Developing a Home Yoga Practice in 8 Steps
by Mollie McClelland Morris
Most students begin yoga in studios or gyms. At some point, many of us feel we would benefit from a home yoga practice. Self-practice helps deepen your experience of yoga, develops concentration, addresses your unique needs and fits into your life when a studio class doesn’t.
It is a fertile ground for cultivating embodiment and self-awareness, too. One of my early teachers said that 15 minutes of yoga daily is more valuable than 1.5 hours once a week.
For most yoga students, the first experience of a home practice is unrolling the mat and thinking “what do I do now?” Developing a self practice takes energy and perseverance. At home, shutting out day to day busy-ness is difficult.
But with a few steps, you will discover your own flow, pace and what your body likes. From there, integrate your yoga goals and approach the practice creatively to really enjoy it. After a while, it becomes second nature to incorporate your own practice into your life.
Here are some ideas for getting started.
If you are using your phone for a video, timing or music to accompany your practice, put it on airplane mode. If not, leave it in another room. Use a dedicated space when possible, or tidy any distractions. Some people create an altar to use as a focus.
A gesture or chant to start and end the practice creates an association in the brain, so it prepares for and even triggers the yogic state. Some options are chanting Om, or another mantra, lighting a candle, saying a prayer, or writing an intention.
And of course, make it enjoyable! Play your own music and move along, or tune into your breathing and move at exactly your own speed.
Intention setting is a potent aspect of yoga (called sankalpa in Sanskrit.) In classes, setting an intention gives the mind a reference to come back to. In your self-practice, find your own goals and intentions, both for that day (today, I will feel peaceful), and over a length of time (in 6 months, I will balance in crow pose.)
Intentions can be anything from getting stronger, to releasing stress. You could focus on a body part, an injury (or avoiding it) or a quality. Most importantly, make intentions that feel relevant, interesting and achievable. If the idea of feeling peaceful bores you, find something else. As a beginner, aiming towards a handstand in a month probably is not realistic, and may lead to a feeling of failure.
Goal-setting theory identifies different types of goals. Some relate to outcomes while others focus on the process (practicing every day, using yoga to release stress, enjoying your body.) Combining these goals keeps yourself accountable with clear milestones, while cultivating the process and quality you wish to establish in your life.
Most yoga teachers teach from a plan, either written or mental. Don’t be afraid to write one! You wouldn’t go somewhere unknown without directions. So give yourself a road map.
Yogis who practice a set series (like Ashtanga or Bikram) can refer to that sequence. There are also abridged sequences available for when you don’t have a full 1.5 hours. If you practice more creative forms like Vinyasa Flow writing a plan can feel daunting, but it will start to make sense.
Create a Structure
A basic yoga practice looks like: 1. tune in, 2. warm up, 3. build energy, 4. challenging pose, 5. unwind, 6. rest.
A 20 minute practice plan might look like this:
1. Light a candle and choose music. Chant OM to tune in.
2. Warm up: Cat and Cow poses, shoulder rolls, wrist circles and treading the feet in downward dog. Total: 4 minutes
3. Evolve sun salutations, starting with Cobra poses to Downward Dog, then stepping forward into lunges on each side. Then 3 sun salutations. (4 minutes) Warrior 1, Warrior 2 and Triangle pose on each side for 5 breaths each. Total: 6 minutes
4. Tree pose (1 minute each side) then Warrior 3 and Eagle (1 minute each side) Total: 4 minutes
5. One sun salutation that takes you to sitting. Seated forward bend, Baddha konasana (1 minute each) Laying down spinal twists (1 minute each side) Total: 4 minutes
6. Relaxation for 2-5 minutes. Chant OM to finish.
Different people write plans in different ways. Some draw stick figures, or use notecards. Others write lists or charts. Some people refer to their notes, while others loosely plan and flow from memory. Do what works for you, and make sure the process is helping you focus rather than creating another distraction.
For yoga inspiration, you can use books, YouTube, online yoga platforms and social media. After a yoga class, take a few seconds to write down any exercises, poses or instructions that worked for you. To remember, ask a friend take a photo of you in them (don’t take photos during the class!)
One idea is to create a practice journal (there are some dedicated practice journals you can buy, but a blank notebook or diary works too.) You don’t have to write loads, just your key points and observations.
Set a time frame and keep to it. If you consistently practice for the same amount of time, your body and concentration will adjust. A consistent time frame can help eliminate thoughts like “Is that enough?” “I’m tired now,” or “Oh, that’s enough for today” etc.
Your time frame should be sustainable and achievable. At one point, my daily minimum was ten sun salutations and a headstand. Committing to 15-20 minutes might be plenty. In fact, achieving a consistent 20 minute practice is better than many yoga teachers! Eventually you can build up, if your life allows.
External motivation, like social networks, friends or other yoga students can keep us focused and accountable. Maybe find a practice buddy to chat with about your processes, or engage with people online.
If you have a regular teacher, ask questions. If there is a pose or issue you are working with, they might have some suggestions how you can work that pose into your plan.
You might benefit from a private session every so often to explore your specific interests or issues. Students who have a self-practice are some of my favourite kinds of private clients, and I often give a handout after with the exercises or series that we worked on so they can practice on their own.
Keep it up!
We all know the value of exercise and yoga to help us live healthy lives. As an act of daily self-care, yoga self-practice is a valuable practice for tuning in, and tuning up our bodies and our lives.
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