(This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal)
For years, my yoga lesson plans were stuffed with cool sequences and philosophy aperitifs, and I believed I was teaching from the heart. Still, my home practice felt more like I was writing a one-hour script than examining my daily flow of consciousness.
Then came the time when my yoga practice, the very thing I depended on for a clear head and able body, wasn’t fulfilling the contract. My heart was strangely weary, and I felt ungrounded, disconnected, and heavy with sadness. I questioned my teaching, and regrettably, the practice itself.
Everything we need is already inside of us I read one day on social media. I took it as a sign that I needed a better relationship with my yoga – she was, after all, my best friend- and we needed a better way to be together.
The Dreaded Obstacles to Practice. Don’t kid yourself, if you’re human, you’ll find an excuse for not practicing. I’m too tired, I’ll do it before bedtime, my kids, spouses, roommates, or pets are in the way. If you’re looking for more excuses, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are way ahead of you. According to the ancient text written some 1,800 years ago, the main obstacles to practice are illness, misperceptions, mental and physical pain, unsteadiness of the body, doubt, cravings, dullness, laziness, failure, sadness and frustration, and irregular breath.
Frankly, I’ve found myself using every one of these excuses which is like saying I don’t practice yoga because I’m not flexible.
Designing a Practice that Supports Your Needs. A home practice lets you cater to your needs alone. I’m naturally inquisitive, but am not always looking within. I saw that my teachings can’t be helpful to anyone if I don’t actually use them myself.
I now get clear about intentions; I sit for a few minutes and I ask myself questions like Do I want to soothe a busy mind, work out the kinks in my shoulders, or relieve today’s digestion issues?
Building the Practice Habit. To build the habit of practice, I suggest starting with 10 minutes following these three principles: 1. Practice with a calm, conscious breath.; 2. Include a variety of movements.; and 3. Stay mindful of the full yogic experience, following your inner teacher. Soon your daily sadhana will be as automatic as brushing your teeth.
Remembering that it’s your practice, your rules, try these options:
Yoga gear is optional. You can do yoga on a mat, your carpet, or a bare floor. If you don’t have blocks, use books. If you don’t have a strap, use a belt or towel. And BTW, who cares what you wear?
Begin with centering. Sit still, close your eyes, and connect with your body. Drop your sit bones, lift your spine, and relax your face. Breathe, connecting with your physical and mental consciousness. Wait for your inner cue to begin movement.
Include all the movements of the spine. Moving the spine in all directions requires forward bends, backbends, right-side bends, left-side bends, twists to the right, twists to the left, and elongating the spine.
Move slowly, letting your breath be your guide. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn about yourself by simply slowing down.
Give thanks. At the end of your practice, take a few minutes to sit in gratitude for your body, your health, your loved ones, and all the gifts in your life.
Keep It Interesting. If you have just 10 minutes you can maintain a healthy daily yoga ritual at home. Once you’ve established the habit of practicing every day, try a new twist to keep your routine feeling new.
Include pranayama. Start out strong with Bhastrika breath to elevate your energy and productivity of your practice. In a seated pose, exhale and pull the navel center and pelvic muscles in and up; inhale and release the muscles in the pelvic region, widening the belly and back. Continue for 8 to 10 breaths. Within a few breaths, you’ll feel the heat turn on from the solar plexus, the body’s power source.
Learn about the eight limbs of yoga. When you learn that asana is one of eight limbs on the yogic path, you’ll see your practice and your life in a whole new light.
Add music. If you already use music in your practice, try a different kind of music, or subtract the music, and listen to your breath.
Add incense or essential oils. The scent of your environment can alter your emotional state by triggering a pleasant memory. Coconut takes you on an exciting island adventure, vanilla conjures up images of childhood, and lavender calms the nerves before bedtime.
Choose one type of pose. Dedicate your practice to one type of pose such as seated poses, lunge variations, or navel-center work.
Get out of your house. Go to a friend’s house, change rooms, or go to a park or beach. There are thousands of places to practice taking a breath, adding a stretch, and closing your eyes to look within.
They say, the more you practice yoga, the more you’ll want to practice yoga. I discovered that not doing it creates much more suffering than the 10 minutes of actually doing it. Fall in love with taking care of yourself. I can’t think of a better way to start your day and celebrate life.