For a long time I found it really hard to practise yoga at home, even working at home was a challenge, but then the pandemic rolled around and had other ideas for my WFH/YFH situation. Now don't get me wrong, a studio will always be the best place to practise yoga, and finding space for a home-made one in a house or flat that has now also become an office, restaurant, bar, cinema, gym, school, playground, therapist's office etc. is not easy, but it is important. Practising yoga, even if just for 20 minutes has a way of resetting not only your energy, but the energy of the space in which you reside.
1.Reclaim your space
Your DIY studio doesn't need to be anything fancy, contrary to what the crystal strewn, perfectly lit spaces you see on instagram might lead you to believe. You literally just need a space and maybe a mat, but if you don't have access to one you could even use a towel (sometimes I use nothing but the floor) and props that help you to find space in poses can be entirely makeshift: books, cushions, towels, ties etc. The yoga industry is worth a staggering amount and I am not saying that investing in good mats and props isn't worth it, but let's not forget the inherent simplicity of yoga, as Patanjali says in the very first sutra, 'now is the yoga', meaning that it is already happening; we needn't add any accessories or distractions.
2. Manage your expectations
This is a lifelong practice, not a new year's fitness fad, and it also goes way beyond physical fitness. It may start as that, and I honestly think it's a valid access point, but ultimately yoga is a practice of self discovery; one that lasts far beyond January. It's kind of this incredible rabbit hole, in that once you start going down it you uncover more and more things you didn't know about yourself, not all of them good! But being able to bring all parts of yourself into light through the practice of yoga makes for a much richer and more present life. So try not to limit your practice goals to a pose or a body aesthetic, and don't be deterred by 'bad' days. The idea is to stay in your practice without attachment to its result; Patanjali gives this instruction in sutra 1.12. Unlike gym days, you can do yoga every day, but be realistic about what you need on that day. For example, if you're heavy in your energy, do a dynamic practice to lift it, but if you're tired in body and restless in mind pick something restorative.
3.It's all about the breath
Yoga asana (postural yoga) is a breath-led practice and the poses themselves are secondary to that. Threading the poses together with steady breath is a key way to prevent injury and also to allow us to access deeper states of relaxation that last beyond the end of our mat time. When we breathe in the heart rate increases, when we breathe out it decreases. Breathing evenly for the time it takes to complete a yoga class gives your body a much easier time maintaining homeostasis, and what's more, you can actually harness the power of your own breath to alchemical effect. If you're spinning out on anxiety, adding more length to the exhale is going to help soothe the nervous system, and if you're hanging in lethargy and depression, filling up more on the inhale will give you the boost you require. The poses provide an environment for you to focus on your breath, so any that take away from that probably aren't for you right now. That isn't to say they won't be at some point, but when you don't breathe fully in a pose you are far more susceptible to injury, and practising at home means that that is an issue you have to reckon with. I recommend starting each practice with a good 3-5 minutes of breathing, either seated or standing. Think of it like setting your metronome for practice.
4.Keep a practice journal
This will give you structure and will allow you to get to know yourself better through the lens of yoga. It also keeps you accountable and honest with yourself and what you'll find is squeezing a little bit of yoga in on a day when you're really busy or just not in the mood is better than not doing it at all. In fact, those practices tend to be the most potent. Writing down how you feel before and after practising is what will keep you coming back. If you would like some inspiration for journalling in this way, use my journal pages:
5.Listen to your body (discomfort vs. pain)
This should really be the first point and I would argue that it is the most important feature of an at-home practice; taking responsibility for your body and its needs is key to the longevity of your yoga. When you're practising in a yoga studio under the watchful eye of a teacher, you feel like a little bit of that responsibility is shared with them, but this is greatly compromised when you're being watched through a tiny square on zoom, and the balance completely switches when you're practising an on-demand class or self-practising alone. It's hard for me to tell you how to listen to your body, because I cannot feel your feelings, physical and beyond, but I can share with you some common signals to look out for when the boundary has been crossed. Before we get into the realm of pain, it's important to note that some degree of discomfort in certain poses is ok and can also be a key teacher. For example, sleeping pigeon presents a challenge to most people's staying power because it asks us to sink into a part of our bodies that is both physically and energetically tender and complex: the hips. If you catch yourself rushing through such poses to get them over with, experiment with staying longer. There are two ways to pass the time when something is tedious; watch the clock and pray for it to end or be present and receive the lesson.
Pain is a strange and sometimes mysterious thing, but whilst everyone's pain threshold is different, there are some key warning signs that it has been crossed. For one, it will be difficult or even impossible to breathe deeply; a sign the nervous system has switched over into fight/flight which is even more problematic because physical tension starts to arise in the body; the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. The Sanskrit word Ahimsa, meaning nonviolence, is key to remember when you do your practice. Ahimsa is widely mentioned throughout a number of traditions: in the yoga sutras it is the first on the code of ethics, in the Upanishads and in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It's also a key tenet of both Buddhism and Jainism So, part of your practice is to learn the difference between discomfort and pain and beyond that, learn whether you are more prone to pushing into intensity or retreating away from it. This will change as you go on your yoga journey. That is why they call it a practice.
You can put these tips to use with the added guidance of my 'Start Today' yoga streaming service, full of classes covering asana, breath, meditation and philosophy. You can try it free using the code STARTTODAY2021, access it here.