A dedicated home practice is a rich playground for exploration, living with questions and treating yourself right. Yoga teachers: This is an absolute must for honing an authentic voice and clear point of view.
I've listed the top five reasons I cheat on my yoga classes with frequent (sometimes twice daily) practices at home. My list includes some tips for getting started and inspiration for falling deeper in love with your own yoga at home. I intend to add to this material in the coming months -- to flesh out the information below with practical guidance on your personal journey.
1. APPROPRIATE PACE AND DURATION
Slow down, speed up, lie on the floor or jump around. I don't know about you, but my body feels different every day. Sometimes my practice feels like swimming upstream and fighting to stay afloat. On other days I'm blessed with an easy downstream ride on a raft. I've learned time and time again that I don't know what kind of practice I'm going to have until I'm in it. On the days when I anticipate hours of unhurried time alone to practice, I find myself unable to focus and give up after 10 fretful minutes. Sometimes, intending to sit down for a moment in stillness followed by a brief warmup, I find myself in the midst of a two hour well rounded practice. Acknowledge the reality of the ebb and flow. Go with it. Don't beat yourself up when it doesn't work out the way you'd imagined and be grateful for the unexpected gifts that surely will come.
2. CREATIVE HOME YOGA "PROPS"
After 15 years in New York City and many trips to teach yoga in Tokyo, I've learned how to rock my home practice in teeny-tiny spaces and make good use of anything and everything as yoga props. There is much to be gained from a narrow hallway, a long bench, the arms of the sofa, or the kitchen counter. No blocks, no problem -- I bet you've got a few books lying around. Oh, and sofa cushions make sweet restorative props. Once I tried placing a 15 pound bag of rice on my upper thighs to ground my femur bones in savasana. Divine!
Don't tie yourself to your yoga mat. Explore the entire terrain of your home. You might find that your washing machine is the perfect height for standing pigeon pose, or that the padded bench in your entryway provides delightful support in bridge pose. Adopt a playful attitude. Like a child in a sandbox you can build anything your imagination dreams up.
3. FUNCTION OVER AESTHETICS
The keen eye of a skilled yoga teacher is useful and sometimes necessary for calling us out on our habitual patterns. Teachers see the shapes of the poses, the lines of weight distribution through the body, movement of breath and subtle energetic qualities that clue them into our comfort and energy levels. Consistent and prolonged study with a teacher who knows your practice and sees you in class is invaluable.
But here's the catch: Nobody knows what it feels like to live in your body better than you do. And nobody but you can make the kind of adjustments that bring you to a place of true comfort in your own skin. So take what you've learned in class and bring it home to a place with no mirrors, no eyes watching, no comparing your unique form to the forms of other students in the room. Just you and the teacher within. Go to the poses that you find challenging or the shapes that create conflict and discomfort in your body. Wiggle around and forget about making it pretty on the outside. Explore what feels right on the inside even if it's the opposite of what you've been told to do or what you think you should be doing. Take your feet/hands farther apart or closer together. Tip you pelvis forward and back. Arch your back and round your back. Notice how these adjustments affect your breath, stability and comfort level. If it feels right it's probably right. It might change tomorrow or 20 minutes from now. Start fresh again and again. Trust yourself.
4. SELF CARE
Did you receive a hefty dose of backbends yesterday in your teacher's class? Maybe the smartest choice today is a grounding home practice of seated twists and forward bends. Out late last night celebrating with friends? Heavy dinner, dancing in heels and a bit too much to drink? I know I've been there, and a little slow flow, supta virasana and restoratives are just what the doctor ordered. When we take time for ourselves to recharge our batteries we become more available to serve our life responsibilities and loved ones. As yoga teachers we cannot give to our students without a healthy balance of giving to ourselves. Make time for yourself. Pamper yourself with all of the things you love about your yoga practice. Learn self massage techniques. Include meditation or at the very least a few minutes of stillness every day in savasana.
5. LIVING THE QUESTIONS
In the age of asking google any question that pops into one's mind, we miss out on a lot of learning along the way. A home yoga practice can be intimidating if you are used to asking others for answers (as most of us are.) Live the questions. Let them be fluid and always changing. Roll them around in your body and mind. Don't expect answers, but know that answers will come. My personal belief, and the belief of most interpretations of yoga philosophy is that the ultimate goal of yoga is to know ourselves better. In doing so we come to know how we are connected to everything that surrounds us. It's a deeply personal journey that is both within and without. To come home to one's personal practice is to bravely make the inward journey.
In B.K.S. Iyengar's book Light on Life he writes: "You do not need to seek freedom in some distant land, for it exists within your own body, heart, mind, and soul. Illuminated emancipation, freedom, unalloyed and untainted bliss await you, but you have to choose to embark on the Inward Journey to discover it."