The Liberated Life Guide: How to Practice Yoga at Home
This guest post is written by Marianne Elliott and is part of
the Liberated Life Project series on awareness practices.
For a guide to the other posts in this series, see this article.
For the past three years I’ve been teaching people how to start (or restart) their own regular home yoga practice. I teach this because I believe that a regular personal yoga practice – something that we can do alone, wherever we are, whenever we need it – is much more valuable than a weekly yoga class at a studio or gym.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with those classes, in fact they are very valuable as well. But they do not – and cannot, by their nature – give you the same chance to get to know and make peace with yourself that you’ll get from a home yoga practice.
Practicing yoga at home is really, as Maia has said herself, practicing the art of being human. Whatever we do while we are on our yoga mat is a chance to find out more about how we respond to different situations, and to practice meeting ourselves with kindness and equanimity in all those different places.
What we do on our yoga mat, while clearly of benefit in it’s own right, is perhaps more importantly a practice for what we do off the mat.
So how can you go about starting (and sustaining) your own home yoga practice? After helping more than 1000 people do just that, I’ve come up with the following five top tips.
1. Start now
The key to establishing a new habit is to do it. Sounds obvious, but in reality I find we try to make it much more complicated. We tell ourselves that we need some new equipment or clothing or a special space. We think we need to wait for the perfect time. And all those things become ways to stay in our resistance. We don’t do what we really want to do, because we have convinced ourselves we are not yet ready.
I can tell you right now, with absolute certainty, you are ready to start a home yoga practice right now. You don’t need a new mat. You don’t need a mat at all. You don’t need lycra pants. You don’t need a yoga room. You don’t need to wait until after your sister’s wedding, or until your youngest starts at daycare.
You can start today. And my next tip will tell you how.
2. Start small
One of the second common ways I see people sabotaging their home yoga practice is by telling themselves that they need to do at least 60 minutes of asana practice every day, and that it has to happen first thing in the morning.
Excuse my French, but it’s bullshit. It’s resistance, fear and doubt dressed up as perfectionism. And it’s not true.
Your home yoga practice can be ten minutes of seated meditation. Or three sun salutes. You can us those 15 minutes sitting in your car waiting for the school pick up to do some pranayama (breathing).
When we are scared (of failing, of change) or unsure, we often create false barriers for ourselves. “I can’t do it because …”
The best way to get past those barriers is often simply to lower them.
So you don’t have time for a 60 minute practice? No problem, commit to five minutes every day instead.
Maia said “The what of the practice is not as important as the how,” and I would add that the how is much more important than the ‘how much’.
3. Start where you are
This is at the very core of my approach to practicing and teaching yoga – meet yourself where you are, not where you think you ought to be. Are you feeling cranky? Irritable? Exhausted? Tense? Scattered? Start there.
You don’t have to ‘fix’ yourself before you do yoga. It seems obvious when I say it, but you might be surprised to notice how often we think we have to be ‘calm’ or ‘flexible’ before we can do yoga.
Yoga will meet you wherever you are, if you are willing to meet yourself there too.
Start where you are. You’ll end up in the same place (since wherever you go, there you are) but you might feel quite differently about it by then.
4. Start with something you like
This is what one of my students called my ‘start with dessert’ approach to yoga sequencing. It’s not a particularly traditional approach, but if it helps you get started on a regular home yoga practice then it gets my tick of approval.
If you find you are resisting getting on your yoga mat because the sun salutes at the beginning of your practice intimidate you, but you love standing poses or tree pose or forward beds or savasana, start with what you love.
Start with your yogic dessert. And then if you want to do more, great. But even if you don’t, you have done something. And as I said in tip #1 above – starting is the most important part of forming a new habit.
5. And above all, be kind
When I’m working with students who are giving themselves a hard time because they haven’t been practicing as much as they planned to, I tell them to imagine themselves as a child who is trying something new – like riding a bike.
Every time the child tries to ride the bike someone starts telling her that she’s not doing it right. She’s wobbling too much, or going too slow. They laugh at her when she falls off and tell her she’ll never be able to ride as well as the professional cyclists she sees whizzing past. And so she stops trying. When she gets the chance to get back on the bike she resists.
If you wanted to help that child get back on her bike, would you do it by telling her she’s lazy? That she’s letting herself down by not trying harder? Or would you do it with kindness? Would you assure her that everyone starts out wobbly, and everyone falls off their bikes sometimes.
My guess is that you’d choose kindness. So that’s what I ask you to choose for yourself.
Remember that every time you get on your yoga mat you are pushing at the edge of your comfort zone, and so your inner critic – whose job it is to keep you well within the safe walls of your comfort zone – gets very loud. If you notice what you say to yourself as you first start to practice yoga you may be surprised at just how mean your inner voice can be.
So you are like that little girl, too scared to get on her bike.
So choose kindness. Meet yourself with kindness. And gently, gently – ease yourself back onto the mat with assurances that there is nothing wrong with falling over, with a promise to meet yourself wherever you are, and with the knowlege that even a tiny little bit is better than nothing at all.
If you like the sound of my approach to home yoga, and you think you might like a little bit more support to establish your own home yoga practice, you might be interested in my 30 Days of Yoga courses – which are designed to get you up and running with your own home yoga. The next course begins on 15 October and registration is open now.
Marianne Elliott is a writer, human rights advocate and yoga teacher. She created the 30 Days of Yoga courses to help people develop a home practice that would help them stay well while they do their good work in the world. She’s the author of Zen Under Fire, a memoir about her work with the United Nations in Afghanistan.