My first experience of a yoga self practice was a ten minute sequence I copied from a pocket yoga book which I did in a very small, cramped space at the foot of my bed, on some kind of camping mat I found in the corner of the room and which had clearly been a resident for longer than I had. It wasn’t exactly an emulation of the glamourous (and inaccurate) yoga ideal that we are often sold and nor did I know whether I was doing it right. But it was my practice. It was ten minutes I gave myself after finishing work each evening and a time where I had space and quiet, away from everything else in my world and the world and a few moments when I could feel some kind of connection with my body. I did it because it felt good, it felt like the right thing and I always felt more of a sense of clarity afterwards.
That is everything a home practice should be. Your practice. What works for you, at a time and in a place which is most conducive to you and your best self.
Having a set sequence can be beneficial. It means that we can start to develop more of an awareness of our body. If we practice the same postures each day, we begin to notice certain areas where we may be holding onto tension or places where we feel tighter or more flexible. We notice the days when we feel more relaxed and energised and the days when the practice is more of a struggle, both physically and mentally, and our limbs don’t seem to move as freely. Over time and as our practice becomes more regular, we might start to observe that these waves and cycles of feelings play out off the mat and in our daily lives too. This is the heart of yoga. As we begin to notice resistance we can start to challenge ourselves and we have a much clearer picture of how we might handle certain situations – do we give up, do we persevere, do we ask too much of ourselves? A regular practice can also bring us closer to our emotions. Each day is different and once we start to become mindful of our feelings, noticing without judging, we are more ready to accept them and deal with them in situations which might arise off the mat.
On the days when you feel less energetic or have an overwhelming need to be active, you can always add different things into your sequence; restorative yin postures or extra sun salutations.
The more that you listen to what your body needs, the more instinctive the postures will become on each given day. Let go of any expectations or ideals you have about self-practice. Some mornings I practice in my pyjamas before I have even brushed my teeth, I often have to focus extremely hard on my ujjayi breathing to divert my concentration away from the sound of my boyfriend crunching on his cereal and I regularly have to challenge myself to go beyond the little voice in my head that tells me it is better just to stay in bed, especially on dark and cold winter mornings. When I first began, I didn’t do it everyday either. That’s okay too. Don’t dwell on what you didn’t do or couldn’t do. Roll your mat out the next day and yoga all over again.
So my self practice advice: Start small; don’t judge, practice santosha (contentment), challenge yourself, don’t push too hard, observe your body, notice your breath, always take savasana, enjoy the journey, and of course, keep on coming to class 😉
(P.S. The picture at the top is not an accurate representation of my home.)
Here is a little ten minute sequence you could try:
~ Spend a few moments connecting with your breath. Perhaps set yourself an intention for practice.
~ 3 x Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations)
~ Padangushtasana (Forward Fold)
~ Trikonasana (Triangle – both sides)
~ Vinyasa > Virabhadrasana I > Virabhadrasana II > Utthita Parshvakonasana (Warrior I > Warrior II > Extended Side Angle – both sides)
~ Vinyasa > Seated
~ Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
~ Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle/Feet together knees out to the side)
~ Salamba Sarvabgasana (Shoulderstand)
~ Savasana (Corpse/relaxation)
It is hard to recommend a yoga book as my book shelves are starting to resemble a yoga library and I love them all. However, a few good places to start might be –
~ The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali – Supposedly written a few thousand years ago, a collection of 196 sutras on the theory and practice of Yoga. There are many versions of this but the one by Alistair Shearer is small synopsis and a good place to start. Plus, the book is as small as an envelope so you can carry it around in your pocket and impress everyone with your deep and thoughtful words.
~ The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness – Eric Schiffman – A good summary of why we practice and how to practice with chapters on philosophy as well as descriptions of different asanas and their Sanskrit terms.