If you can’t make it to yoga class, practicing on your own can still get results.
by Heather Larson
The potential benefits of yoga are numerous. They range from help with weight loss, stress reduction and increased flexibility to management of health conditions such as pain, depression
However, limiting the amount of time you spend practicing yoga to just the time you spend in a weekly yoga class can curb your ability to get everything you possibly can from this ancient practice. Diligently cultivating a home routine speeds up and deepens yoga’s ability to enhance your well-being.
Yoga teachers, at least the ones interviewed for this story, hope you’ll practice at home in addition to attending group sessions. But if taking a class doesn’t work with your schedule or if you’ve taken classes and feel you know the basics, practicing yoga at home is better than avoiding the mat altogether.
“Practicing at home is tremendously beneficial because it allows the practitioner to cater to their own needs,” says Nancy Gerstein, RYT, author of Guiding Yoga’s Light: Lessons for Yoga Teachers (Human Kinetics). “You can move at your own pace and create a practice that best suits your needs at the moment.”
If you are new to yoga it’s strongly recommended that you take at least one basic class in a gentle style, such as Ananda or Viniyoga, to find out the correct way to do the poses and how you can modify them if you need to. To find a yoga teacher, try contacting a local gym or search online.
Feeling Better, Spending Less
Jill Kinney, PhD, a psychologist who practices yoga at home in Tacoma, Washington, says she’s stronger because of it and spends far less time in pain. “By doing yoga four to five times a week at home, I’ve learned what it’s like to be pain-free despite a long, daunting list of things wrong with my back,” Kinney says.
Besides the physical benefits, a home practice helps keep your expenses down. What’s more, you also save time, says Gerstein. There’s no traveling to and from the studio and you decide when to start, for how long, and how often to practice.
“With a daily practice you get the full benefits of yoga,” says Jeni Martinez, ERYT, co-owner of Three Trees Yoga and Healing Arts Center in Federal Way, Washington. “You’ll have more energy, more grace to meet challenges and better health, and be more patient.”
Starting and maintaining any new health regimen, including a yoga practice, can be challenging. Some obstacles you might face include carving the time out of an already overloaded schedule, finding the appropriate space in your home and freeing yourself from distractions. But these impediments can all be overcome with a little effort.
Martinez suggests scheduling a time for yoga sessions on your calendar just as you do with practitioner appointments. “I prefer doing it first thing in the morning when the house is quiet, but there is no right or wrong time,” she says.
It’s preferable to have a dedicated place within your home where you can leave your mat out and whatever other equipment you like to use. If that’s not possible, though, don’t let it stop you. Martinez once lived in a house where the only space that worked was in front of her refrigerator. She says she eventually even made peace with the refrigerator noise.
When you’ve decided on a time and a place, make it interruption-free. Turn off phones, computers and other devices so you don’t hear e-mails coming in. Get creative. If your dog sees yoga as playtime, get up earlier than the dog or make sure he’s entertained with a toy. Find a time when your children are focused on something else.
You don’t really need anything or any special clothing, says Martinez, who practices at home in her pajamas. But some equipment is nice to have.
Gerstein says a beginner can get by with a yoga mat plus one or two blocks (made of either foam or cork) and a strap, which help make it easier to hold certain poses correctly.
A more advanced practitioner might want a sandbag to place on the stomach or thighs for grounding during relaxation time, blankets for warmth or to use as a cushion, and an eye pillow to block out light during relaxation.
Whether you play music in the background or not, and the style of music you use, is your choice. However, Judith Lasater, PhD, PT, author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times (Rodmell Press), does not recommend practicing yoga to music. She believes your practice should be internal—just you and your breath, body and mind.
Practicing in silence is beneficial because you focus inward and listen to your inner wisdom, says Martinez, although some zippy, uptempo music might get you going if you’re lacking in energy.
Home Yoga Basics
Before you begin each day’s yoga session decide exactly what you want to accomplish. Do you need an energy boost, stress reduction or an uplift in mood? The idea is to then select poses that will help you reach your desired goal.
What you do in your practice depends on the type of yoga you prefer, but Gerstein suggests some must-dos for everyone:
• Start by centering yourself. Sit still, close your eyes, breathe and connect with your physical and mental consciousness. Wait for your inner cue to begin movements.
• Keep your practice short to begin with and make it a habit.
• Move slowly and let your breath be your guide. You learn about yourself by simply slowing down.
• Practice poses you love—and hate. Challenge yourself.
• Spend at least three minutes in relaxation (savasana) before transitioning back into your day.
• Give thanks at the end of your practice for your body, your loved ones, the gift of food, shelter and clothing, and for being alive and able to experience it all for one more day.
Yoga is called a practice because that’s what needs to happen, says Lasater. You receive guidance at a class, but the real work happens at home. “At a class you’re doing their practice,” she notes. “Make the practice your own.”