There is something very special about practicing yoga with a group of people. Even if I don't know anyone in the room, connecting my breath with the larger group is both enlivening and grounding. Practicing in a larger group setting has many benefits - community, motivation and inspiration, connection - all great things! And, it wasn't until I started to cultivate a home practice that I tuned in to my body in a whole new way. I want to share how my home practice came about, how it's evolved over the years, and steps you can take to create your own home practice.
I remember one of the very first classes I did was with Jillian Michaels. I did the DVD class with a college roommate and I remember Jillian Michaels saying something like "get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable". Her classes were definitely a mix of yoga and fitness, but I was already in the fitness world, so it was an easy entry to the yoga world. I started my studio routine with classes at the YMCA, LifeTime Fitness, and various yoga studios in the Twin Cities. I eventually found Minnesota Power Yoga (MPY). Like most things in life, I followed this calling and after taking just one class at MPY I signed up for the Yoga Teacher Training. One thing lead to another and I was eventually teaching 2-3 times a week and taking classes 5-7 times a week. I loved practicing in a heated studio with a vibrant and friendly community.
Fast-forward a few years of following this routine and I began to feel burnt out. This practice that I was dedicated to and loved so dearly was causing me physical pain. I wanted something slower, cooler, something steady.
I began my search and found another studio that seemed to have everything I was looking for. I started practicing there and (again) quickly enrolled in a program. The infamous 9-month yoga studies program with Ben Vincent. During this program, Ben encouraged us to practice yoga at home. He suggested that if we were only practicing yoga in a studio then we might be hiding from something. I was intrigued. What was I hiding from...?
He gave us tools and advice when creating a home practice. He suggested that meditation should remain the same for at least 40 days but that our yoga practice could be tailored to our needs for the day. Taking his advice I set out to create a home practice that I could commit to for 5 days a week.
Initially, I did try to implement this routine every day but I realized that by practicing 7 days a week I would lose out on slow weekend mornings, getting up and going out to coffee or morning plans with friends. It felt freeing to give myself some time away from yoga just as much as it did to commit to the practice. I played around with the duration of my time on the mat as well. Some days I would practice for 15 minutes and some days I would go for an hour. The more I practiced at home, the less I cared about practicing in a studio. I was learning to listen to what my body wanted and to follow that lead rather than the lead of an instructor.
Over time my practice blossomed into something very natural, peaceful, and something that I craved. I would wake up every morning just before the sun. I would do my morning rituals (more on Ayurveda and my morning ritual here) and then begin my yoga practice. I would end with chanting, breathwork, and meditation. This was my routine for many moons and the more I did it, the more it would offer. It wasn't always the easy choice but I knew that starting my day with this practice would set me up for a brighter day.
I learned to change my practice for my day and for the season. I have since changed it many times. I currently have an 11-month-old baby boy and he is my priority. When I was pregnant with him I was craving a new way of moving. I wanted something tailored to a woman's body, a pregnant body. My practice yet again shifted and I found myself doing in-person and online Zoom classes through Blooma. Yoga again met me where I was at and I wept with gratitude. I learned new movements and a new flow. This felt SO GOOD! I had no idea all of these new movements could offer a feminine approach to yoga while helping to prepare my body for birth. I did a few postures every night before bed and in the morning would alternate between strength work and yoga. This shift once again felt right.
As the birth of my son approached I stopped any weight training, focused on yoga, and long walks. My yoga practices were short at this point and sometimes were just a few movements before bed. Once my son arrived earthside my practice again shifted. Time in movement, especially in those first few weeks was minimal. I had a few go-to stretches but my focus was on rest.
The postpartum stage was very uneventful for us. We cozied up at home, had amazing meals delivered to our door, and spent the majority of the day just staring at our sweet baby boy. The first six weeks went by and I received the clearance to add in movement, I started slow. I wanted guidance and turned to One Strong Mama. Slowly but surely my ability to do more grew, my strength came back and it was time to create a routine that could continually adapt to my ever-changing needs. It started small with 2 days a week and grew to 3 dedicated days a week. I incorporated both strength work and yoga. The other 4 days of the week I made an assessment of my day and potentially would add a yoga practice during my son's first nap. But sometimes he would need support during his snooze and my practice would get cut short. I would go to hold him and comfort him back to sleep and sometimes I was able to sneak away but more often than not he would need more snuggles. And that's the way it was for 10ish months.
