In the early years of our yoga practice, we all looked up to our teachers for guidance and the immediate yoga community for support.
These are what public classes are for, to help one develop a good foundation of the yoga asana, pranayama, and philosophical practices so that overtime, the individual is able to build a solid toolkit that he/she can work with on a more personal level. At one point or another, after we’ve delved deep enough into our yoga practice, we might feel compelled to take the next step up to develop a home practice. While it is nice to have the support and energy from our yoga peers, it is a turning point when we feel it is time to take our practice to a more personal and intimate level without the distractions of others.
Easier said than done.
It is human nature that we perform better when under the watch of others or if there is a little competition around us. While yoga should promote non-competiveness, you gotta admit that you are more willing to hold a few extra breaths in bakasana when everyone else around you is still floating effortlessly in the pose.
1. Designate a “space” in your home as the “yoga spot”
This is where your daily (preferably) meditation, pranayama, and asana practice occurs. Try to keep this space clutter free from distractions. Or, if you are lucky to have a spare room in the house, transform that space as your personal mini yoga shala.
2. Decorate the space
Decorate the space with yoga-related arts, statues of deities, mantras, incense, and/or candles to simulate the environment of a yoga studio. The idea is that you create the right energy and atmosphere that will allow you to more easily transcend into your yoga practice. For me, I like to put Yoga Mala in front of me so it feels like Sri K Pattabhi Jois is watching over me.
3. Set a designated time slot for your practice
Whether it is setting the alarm at six a.m. or blocking out a time during the day on your calendar, you need to hold yourself to it like you would if you were to attend a yoga class. Many studios require pre-registration of classes in order to attend and if you don’t show, you are penalized with a fee. Similarly, view your blocked out time on your calendar for your yoga practice as a must-do.
4. Always have your mat ready
Lay out your mat permanently on your designated yoga spot or room. For some reason that works for me because seeing it just prompts me more to do my practice. Similarly, lay out your yoga clothes the night before as a reminder. Runners say that the hardest things are to lace up your shoes and take one step out. In the yoga world, the hardest thing is to roll out your mat!
5. Play music
Put on some music for your yoga practice. Whether they be some mantra chants, new-age lounge/chill tunes or even pop/rock beats, whatever gets you up and moving is the trick. In a group class, you have the sound of other people breathing with you, so when that you do practice alone, it suddenly sounds so… quiet. I know that some yoga lineages (e.g., Ashtanga and Iyengar) don’t believe in playing music during practice, but I find that some sort of sound helps me focus. Sometimes all I need is the repetition of Om on a track (refer to Eternal OM, available on iTunes), or on other days I’d put on chants of the Yoga Sutras. Again, create the atmosphere for your practice.
6. Do something… anything!
On days when I really just don’t feel like holding another downward facing dog, I’d just sit quietly and breathe on my mat, do some simple stretches or just hold child’s pose for a few minutes. On some days, these are what I really only need for my practice (life beats you down, as we all know); but on other days, these simple stretches and/or mindful breathing help guide me into my first few rounds of Sun Salutations. Before I know it, 90 minutes have passed. I would have sweated, moved, stretched, strengthened, breathed my way through my sequence, and I’d feel friggin’ awesome. Again, the hardest part is to take that first step.
7. Maintain a connection with the community
Do still take a yoga class with the community every now and then. Or better yet, save the money you haven’t been using to attend yoga classes to invest in a yoga workshop or retreat. As a teacher, I find that this helps re-inspire me in my own practice and teaching. While yoga is a personal journey, the collective energy also helps us strive forward. Perhaps all you needed was to hear a motivational quote from your teacher, or to learn an alternative approach to a pose you’ve been working on to get you excited to get back on your mat.
Lastly, don’t have too many expectations. My teacher often likes to joke that he does “low-expectation yoga,” but there is truth in that. While we do want to set ourselves up for a consistent practice, we need to learn to come to our mats with very little expectations of what might happen during our practice that day. A practice doesn’t mean you have to do a certain numbers of vinyasas or asanas, or how much deeper you can go into a particular pose than you did yesterday.
Rather, a practice means that you’ve managed to step (or even sit) on your mat and have the intention to do something… anything! (See point 6). The intention in itself is yoga.
Yoga, after all, is a journey that is purely unique to each individual. Getting in touch with our own transformations, and observing them without preformed ideas or judgments, will help us rub the gunk away and reveal the pristine crystal that is us, the Purusha.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial apprentice: Jamie Khoo/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons