How to Develop a Home Yoga Practice
I used to think having a home practice meant I had to get up at 4 a.m. to chant mantras, meditate, and practice asana for two hours. I am not a morning person.
Also I love going to public classes. I love learning from different teachers, getting adjustments, and being with community. But there are always days when you just can’t get to your regular class, when you are traveling away from teachers and studios you trust, or maybe you just want to find out what happens when no one is telling you what to do, which is always an interesting experiment.
The first step of developing a home practice is taking the pressure off. You do not need to practice for two hours, you do not need to do anything specific or in any specific order, and you do not need to get up at 4 a.m. Unless, of course, you are a morning person.
Sometimes I make a delicious mess: I put on music I would never play at a studio (hello, Yeah Yeah Yeahs), I jump around my mat exploring transitions and variations, I forget what I’ve done from one side to the other, and I remind myself of the strange dancing caterpillars from my favorite 1974 nature documentary Animals are Beautiful People. Rolling around doing your own wild thing can be highly informative and entertaining.
However, there are several ways to explore a home practice depending on your tendencies and what you need that day. If you are newer to yoga, are unsure of alignment, or want inspiration from experienced teachers, yoga DVDs are great. I also highly recommend My Yoga Online, which has many different teachers and styles of classes including full intermediate practices and 10-minute sequences for when you are short on time.
If you know your basic safe alignment, and find yourself getting impatient with recordings and turning them off halfway through (I am the worst when it comes to that), then you may need to explore your inner wild thing. Put on some music and see what happens.
Need to feel a bit more grounded? It’s easy to create a complete, organized practice yourself. Below, I share my own practice (and teaching) skeleton for a self-designed class. I’ve divided it into ordered “chunks” so you can plug in the specific poses you want to work on. As always, check with your doctor before you try any new kind of exercise, and I recommend these poses only if you know how to do them safely.
Chunk No. 1: Sun Salutations
Sun Salutations warm up the body, get the blood moving, and prepare you for the more intense poses that will come later. There are many kinds of Sun Salutations, so do the one you like or know best.
Chunk No. 2: Core
Throw it in there, even if it’s just one plank pose held for five breaths. This helps wake up the inner body, which will support you through what comes next.
Chunk No. 3: Standing Series: Open Hips
Link together a few “open hip” poses. These include Warrior 2, Side Angle pose, Triangle pose, Goddess pose, and Tree pose. A good general rule is to link no more than three poses before you do them on the other side. If you like, you can add a Vinyasa in between, or reset with Downward Dog or Tadasana for a few breaths.
Chunk No. 4: Standing Series: Neutral Hips
“Neutral hip” poses include Warrior 1, lunges, Pyramid Pose, Warrior 3, and standing splits. Chunks No. 3 and No. 4 can be reversed; it’s useful to consider what you plan to do next. Does your “peak” pose, if you are doing one (see No. 5), have neutral or open hips? Usually inversions and backbends have neutral hip rotation, and it can help to do poses in a similar orientation right before your peak.
Chunk No. 5: Peak
This is also the energetic “peak” of your practice, which could mean anything: perhaps a challenging pose you’ve been working up to, or simply the end of the standing series. There’s no need to focus on a specific pose unless you want to.
Chunk No. 6: Backbends
Backbends feel so good after working the hips and core in the previous poses. I would recommend cooling down right after backbends partly because their adrenal squeeze will give you a rush of energy, and then, often, jelly legs. Inversions like headstand, for example, are generally safer before deep backbends.
Chunk No. 7: Transitional poses
Neutralize your spine before you go anywhere else. Happy Baby pose, supine or seated twists, and Child’s pose are great.
Chunk No. 8: Cool down
I have a sequencing theory that I call “Teaching as Storytelling.” As part of that theory, I call this part of class the “denouement,” which is a narrative term that literally means the “untying of knots.” Here, through cooling and calming poses, we can release any tension we may have cultivated and reset the nervous system. Some examples of calming poses are forward folds, seated or supine hip openers, and shoulderstand if you are comfortable with it.
Chunk No. 9: Savasana
This is the most important aspect of any yoga practice. Savasana processes and integrates all the work you’ve done, and releases whatever needs letting go. Set a timer for at least five minutes and enjoy a well-earned rest!
Remember that your home practice is your own personal laboratory, and you’ll develop your own style as you go. Home practice is a precious opportunity to have fun, get to know your body and your mind better, and, if necessary, roll around doing your own wild thing.