What is the best way to start a home practice?
This is a question I am often asked by my students and there is never enough time to give an answer which is truly ‘complete’. This answer may still be far from whole but I will endeavour to do my best in a few easily digestible paragraphs.
The truth is there is no one way to make home practice work, the most important aspect of self-practice is to find a way that works for YOU 🙂
How Do I Find Time?
This may well be the factor most of us struggle with. The key here is to set an intention for little and often… 15 minutes 6 days a week is better than 90 minutes once a week.
Time of Day
Most of us find that discipline becomes easiest with routine, so finding a time of the day that is ‘yoga time’ is ideal. Morning can often be the best time because as the day continues, the likelihood of other things getting in the way increases! This is when I prefer to practice, but other yogis I know chose other times. Whether for you it’s first thing in morning, before bed, when you get home from work or after you’ve put the kids to bed try to make this a daily routine.
Little & Often
It sounds cliché but it’s true. You can practice yoga every day but this doesn’t need to be for an hour a day. All you need to aim for is to get onto your mat for 5 minutes and simply connect with your breath. You can do this seated, standing, in savasasana, in child’s pose, it doesn’t matter, just 5 minutes of awareness. There may be times that this is all you do, and that’s fine, but other days the act of listening to your breath and your body will evolve into 10, 15, 30 minutes or even longer depending on what your schedule allows. At times I set an intention to practice for 10 minutes and this turns in to 2 hours, other days 10 minutes in the morning is all I have time for.
Never ‘Waste Time’
What I mean by this is actually to cast aside the idea of ‘time wasted’. While you are waiting for someone, something or travelling, use these moments to connect with your breath, to check in with your body and allow yourself a mindful moment.
You can also use those little pockets of time, in-between “the doing moments”, for example take cat-cow while waiting for the kettle to boil.
Where to Practice?
If you have a special, sacred part of your home for self-practice, that is wonderful! However, for so many of us this isn’t a reality. I have intentionally only chosen photos to illustrate this post, which show a more down to earth version of self-practice.
I’ll admit that even in my own social media platforms, I generally consider the aesthetics of the image so that what is portrayed is a highly edited, rose-tinted version of my practice. Remember that Instagram is often probably more about photography than it is about yoga!
About 18 months ago 2 yogini friends and I ran an Instagram yoga challenge to encourage pregnant women to cultivate a simple daily practice. It was sometimes a challenge to find a location in which a full posture could be photographed and we needed to be inventive with angles, move furniture, deal with the poor natural light of the U.K. in January. Not always easy to come up with an image! Many of the pictures show Ania in her new home, mid-moving house, mid-renovation and surrounded by boxes and her building project or Donna practicing in her hallway. The challenge was not so much about photography as it was about motivation to practice without having the perfect set-up.
The images we see so often on social media are ‘perfect poses’ in ‘perfect locations or spaces’, remember that these are often designed to be aspirational and visually appealing rather than reflect true practice. A beautiful minimalist, penthouse apartment or a tropical beach are not the reality for most of us who practice yoga. We are far more likely to be finding or making space amongst furniture, toys and carving out a space whilst being considerate of those we live with.
I live in London and share my space with others so I have never been able to have a dedicated space for practice. My practice space varies depending on where is available, and it almost always a tiny space as for years now there has been a transient element to home life. I sometimes practice in the hallway, on the floor next to the bed, currently I’m practicing in the living room amongst boxes, as it’s the only floor space and I certainly have to tidy away my props and mat after practice. If you are lucky enough to have a little yoga space in your home for your mat, any props and perhaps even candles or images such as yantras that you can use in meditation then that is really ideal but not necessary!
What to Practice?
Again, this is extremely personal and I would never want to dictate a practice as a regime as it depends on so many factors. Here are a few ideas to start you off…
Set Sequences– I used to practice ashtanga and this meant that I had a set sequence every day which was useful and meant I could notice the effect of the same postures on my body, breath and mind day in and day out. Counting 5 breaths in each pose felt very meditative and also helped to prevent my mind from become too distracted. However, there came a point when ashtanga was too ‘yang’ for me in combination with a very yang lifestyle. It became necessary to adapt my practice and listen more carefully to my body and energy levels. Your set sequence doesn’t have to be as strong as the ashtanga primary series. Having 4 or 5 poses that you use every day is a good starting point.
