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Mar 2013

{Practice} Tips for a Successful Home Yoga Practice

IMG_1211Whether you’re  a veteran practitioner or a newbie yogini, a home practice is the most effective way to cultivate the lifelong use of yoga as therapy. Even if you practice 5 times a week, it’s rare that each and every class will address your body’s particular needs. Each of us has yoga hOMework: poses or approaches to poses that suit our unique bodies by addressing our neuromuscular habits and restore balance to our asymmetries. Furthermore, our needs change as we pass through stages of life and changes of season.


Throughout the last 15 years of my practice, a home practice has played an starring role in my approach to yoga. With the exception of a few years in graduate school and the years I had my own studio, I haven’t had consistent access to convenient, safe yoga classes with qualified teachers. Even if you do have access to regular, convenient yoga classes where you live, eventually the need for a home practice will be made clear: whether from an injury, an illness that prevents you from making it to your favorite class, or a change of life situation {like becoming a new mommy!}, that puts new demands on your free time. Taking steps toward a nourishing solo home practice will bolster your studio practice tremendously, too. It’s only through dedicated attention to our own unique body, with its asymmetric movement patterns and habitual tendencies, that we can fully invite more balance into our daily lives and reduce the potential for injury in our practice.


As a veteran to the home practice and all it comes with –particulary excuses NOT to practice, impromptu distractions, and urgent toddler cuddle breaks — I’ve come up with a few of my best tips to keep rolling out the mat.


1. the WHY :: Keep your motivation front and center to vanquish the inevitable distractions.

Everything about your home practice stems from this question. If you have a regular studio practice, you have a Big WHY for that practice; it might include access to a yoga community, support from and for your favorite teacher, the opportunity to be in a sacred space dedicated to the practice, and indulging in a little “you time.”

Where most of us get hung up on the home practice is identifying our Home Practice Big WHY: chances are, this is a completely different Why than your studio practice. It takes a bit more thought to determine your Big Why for a home practice, but there are many reasons, some examples of which I list below, for developing a home practice: you just have to choose one that accurately identifies your personal motivation.

My own Big Why for my home practice is #1 :: to be a better wife and mommy and #2 :: to address my own particular lifestyle imbalances, #3 :: to reinforce my intentions for this life, and #4:: to cultivate more space and ease: both in my physical body and in my mind. Because of this, I choose to formally practice twice daily, and to close each day with a brief meditation. You see how this Why helps me determine everything else about my practice: the Where, the When, the How Long, and the What.


2. the WHERE :: Choose an area for your practice.

Take a critical eye to your home’s layout and investigate the most convenient, less time-intensive spot to clear for your regular practice. If you don’t have enough space to always keep your mat down {I certainly don’t!}, then try to keep the surrounding area as clutter-free as possible and to store your mat in plain sight nearby. In my home, this is a small area of my living room that is just large enough for my mat. It faces a window looking out to the lake and gets filtered light in the afternoon, the time I reserve for my postural practice. For my morning practice –a quiet blend of yin yoga and meditation– I chose a small area of my office facing east, that provides me with early morning light.


3. the WHEN :: Decide when you are going to practice.

And stick to it. Schedule it in on your calendar and STICK TO IT even if you have to stop in the middle of something, or turn your cell phone off, or hire a babysitter for that length of time. Dedication is one of the four D’s of yoga :: sticking to your schedule is part of this D and is imperative. The Yoga Sutras tell us that only after a dedicated practice, for a long time, will we begin to truly reap the rewards of yoga. And sticking to our practice –committing to it– is merely an expression, to ourself, that it is a priority in our lives. Many of us have unrealistic expectations for ourselves when it comes to a home practice and we shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak, by setting up parameters for our home practice based on others’ expectations, recommendations, and dogmatic assertions. I’m an excellent example of this because for many years, like a good Ashtangi, I tried to wake up at 5:30 am, get on my mat for 90 minutes, and then begin my day. Although I love mornings, I prefer a softer awakening than 90 minutes of sweaty Vinyasa. My body resisted and I didn’t listen. I continued a vigorous practice –in fits and starts– first thing in the morning and right out of bed, even though I knew it didn’t fit my needs. I struggled against my own tendencies for YEARS until I realized that it’s OK for me to begin my day with meditation, Yin yoga, and a nature walk for cardio. My love for a vinyasa practice doesn’t diminish –nor does the efficacy of the practice–when that practice happens at 3 pm instead of 6 am.


4. the HOW LONG :: Decide how long you will practice.

Again, it’s important to consider your time constraints realistically when committing to a home practice. Set yourself up for success by starting small if you are just beginning: for example, a 10 minute meditation if you are just beginning is much easier to successfully complete than a full hour. And each successive success will reinforce your committment, thus making each practice goal easier to attain. Allocating 30 minutes for a posture practice is certainly a small period of time for a full practice, but it’s plenty of time to do your yoga hOMework. If you already have a thriving home practice in one area {yin, meditation, conscious breathing, vinyasa}, try adding a short practice of another type. In other words, if you are a dedicated Vinyasa practitioner but have never tried to cultivate a sitting meditation practice, consider adding a length of time before or after your postures to balance your current practice. Or, do what I do ~ a 30 minute sadhana of Yin yoga and meditation in the morning just upon waking and a 45 minute afternoon Vinyasa practice. The most important thing to remember when deciding how long you will practice is making it reasonable {and therefore, achievable} while keeping it long enough to be meaningful.


5. the WHAT :: Decide what you will do in your practice.

Some of you will be very comfortable rolling out your mat, stepping onto it, and beginning to flow. Others of you will prefer devising a systematic approach to what you need each day based on how your body feels. The best kind of home practice is the one you will do! So, do what feels most natural while resisting the temptation to make it mindless, rote, and merely dutiful. Keep your practice lively, seasonal, and appropriate for your body type and stage of life. Ultimately, this is the kind of practice that yields the most obvious immediate and long-term benefits.


6. the BACK UP PLAN :: Set up a non-negotiable Back Up Plan Practice for those days when you’ve lost your motivation.

Using your yoga hOMework and your Big Why, develop a series of 5-6 poses or a mini-meditation that constitute your Back Up Plan Practice. Believe me, there will be a day in the near future when life will get the better of your best intentions. Instead of giving up and throwing your new-found home practice out the window, decide in advance what your non-negotiables are…then stick to it. Again, using myself as an example, my Back Up Plan Practice is 3 Sun Salutations plus 10 minutes of meditation. This takes me around 15 minutes, which means even if I’m cranky, over-scheduled, tired, or sans child care, I have no excuse for NOT completing it. I can give my toddler a 15 minute iPad break and mommy can get her practice in. And I usually find upon getting on the mat, the excuses I made to for why I couldn’t practice slip  away beneath the tidal wave of joyful movement.


Now it’s your turn:: Share your tips on a successful home yoga practice in the comments below!


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  • leona

    Thanks so much for the info. I love the back up plan idea. I am struggleing with having a home practice and dedication and committment are 2 words I need to incorporate!

    • Kellie

      Hi Leona,
      The back up plan is crucial! Those non-negotiables really help when discipline and motivation are in short supply :)
      Best wishes,