One of the questions that I hear most often from both clients and friends is: How do I start a home yoga practice? Many are concerned that they don't have time or space, which is pretty legitimate here in NYC. Others get on their mats and then don't know what to do, or can't let go enough to just move.
My home yoga practice is sacred. I truly treasure the time that I spend alone on my mat, making an effort to give my body and mind what they need. It didn't come easily, though, let me tell you. I would get on my mat and want directions. I couldn't let go. It literally took years to become attuned enough to myself to be able to really practice. Much of that came from observation. I noticed that during times of trauma or transition, I often couldn't move. I would find myself lying on the floor in savasana without any interest in getting up. During times of conflict, my practice fired up. It became more rigorous and physical. In times of anxiety, I needed repetition - breathwork, or a Kundalini kriya to quiet the mind before I could move. The work, for me, was in accepting these needs, and in releasing my expectations of what a yoga practice should be.
Looking back on my experience, I can offer some concrete suggestions for those looking to start a home practice.
1. Start Small
Make a commitment that you can stick to. I suggest 5-10 minutes of movement or a Headspace meditation. Just get in the habit of being alone on your yoga mat.
2. Make Space
Find a corner in your home or apartment and designate it as your home practice space. Store your mat and props close by, and make keeping the space neat a part of your practice. Folding blankets is a lovely meditation.
3. Use Structure
You have to learn the rules to break them. Find a sequence in a book or on a blog that you like. Start with gentle stretching and move on to sun salutations. Maybe that's all you do. Try some standing poses, twists, backbends, and forward bends. Always practice savasana. You might need to rest more than you need to move.
4. Let Go
Your practice is enough. You are enough. You don't have to move more or less that you do. I truly used to believe that I needed to take a rigorous Vinyasa class for my practice to "count". I was wrong, and in my experience, this mindset leads to injury.
5. Move your Spine
If nothing else. Honestly, this is sometimes all I need. Here are two simple, short home practice ideas that move the spine and settle the mind in under 5 minutes!
Kundalini Side Twists
Kundalini kriyas are repetitive actions that energize the body and clear the mind. Twists are particularly balancing, especially if you have a lot of fire in you (like me). Kundalini Side Twists are my favorite when I feel indecisive or overwhelmed. Sit on a block. Squeeze the inner thighs together to stabilize the pelvis. Take fingertips to your shoulders. Inhale to twist left left and exhale right. Start with 26 repetitions. Release the tongue to the top of your mouth behind your teeth to relax the jaw. Finish be inhaling deeply, retaining the breath briefly, and releasing
This is probably my go-to sequence when I need to move but don't have much time. Come to hands and knees, and measure right angles in the knees and wrists using a block. A mirror is also helpful (you'll see me using the camera to check my angles). I like to practice with my fingertips externally rotated by 180 degrees to face my knees. You can also keep your fingertips facing forward forward or externally rotate them 90 degrees to the left and right. You'll know that you have an external rotation if your inner elbows face forward. If the bony sides of the elbows are facing forward, then you need to rotate in the opposite direction.
Inhale to curl the spine and drop your head for cat pose. Press into the mat with your hands and the pinky-toe sides of your feet. Exhale to arch the spine for cow pose. Repeat 26 times. Speed up if you tend to move slowly and slow down if you tend to move quickly. Finish with a long inhale. Exhale to drop your hips to your heels for child's pose and sit up on your heals. Breathe here for a few seconds to recover.
Thank you for reading and watching. Please let me know what you think!
[Originally written and posted 2/2/15; edited and reposted 5/24/16]