Establishing a home practice
It is not always easy to bring yourself to the mat, but when you do, it’s always good, and it always matters, have gratitude for your effort.
The benefits of a home practice are numerous, but essentially a home practice will allow you to build your understanding and knowledge of yourself and your body, and to deepen your relationship with yoga. Through home practice you learn to feel your body from the inside out, and gain a chance to ‘listen ‘ to the body and the mind. This is one of the greatest gifts yoga can give us. A home yoga practice allows you to build on the knowledge gained from a class, remember the verbal cues and physical adjustments you were offered in class and play with them at home. You may even discover things within a posture when you practice on your own, that you may not have noticed in class. It is often advisable to check these findings with a teacher to keep yourself safe.
Here are some tips to get you started with home practice. Firstly rather than viewing your home practice as “homework”, know that taking this time will have a positive effect on you, and the rest of your day/ evening as well as those around you. The school run is always easier some how when I have taken time to practice in the morning. I have a student who has been establishing a home practice and has reached the point now where her teenage sons offer to do the washing up if she will go and do some yoga! So if teenage sons can see the benefit of home practice everyone else around you will too.
Find a time of day that suits you and fits with your lifestyle. Classically it is said that first thing in the morning is the optimum time to practice, before sunrise as this is the quietest time and so is easiest to focus, (it also happens to be the coolest part of the day in India so avoids practicing in extreme heat). However if mornings are too frantic, but you have a little more time in the evening then practice in the evening. Try practicing at different times of the day; you may be surprised in the differences in your body between the morning and the evening. Your practice needs to be right for you. No matter the time of day, your mind and body will thank you for your time you take.
Create a space that you can practice in. It’s great if you have an empty room in the west wing, where you can build an altar and leave a mat rolled out ready for practice, but if you are not blessed with such a facility, make a space where you can. Realistically you can get away with just enough space to roll a mat out. It is helpful to be able to close a door and clear the space as much as possible (it’s much more difficult to focus on your breath when staring at a pile of ironing). Turn your phone off or at least onto silent, and be honest with yourself, is there really any call that cannot wait for the time you are taking for your practice? Ask other house members not to disturb you for x amount of time. If you cannot be completely free from external distractions, try using them to help your practice. If the children interrupt, get them to join in, (having a small child sitting on your lower back when you are in Balasana is blissful). Let the dog, or cat sit on your mat or come and lay with you in Savasana, and see how your practice and the energy you create effects them. If this is the way your practice is on that particular day then so be it.
Be realistic about the amount of time you can set aside for your practice. It would be lovely to have 90 minutes every day to practice, but if 10 minutes is a more realistic then accept that, you will be amazed how much you can achieve in 10 minutes.
You don’t need any special equipment, a mat is about the only essential, and it doesn’t have to be a super expensive mat (they range from (£10 – £150). You can use firm cushions as bolsters, books as blocks and ties and belts make perfectly adequate straps. Allow your practice to meet you where you are and with what you have.
Don’t expect your home practice to feel like your class practice. Practice with a sense of curiosity rather than judgement. Find your inner teacher not your inner critic, and create a sense of playfulness and acceptance, and move in a way that feels good.
Take your practice off your mat. Stand in Tadasana in the supermarket queue or take a few breaths of your favourite pranayama at the traffic lights. Spend some time sitting in Dandasana when reading or watching TV. One of the joys of a home practice is that you can make it what you need it to be, so let your inner wisdom guide you. If you are feeling sluggish take an energising practice, if you are feeling agitated take a restorative practice.
Start your home practice with the aim of creating a habit. Keep your practice short to begin with, as this will make it easier to fit into your day and over time it will become a habit and will grow from there. Bit by bit, minute-by-minute, day-by-day, posture by posture. Have no expectations; make no judgements, just experience. Start with a few Asanas that you enjoy most , and let your practice evolve from there. Ask a teacher to help with sequencing. Sometimes it is helpful to make a quick note after your practice if something felt different or if you suddenly were not sure of something in a particular asana, pranayama or meditation. I am always more than happy to help students who have questions about there home practice.
Your home practice should compliment your classes and your classes should compliment your home practice. The link between the two are you and your teacher, so do ask a teacher to check your alignment in a particular posture or to suggest a posture to help with your aching lower back, your tight shoulders etc. A one to one session is a really good way to work through things in a more detailed way. I create personalised home practice plans designed to help with a particular issue or area, creating a bespoke practice based on issues identified by the individual. These are often useful and beneficial in creating a home practice as they provide guidance towards a particular goal, whether it’s releasing stress, feeling more grounded, improving golf or strengthening the core.
The easiest thing to skip in a home practice is the final relaxation, and yet this is just as important as the rest of your practice. It’s a bit like making a cake and then not bothering to ice it (baking is not my strong point but it was the best analogy I could think of). Take time for your relaxation, it’s useful to use a timer. There are some free mediation timer apps available, which give the sound of a signing bowl or chime after the set time rather than an annoying alarm clock. Knowing that you have set a time allows you to release completely into the mediation or relaxation without the mind being distracted by wondering “ how long have I been laying here”, “ what if I fall asleep”. If you find relaxation difficult, and proper relaxation can be a challenge, use a recorded relaxation to help you. I have recorded a quick 10-minute relaxation ideal for the end of an asana practice and a longer guided meditation for when time allows.
Above all else enjoy your practice; it should be a joy not a chore. Be grateful to yourself for taking the time the practice. And remember the biggest irony, that the time when you least feel like practicing is often when you will benefit from it the most.
Laura is a registered yoga teacher, teaching classes, one to one sessions and workshops in and around the Godalming area.