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YOGA AT HOME: Developing a Personal Practice

Taking a yoga class has many benefits, but how do you integrate yoga’s holistic living principles into your life?

Establishing a Home Practice may seem out of reach but a few basic principles may show you the way. Try these ideas for making space in your life for yoga, the time honored art of self study.

1. Create the Space

Once you’ve made an intention to do yoga at home, create a special place for your practice. It can be as simple as a mat placed on the floor in your guest bedroom, or a corner in the living room. Rethink your house layout. Maybe you can actually devote an entire room to your practice, Wherever you light, keep a mat open and in place at all times. Purchase a second mat, keep one at home and one in the car to take for class or travel. You’ll be much more likely to practice when the space is ever ready. There is another reason to create a sacred space for practice, well put by the renowned author and spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. He professes that every home needs a breathing room, a place to go apart and just breathe when times are trying or stresses are mounting.

2. Accentuate the Environment

If you have a spiritual practice or belong to an organized religion, you may like to display a picture of your favorite teacher or guru, a scripture or keepsake that is very special to you. A candle can make a nice point of reference for focus, inviting you to draw your attention to a still point and then inward, and be a symbol of purification.

3. Gather Props

Have available items you may need to support your body in your poses such as a cushion for sitting or blocks, blankets, and a belt.

4. Remove Distractions

Turn off the phones, radios, and TVs. You may like a little soothing music or bask in the silence, a rare commodity in these times. Put pets in another room and tell children this is your special time. ( It is a great idea, however, to plan another time specifically to practice with family!)

5. Ready, Get Set, Go!

Now, pick a time to make a yoga date with yourself and do your best to stick to it, This way, your time on the mat will become habit. Mornings or evenings seem to be the best time for yoga but anytime you can fit it into your schedule will work. Make your plan realistic, one you know is possible in relation to your schedule. Remember, consistency is more important than length of time per practice.

Special Practices and Short Forms

If you lack energy or just feel tired, focus on 3-5 standing poses and a seated meditation. Use long smooth inhalations and exhalations.

If you are feeling ill or drained, do a restorative practice where the body is supported on props providing opening, release, rest, and renewal. Use Judith Lasater’s book, Relax, Release, and Renew to guide your way.

If you attend classes regularly, and long for a more intensive yoga stretch, do the sun salutations as your practice. Start with Salutation A. Once you feel stronger, add Salutation B and later C. Work up to 5 rounds of each salutation.

Vinyasas, like sun greetings and other flows, are asanas linked together with the breath, building heat and creating flexibility. End with a forward bend and twist. As always, rest in seated pose or savasana.

What if you’ve come home from work and you are tense and stressed out? Floor poses are your best choice. Do the usual warm-ups and extensions, then choose five to six floor poses that sound good to you. Follow this with putting your legs up the wall before relaxation pose. Ah! You may want to divide your practice into two shorter sessions. Do a shorter energizing practice in the morning with a focus on more standing work, and enjoy a floor series at night, including legs up the wall or a shoulder stand to induce a good night’s sleep.

If you say, I have no time to practice today, do downward stretching dog pose. Give it some long deeps breaths. Next take a few deep breaths in stillness in Tadasana (mountain pose), and be on your way. It is always better to do a little than to do nothing at all. The rest of your day will be better!

Then comes the BIG question: I go to the mat, then what do I do?

A well practiced student should be able to come to the mat and ask themselves what it is they need in the moment, like energy, tension relief, or relaxation. In the early stages of practice, before you have built a substantial reservoir of movements to choose from, there are some helpful guidelines.

If you have no particular health issues and you feel good, you might like to choose a well rounded practice that includes the following components:

Sit or lie quietly a few minutes, focusing on your breath and letting your body release any tensions. More experienced students might like to begin with a learned breath technique (opening pranayama).

Warm up with extension poses, knees to chest and easy twisting movements to prepare for more invigorating work. Let the breath move your body, synchronizing your breathing with movement, or focus on attempting three to five full breaths for holding poses.

Choose an asana sequence for the day. Start with a few standing poses which will give you energy and build strength and stamina. Follow standing movements with floor work which could include prone and supine stretches, seated poses, weight bearing poses, and back bending moves. Most floor poses are cooling and calming yet backbends are stimulating and exhilarating, keeping the back healthy and cleansing the nerves. Always follow back bending poses with a forward bend sequence for bringing balance through counterpose. Do an inversion or two (headstand, shoulder stand or less intense variations), another gentle backbend and then bring closure to your practice with a twisting pose.

Sit quietly again or try alternate nostril breathing, Nodi Shodhana, which brings balance to the body, breath, and mind.

Rest in Savasana, the corpse pose, for 5 - 10 minutes or more, putting the body to sleep but keeping the mind very alert in this conscious relaxation pose. Breathe smoothly and peacefully, allowing the breath to maintain its natural rhythm.

Savasana, one of the most important poses of all is where the work of the body absorbs and assimilates prana (the energy that has come through the breath during practice). This is the time of renewal and deep rest.

In summary, look forward to your home practice. At first you may want to do a sequence you learn in class or from a book. Videos are great learning tools and some are good partners in practice. However, videos are not individualized and don’t take into account your body, age, or specific conditions. The beauty comes when you come to your mat, ask yourself what you need for the day and follow through. Make your practice fun.

Why not make it easy and just do the same routine every practice? Having a set routine several times a week can have the benefit of you really learning a series of postures well, and give you the opportunity to make note of your improvements in flexibility and strength. However, doing the very same routine every day, you might slip into unawareness and complacency in your practice. Again, come back to the question, what do I need to create balance in my life today? Once you grow in a set routine, you’ll want to add new variations to the practice. Having several series to practice keeps your time on the mat fresh and stimulating. You may like to focus one day on backbends, another on forward bends, or yet another on inversions, etc.

How often should I practice? If you tend to get obsessive about work or habits, be mindful with your yoga practice. If you are fortunate to have the time, practice daily, or try for five or six days a week and just sit in silence or utilize other meditation techniques another day. If your time only permits three 20 minute sessions a week, then stick to it. Practice once a week, you’ll see a difference. Practice several times or more a week, and you’ll see marked improvement. Practice every day, and you may experience a transformation!

With each practice you will build a deeper reservoir of hope, happiness, and strength. When the ups and downs of life hit, you’ll be surprised at your calmness, focus and peace of mind. You’ll marvel at your ability to maintain neutrality in challenging times. You’ll discover a deep inner joy even in the face of turbulent times. You will have immersed yourself in the gifts of the practice; you will have successfully integrated yoga into your life. You’ll know you are successful because everything else in your life will flow more smoothly. Take pleasure in each and every session. Feel your practice grow, one breath at a time.

Originally published in Healing Garden Journal

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