To a beginner, coming up with a way to practice at home can be daunting. As you grow your practice and learn more poses, variations, and styles, the task can seem even more daunting as the options expand, multiply, and fold in on themselves. But the benefits can be incredible- you're choosing how and where and how often to expend your energies and taking responsibility for your own growth.
Many yoga gurus will tell you that the relationship between student and teacher is a sacred one, and to practice on your own is not forsaking that, but cultivating and honoring your relationship to your own inner teacher. There are as many ways to practice yoga as there are benefits and styles, so, like any worthwhile endeavor, it takes a bit of planning, experimentation, and a bit of rule-breaking to figure out what you want, need, and enjoy.
- Decide how long and how often. For me, home practice is daily for around 20 minutes, except the two or three days I attend 60-90 minute classes. Your schedule, needs, environment, and attention span may work differently, but aim for as much consistency as you can.
- Consider what you hope to get out of your yoga practice. Yoga has plenty of reported benefits, and just by getting on your mat you're already touching on most of them! But for the sake of your home practice, choose two or three to focus on. From there, you can use books, the internet, your teachers, and your own intuition to construct a practice directed toward those goals. Benefits can range from the tangible (a more open thoracic spine, reduced shoulder tension) to the more abstract (more focus, an open heart). The point of the exercise is to be your own healer- to know yourself enough to know what you need and determine how to get it.
- Set some boundaries. If you share a space with roommates, a spouse or partner, kids, pets, or coworkers, be sure to let them know that you need some space and quiet in a way that they will understand.
- Put on some music, if you like. Remember, this is YOUR practice, so don't limit yourself to whatever music you would consider "yogic." If Enya helps you direct your energies toward a fuller expression of self, more power to you, but if a mix of Van Halen and Lady Gaga makes your heart sing, follow that impulse.
- Play. You want your home practice to be something you look forward to. So follow what you find fun and exciting and don't force anything.
There are no rules as far as how you actually do this, but for starters, I would suggest hitting the following milestones:
- Start with a pause for transition. This will already be built into your studio or gym classes, but may be doubly important if you're practicing in a living room or office, where you have other hats to wear than "yogi." Give yourself a second to honor those other roles in your life, and set them aside for the duration of your practice. Find your breath, find your feet or body touching the ground, and begin to direct your attention to your ultimate teacher, your body.
- Crank up the heat. Lots of styles of yoga begin with sun salutations for a good reason- it gets your muscles nice and warm in order to prevent injury and increase flexibility. You don't need to practice exactly 12 rounds of Surya Namascar, but begin your practice with something dynamic to get the blood pumping.
- Listen to your body. As you move into asanas, take your time and be gentle on yourself- the goal is to be able to leave happy, and come back the next day. Take some time in each pose to really experience the mind and body and the intricate communication between the two.
- Counterpose. You can do this even if you don't know much (yet!) about yoga. When you move energy one way, move it gently in the other way to get your equilibrium back. For example, a tiny twist in the other direction after a big twist, or a gentle forward fold after a backbend.
- Let it set. Savasana or seated meditation can be really hard at home, when a stack of bills or your latest Netflix is at arm's reach. But think of curling hair or baking a cake- letting things cool down helps them to stay the way you arranged them. The same is true for your muscles and organs. After you've worked (and played) so hard, give your body some time in a constructive relaxation pose to settle down.
Abby Thompson, a certified vinyasa yoga instructor, is a New York University graduate with a degree in the creative process, focusing on the body as a medium for experience and creativity. Abby's vigorous style combines the transformative power of vinyasa yoga and the healing power of the creative arts therapies in a playful experience of movement and breath. Abby offers public classes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For more information, you can check out her class schedule and blog at http://www.lifebloomyoga.com.