The Beginner’s Guide to Home Yoga Practice

Yoga Practice

The Beginner’s Guide to Home Yoga Practice
Creating a home yoga practice is easier than you think. Learn how to overcome the top 3 hurdles and keep your practice fresh for years to come. Plus: a 10-minute practice.

by Kate Hanley

When I first started yoga, I never considered practicing on my own until a teacher introduced the concept one day in class. “If you’re scared of coming up into headstand,” she casually mentioned, “you can work on it at home.”

Wait. There’s homework in yoga?! Was this something I had to do? Would I fail if I didn’t? And what exactly would I do on the mat if I were left to my own devices? How could I cook up a practice on my own that would compare with the sequences we did in class? Confused, I ignored the seeds my teacher sprinkled.

If you want to build a consistent home practice, start by choosing four or five poses that feel great, so you’ll feel compelled (rather than obligated) to roll out your mat.
My doubts were by no means unique. The biggest misconception people have about a home practice, according to San Francisco–based yoga teacher Jason Crandell, “is they think it should have the same degree of intensity and be as long as a regular class.” Not only is this thinking not true, he says, it can sabotage a person’s efforts to establish a home practice.

“It’s a lot like cooking,” says Crandell. “Sure, you could make restaurant-caliber food for every meal, but a piece of peanut butter toast now and then will also sustain you quite nicely.” In the spirit of creating a peanut-butter-toast practice of your very own, I’ve put together some guidelines to help you overcome the three biggest hurdles we all face: complacency (how to make yourself actually do it); fear (what to do once you commit to start); and busyness (how to find the time).

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4 Reasons to Start a Home Practice

A quick tour through the benefits of establishing a regular (meaning you do it more days than you don’t) home yoga practice should motivate you to get started:

1. Self-knowledge.

“Practicing on your own helps you learn to self-regulate and self-soothe,” Crandell says. “It’s like driving your own car versus being chauffeured—when you’re driving, you have a greater responsibility to pay attention and to choose where you’re going and to respond to what happens as you travel along.”

2. Self-help.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get at assessing how you feel, so when you first come to the mat, you can choose a practice that counterbalances whatever’s going on—mentally, physically, and emotionally.

3. Self-indulgence.

How many other endeavors allow you to do whatever you darn well please? “Practicing on your own is so indulgent,” Crandell says. “You can take anywhere from 2 to 90 minutes and do whatever you want at whatever pace, tone, and intensity you choose.”

4. Exponential growth.

“When you practice regularly, the effects of each session don’t have a chance to wear off before you come back to the mat,” says Cyndi Lee, a New York City–based yoga teacher and founder of OM Yoga Center. “That consistency offers benefits that double and then double again.”

Not bad for something you can do in your living room without spending a dime. Yet even the biggest dose of inspiration won’t make your home practice a reality if you aren’t also armed with a few guidelines to dispel the fear that you won’t be doing it right.

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How to Design a Home Yoga Practice

These six tips can help you chart a course for your home practice and give you the confidence that you do, in fact, know what you’re doing. They also provide the means to keep your practice fresh, so that you don’t have to resort to doing the same handful of poses over and over (unless you want to, of course—it is your home practice, after all).

Start with quiet.

Before you dive into a sun salutation or a specific pose, start in a comfortable seated position or even in corpse pose, suggests Amy Pearce-Hayden, RYT, founder of The YogaScape and Spa in Carmel, New York, and—a website geared toward yogis practicing on their own at home. “When you begin with stillness, you can see how your body and mind feel and then decide what to do based on that,” she says.

Pick a direction.

This should depend on how you feel. If you’re tired and pressed for time, choose a short restorative practice. If you’re raring to go, opt for a more vigorous practice. If you need grounding and stability, focus on standing poses. If you need energy, incorporate backbends. “The more you use your practice to take care of your immediate needs, the more strength and energy you’ll have in the long run,” Crandell says.

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