Lately, as a part of my attempt to practice good self-care, I've been taking a few moments every once in a while to move through some yoga asanas on my own-- it feels great! Right now, however, it isn't a regular thing-- just something I do when I need a 'tune-up' in the middle of the day. The more I set aside time for these 'tune-ups', the more I contemplate making yoga at home a regular thing in my life-- but I'm not sure how to make that happen. It feels daunting!
I asked my wonderful friend, yoga teacher Rosalind Schwartz, to share some tips about how to create a personal yoga practice. Ros is a graduate of the teacher training program at Heart of Yoga School in Carrboro NC. These days, she works as a teacher and administrator at my very favorite Washington DC studio, Yoga District.
Here's what Ros has to say:
There are a lot of ways to practice yoga, so it's important to clarify what exactly these tips are designed to help you do. Yoga refers to a philosophical system descended from Vedic (ancient Indian) scripture, with practical offshoots ranging from selfless service (Karma Yoga) to extended meditation and philosophizing (parts of Raja Yoga).
What we're talking about is Hatha Yoga, which is practiced via asana, meaning the postures and series of postures we in the global west call "yoga".
Most of us start practicing the yoga asana by finding a nearby studio and going to class once a week. We leave class feeling refreshed, calmer, stronger and more open. And so, if we have the time and energy, this usually turns into two times a week, then three times a week, and so on until it becomes entirely too expensive, and we begin to think about practicing at home.
Your home practice is the core of your yoga practice. While it's really important to go to class and find a teacher who can speak to your experience and answer your questions, the home practice is where your attention can move inward without obstruction, and your practice becomes an authentic expression of who you are in the present moment.
In my yoga teacher training, we worked with yogi Mark Whitwell's recommendations for establishing and cultivating a home practice. He suggests setting aside seven minutes every day to practice. That's it! Just seven minutes, whenever you want. If you can commit to seven minutes every day, you're already well on your way to having a sustainable home practice.
These tips are intended mainly to support people who have a familiarity with yoga basics and want to practice at home. People who have never practiced yoga may be better served by watching videos online, reading a book with helpful diagrams or attending a basics class.
2. Curate your space. If you're practicing in a hallway, this may mean hanging pictures or colored wall drapes to make it more comfortable. It may mean cleaning the space before you practice. It may mean burning incense or smudge sticks, or getting a salt lamp or candles. Whatever it is, make the space precious. Let it be somewhere you want to go.
3. Treat yo'self. There's no reason your yoga practice has to be about austerity and self-denial. Reward yourself for coming to your mat every day! You could use essential oils or a nice lotion before or after you practice. You could treat yourself to an extra-hot shower or long bath. You could buy yourself flowers or indulge in a favorite snack. Eventually, the practice becomes its own reward, but especially in the beginning, this helps to make it something you actually want to do.
4. Commit, but practice non-obsessively. Seven minutes every day isn't much, but eventually something will come up and you'll miss a day. Or maybe you only manage to practice for three minutes instead of seven. It will throw you off, and you may feel guilty. It may even seem like you should completely give up, because you broke your commitment and it therefore invalidates all the other days you managed to get to your mat. But that's nonsense. Don't trap yourself in this way! It's important to practice, but it's more important to practice without becoming obsessive. Give yourself a break. Return to your practice the next day. Resist the urge to judge yourself!
5. Practice what you want, when you want. Do you have to do sun salutations at home? Well, if it's the first thing in the morning and your body wants a warming practice, then it might be nice to get the heart rate up a bit. But if you're practicing right before bed when the body is ready to start cooling down, doing ten sun salutations would be counter-productive. Begin to listen to the signals of the body. Does it want to twist today? Does it want to do forward folds? If it was injured recently, maybe it needs to rest for seven minutes in legs-up-the-wall or savasana. It doesn't matter. Just get to the mat, invest seven minutes in listening to the messages of the body, and know that that's enough.
Thanks, Rosalind! I am so proud to be your friend.
Check out Ros' classes at Yoga District if you'd like to experience her supportive, playful teaching style for yourself!