[4 minute read]
As a yoga teacher, two of the most common explanations I hear for not exploring the practice are: “I can’t even touch my toes” and “I don’t want to/can’t afford to/don’t feel comfortable taking classes as studios.” I empathize with these very real challenges, two that are exacerbated by selective images and narratives that advertise only the most idyllic yoga bodies. Yoga’s increasing popularity is at once intentionally welcoming and impactfully intimidating. For those who have deep personal practices, the concept that yoga should fit your ever-changing body – and not the opposite way around – has become a well-kept secret. I mean, why post the photo of yourself falling on your face when you can share the half-second moment when you nailed the handstand? Similarly, why take risks to grow your practice – or even just start one – in a space filled with sweaty strangers?
While achieving confidence and comfort in a group space is possible and should be accessible, for me, cultivating a home practice was essential to extricating myself from expectations of my body and shifting my focus to responding to my body as it is on any given day. Practicing on my own has been hands down one of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself. It wasn’t – and still often isn’t – easy. I was expected to do it as part of my yoga teacher training, but it took a massive amount of time and effort to embed it into my life and habits, and, most importantly, trust my ability to guide myself. Today it is absolutely crucial to my wellbeing – physically, emotionally, professionally.
You don’t need much to start a home practice, save a mat and ample space, and even these are debatably unnecessary. Check out the suggestions below, based on my own experience as well as what I have heard from other yoga practitioners – beginner to expert!
Designate a space. Keep a mat at home. Buy yourself a couple props or makeshift them with books, belts, and large, firm pillows. You may not have an entire room or every block, bolster, strap and wheel you think you need, but by picking a spot you’ll return to you’ll decrease distractions like deciding where to practice or moving things out of your way that you notice once you’re upside down, and this space will start to feel like a home base. Eventually.
Roll your mat out. Get on it. Do some sun salutations, some basic stretches you saw on a YouTube video once, or a silly dance. It might be an hour or it may only be five minutes. Just because you can’t dedicate the time you would if you were going to a class, just because you’re not sequencing through 20 poses or culminating in a peak pose doesn’t mean it’s not a valid practice. Your movement, in and of itself, is valid and valuable. You might consider trying different times of day. Maybe you like the idea of setting your day up for success. Maybe you’re less stiff after work.
Breathe. This is crucial. Start with deep breaths and allow that to carry you through the practice. If you do nothing else but breathe, and maybe a child’s pose, that’s sufficient. That’s yoga. Let yourself off the hook from your expectations, enjoy the sensation of your breath moving through your body, and explore spots of tension and release, give yourself time to figure out what it all means for how you’ll carry yourself through once you step off of the mat.
Be creative. Be brave. Investigate asanas. Check out books from the library, utilize Google, identify trusted resources and take your time exploring them. There are many online resources – both paid and unpaid. If you go to a yoga class every once and awhile (or every week, or every day) ask your yoga teacher to clarify any questions you have before or after class, or ask a friend to play around with you.
Go at your own pace. Some days you might decide to focus on a specific pose or body part, other days you may work with an intention such as being present, breathing, or feeling free. One of the best parts about a home practice is you have the time to play around with poses you might not normally have time or space for in class, and you can also fall all over your living room floor without embarrassment (though embarrassment need not be a feeling you experience during a group class).
Consider tracking your practice. Get on the bullet journal bandwagon, start a habit tracker, write down what you’re focusing on for the day or the week, or journal what comes up for you at the end of each session.
Keep going. You will be on a roll, and then you’ll fall off. You won’t practice for a few weeks. Or you’ll practice something and be discouraged. Your home practice will not be linear and don’t for one moment trick yourself into thinking it so! The important thing is to come back. Yoga teachers can talk all they want about being present and the importance of the journey over the destination, but it’s your own personal exploration of this narrative that is critical to your home practice. Let yourself be surprised and remind yourself that you once started something you didn’t think you could do, and you sure as hell can start all over again.
Follow this link to the Self-Care Syllabus for resources and please feel free to comment below with your own suggestions!!