Now, as I am building my business and my son's ability to nap on his own grows, I do have more time for yoga. Initially, this returning to a more dedicated practice felt very overwhelming. I felt like I had lost all of these tools I had gained along the way, these tools that I had spent thousands of dollars on.. But after a week or so of more intentional time on my mat and a few good conversations with family and friends, I am reminded (once again!) of just how precious this practice is.
I share all of this because this practice has constantly evolved and changed over the years to meet me where I am at, to offer new tools for the stage of life I am in and it is always there for me. I don't need much to practice yoga but the practice of yoga has given me so much!
Here are some tools I have found along my journey to be the most beneficial and true when creating an at home yoga practice:
- Practice in the morning. By practicing first thing in the morning I was able to remove any distractions and wake up my body with movement. I intentionally start my day rather than hoping I would get to practice in the afternoon. Today, I practice either during my son's first nap or after everyone in the house is up so that my husband can watch our son. I have also done yoga with my baby but find that fills a different cup.
- Start small. If all you have time for is one round of a sun salutation, then start there! Starting small allows you to be realistic, it is less daunting and it is easier to form a habit.
- Have a dedicated space. It doesn't have to be an entire room with an elaborate alter but ideally, you have a space where you can practice without interruptions. A space where you can lay your mat and maybe even light a candle.
- Create a ritual. You could follow a ritual or literally make up your own. Listen to what resonates with you. For me, I think of my senses. I light a candle, maybe some incense, a diffuser, or essential oil. I have my water or maybe a warm tea. In the winter I wear cozy socks or soft sweaters. Sometimes I will listen to music, but other times I will invite in silence. Whatever speaks to you, add it in, but again start small.
- Stick to the basics. Rely on the fundamental yoga postures and focus on a smooth and steady inhale and exhale. Allow the breath to guide the postures.
- Invite in play and curiosity. Maybe this means you listen to music that makes you feel good, or that you add in dancing. Make the practice feel good for your body!
- Take time for stillness. Both within your yoga flow and afterward. During your flow pause in postures like warrior 1 or 2 and hold for 5 breaths. Root down through your feet as your rise and reach up. As you hold relax the muscles of the face let go of any unnecessary tension. After your practice take time for savasana. Ideally, you are resting for 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of movement. Asana is often interchanged with movement or flow, but that is incorrect. Asana actually translates to a sitting down or meditation seat.
Below is a sequence I frequently turn to for my morning practice. The practice takes about 20 minutes to complete. Enjoy!
Childs pose. Take 3 breaths to ground, inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Pause for a few additional breaths. Create length in your spine by sinking your hips to your heels and extending your hands to the top of your mat. Rock your forehead side to side, massaging your temples. Bring attention to your breath and bring ease and steadiness.
Table top. Option to add in any organic movement - sway the hips, release your head, neck, and jaw. Or stay in stillness.
Move dynamically and with the breath from tabletop to child's pose and back for a few rounds. Let the breath start and end the movement. Let it feel good.
Downward facing dog. Spread your fingers wide, lifting the hips up and back while allowing your heels to sink down towards your mat. Feel free to bend at the knee, pedaling out the legs. Or stay in stillness
Move dynamically from downward dog to tabletop with the breath for at least 3 rounds.
Downward dog. Find stillness. Find the breath. Relax any unnecessary tension.
Mountain pose. Option to add in agni sara.
Sun A 2-3 times. Cobra, upward facing dog or holding high plank are all great options for vinyasa.
Crescent lunge w back knee down. Dynamic movement between crescent and half splits. Add an open twist (from runners lunge) and repeat on the other side.
Warrior 1. Raise and lower the arms with the breath while moving through a front leg extension and back with a bent knee. Pause in warrior 1 for 3-5 breaths.
Open to warrior 2. Move dynamically between warrior 2 and extension of both legs while reaching the arms up toward the sky on inhale and exhale back to warrior 2. Land in warrior 2 and hold for 3-5 breaths.
Triangle pose. Ground down into the feet. Bring awareness to the space between both right and left hand. Use the strength of your legs and your core to support your upper body.
Step back to downward facing dog. Repeat the warrior and triangle sequence on the other side.
Mountain pose. Feel the cumulative effects of practice. Enjoy the stillness for a few breaths.
High plank to side plank. Drawing energy in towards the navel. Side plank option to extend the arm overhead making a rainbow shape with your body.
Table top to childs pose, gather the breath. Move dynamically from childs pose to table top 3-5 times, ending in child’s pose.
Take any final postures before savasana. Seated forward fold, a twist, bridge, happy baby all good options.
Savasana. Minimum of 3 - 5 minutes.