, but all this is bolstered by self-practice. By listening to exactly what the body needs in the moment self-practice teaches you to follow your intuition on a different level than when following the instructions of a teacher in class.
Self-practice is also a great way to cultivate a daily practice. With the busy-ness of everyday life it can be challenging (and expensive) to go to class every day. Practicing at home is a time efficient and an inexpensive way to commit to a daily practice.
Practicing at home gives you time to focus on specific postures or sequences that you learnt in class. However, without a teacher to guide you, you need to rely on your intuition and get into your own flow. Like all things in life, it is through challenging situations that we learn the most. So if you are keen to start a home practice, or are struggling to find time to get to class, roll out your mat and follow these five tips.
1. Dedicated space
It is helpful to create a clear space to practice. Aim to set aside a dedicated place that is used for yoga. A separate room is not necessary to practice at home effectively. Even though my yoga space is tiny, at the bottom of my bed, each time I roll out my mat I make the space my own spiritual sanctuary.
Creating a focal point is useful in transforming a room that you use for other purposes into a yoga space. For example, I place a tiny Buddha figure at the top of my mat and use incense and relaxing music to transform my room into a serene space. In doing this, I have created a place in which I can relax and rejuvenate simply by being in the space.
It is also useful to remove distractions and declutter. A clear space will allow you to come to your moving meditation, without additional distractions. If the space is rife with distraction this will only fuel the monkey mind and be a distraction from the mat. Once a space has been selected, roll out the mat and make sure there is enough room to move unrestricted.
2. Time in your diary
In modern society, where we often fight to find time to fit all the things we want to do into a day, it is useful to supplement our studio time with home practice. Practicing at home allows one to practice whenever it is most convenient. We don’t need to factor in time to pack our bag, to get on the road or to make it in time to bagsy our favorite studio spots. We can let go of the added pressure of successfully making a class at a set time. We can get all the benefits of a yoga practice without even leaving the house.
However, it is often helpful to get into a regular pattern and I aim to practice at a similar time each day. To get into a daily routine, it is helpful to put time in your diary, no matter how brief, to practice. There is no better time to roll out your mat than when you first get home from work.
I use my practice to transition from work to ‘me’ time. If you are unsure whether you will be able to practice after work, set aside 15 – 30 minutes when you wake up and use your practice as an energizing warm up to your work day. Setting your alarm a little earlier each day to allow you to start your day from your mat will boost your energy for the rest of the day.
3. Be flexible
We would all love to have an hour or two to dedicate to daily practice, but if you are anything like me, this is a luxury that comes around two or three times a week, if lucky. Often my practice is only 15 – 30 minutes. Let go of self-judgement and let yourself off the hook if you only manage five minutes of breathing. Consistency is the aim.
It is more useful to do a shorter practice several times a week than one big session, only once a week. So if someone is new to yoga or to self-practice, it is best to start off with setting aside time two or three times a week. This provides a great foundation to build up to a daily practice. Coming to the mat daily, no matter how little time we have to devote, will improve the quality of the day.
One of the greatest benefits of self-practice is the ability to sequence whatever suits our mood and energy levels. This in turn, allows us to become more in tune with our bodies, leading to a more intuitive practice. One tip is to start practice with breath awareness and intention setting.
For the first few sessions you might find it helpful to set an intention, maybe repeating the following mantra, “I follow my guide, my inner teacher,” before starting to move. Listen to the body and flow intuitively in response to what the body craves. Remember to honor the body. If you plan a dynamic sequence and get to the mat with no energy—honor that feeling and follow a more restorative sequence.
Sun salutations (Surya Namaskara) are a great place to begin. Start with a few rounds of these, allowing the breath to lead the movement. Another tip is to hold postures (asanas) for five breaths before moving on, perhaps completing a vinyasa between each posture. If there is a particular sequence you enjoyed in class, repeat this. Adopting a lightness and sense of play in our home practices will allow us to blossom.
5. Follow the breath
Start and end with the breath. Begin (and close) your self-practice with a few moments (longer if possible) of breathing. Inhaling and exhaling through the nose, working to lengthen each breath. Allow each breath to take you away from the day’s activities and towards your focused practice.
Learn to use our breath as a gauge. Work to maintain a steady breath throughout the practice. If the breath becomes erratic or we lose ease in the breath, back off postures and reconnect to a steady breath.
Find a breathing technique that works for you—there are lots to choose from, but most common is Ujjayi breath. I frequently remind my students that the breath is the most important part of their practice. Without the breath there is no yoga. With each inhale you nourish the body and with every exhale, cleanse the body.
Coming to a self-practice is a great complement to regular classes and teaches us to follow our inner guide. Take a few moments to consider the tips here:
- Select an appropriate place to convert into your private yoga nest.
- Make some appointments with yourself and set aside time.
- Be flexible and realistic in your planning.
- Consider what sequences you might like to practice.
- And most importantly follow the breath.
Next time you feel like you don’t have time for yoga, get out of your own way, roll out your mat and practice at home. Why wait? Start today!
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Ed: Dana Gornall