The Cat Method 😉 Now I often begin the day in child’s pose and spend a few minutes observing my breath and checking in with myself… Some days my mind is saying “Oh! I want to go back to bed. I need a coffee. I should check my emails!” I bring my attention back to the breath, over and over. After this initial checking in let my body lead me into movement- cat-cow (marjaryasana- bitilasana) or simple side stretches, or other breath-co-ordinated movement. It can help to imagine you are a cat waking up and beginning to move. From here, letting my body go with the flow which on some days leads me into a strong “Yang” practice and on other days a more gentle practice, in which I hold a softer space, hold the poses for longer or the emphasis may be more on pranayama or meditation. However, I have been practicing for many years and if you are newer to yoga you may wish to have more support.
Using the internet or apps- In addition to going to real classes these online resources can be useful to get you going and provide some guidance. There are hundreds or even thousands of free YouTube videos ranging from 2 minutes to an hour of practice. It is worth trying different videos to find a teacher or a channel that resonates with you. I particularly like Esther Ekhart but it depends on how you like to practice. Websites such as Yogia and YogaGlo are another option and the monthly subscription is very reasonable. There are also many yoga apps to give you inspiration for what to practice. I use Simon Low’s Yin App for my evening practice and I have used Headspace in the past to motivate me to meditate more! You have to pay for many of the better app’s but they are normally no more than a couple of quid and well worth it.
Practice with a teacher- It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, when you can, it is still important to go to real classes with a teacher you trust and whose style of teaching resonates with you. This will help to inspire your home practice, prevent postural “bad habits” from developing and gives the advantage of shared energy in a space. Treat yourself 🙂
Possible Obstacles and How to Deal With Them
Cold dark mornings
If you live as far north as the U.K. this is something you may need to contend with for at least half the year. In this case the most difficult aspect of the practice is getting out of bed in the first place, which you will have to do anyway!
If you intend to do 10 minutes of practice you only need to set and alarm 10 minutes earlier and the benefits definitely outweigh this sacrifice. I find wearing comfortable bamboo yoga pants, a supportive t-shirt and (depending on how cold it is) a warmer sweatshirt, as my pyjamas, means I can roll out of bed onto my mat, ready to practice. You can even get non-slip socks to keep your feet warm. Heading straight for the kettle to make warm water and lemon or a herbal infusion can also give you that initial warmth from the inside. Set the heating to come on 15 minutes before your alarm.
Injuries or specific medical conditions
If you are working with particular challenges or limitations at any time in life, it is well worth investing in a few one-to-one sessions with an experienced yoga teacher or yoga therapist who can support you in developing a home practice.
Lack of motivation
Starting can be the hardest thing. Set yourself a challenge such as 10 minutes of yoga a day for 1 month. Thank yourself for giving yourself this 10 minutes just for you, that’s all it takes. Reward yourself at the end of each week. The following month you could set yourself 10 minutes a day and 30 minutes on Saturdays as an example, be realistic about what is manageable for you. It can help to do this with a friend or partner so that you can encourage each other, even if it’s through long distance communication.
Do not look at your phone/email/facebook before you start your practice. If you use the phone as an alarm keep it on airplane mode and if possible get a separate alarm clock. If you are using an App/YouTube this requires discipline!
What you need
It’s very helpful to have a yoga mat and makes practice far more comfortable. It also establishes your yoga practice space (even if it means rolling it out every morning). Props can also be useful but you don’t necessarily need to invest in proper yoga props to begin with. A large book can be used as a block, cushions or rolled up blankets and towels can be used instead of bolsters, a dressing gown belt can be used instead of a strap. You may want to invest in props once you have developed a more established home practice and you know exactly what you will find most helpful.
Work commitments, children, partners, others you share your home with
10 minutes is all it takes! Discuss with your family how you can make it work for you to have that time for your practice. There may be times when the uninterrupted element is not an option especially if you have small children. In this case, it can be useful to practice with the kids and teach them a little of what you know about yoga. Ok, so it’s not the same as the “me-time” you would get in a class but it’s certainly better than not practicing at all. Perhaps even teaming up with other parents or friends for a few minutes of playful practice.
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day! It happens, life is like that. Just make sure you do it the next day! 😉