Whether you are participating in a teacher-led online class, or practicing on your own through a self-led practice, there are many benefits of practicing at home. Being in your own personal space without preoccupations about others watching you can mean that your practice is much more intimate and focused. The comfort and convenience of being able to roll out your mat wherever you are, without the stress and time drain of having to travel to class, means that maintaining a regular and more frequent yoga practice is much more achievable. You can be spontaneous; fitting in a practice when you have a window of time that suits you, or when you feel that your body and mind needs it.
I refer to this all the time, but it’s important to understand that the benefits of yoga come from consistent practice over time. Simply put, the more you practice, the greater the impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain can transform through the practice of meditation, building equanimity and reduced reactivity in response to adverse situations. But to rewire the brain it takes time; the more you practice the more resilient you become. Similarly, progress with your physical yoga practice comes from repetition; only by practicing the techniques and poses consistently over time will you see improvement in your strength, flexibility and ability to execute a pose.
Going to class once a week is great. Any yoga is better than no yoga. But if you can increase the frequency by integrating yoga into your daily life – even if that’s just ten minutes of meditation or a fifteen minute wind down stretch at the end of the day – you’re giving yourself the best chance of being a more emotionally balanced and resilient, stronger, more mobile, happier, healthier you.
So, here are my top tips for practicing at home:
1. FIND A TEACHER
Find a teacher with whom you can practice with at home, whether that’s through a live class or an on-demand pre-recorded class (or a mixture of both, if possible). Even if you have your own self-led practice, it’s still valuable to have access to a teacher to guide and inspire you. I have my own self-led practice but I still enjoy being led by my teacher via his on-demand classes on a regular basis; it allows me to switch off and prompts enquiry, growth and adds a richness to my practice.
2. CREATE YOUR PRACTICE SPACE
Firstly, let’s acknowledge that when you are practicing at home, there may be more distractions than when you are in a class, and maintaining focus may be more challenging. So, find a place which is easily accessible (e.g. so you don’t need to move furniture) and away from distractions. Tell your family or housemates that you are shutting yourself away to practice for thirty minutes so that they will leave you in peace (hopefully!). You need enough space for your mat and enough clearance away from furniture so that you won’t bash into things. However, you don’t need acres of space. I practice in my bedroom, at the end of the bed. It’s not a huge space but it’s enough for me to move freely and safely, and importantly, it’s away from distractions and easily accessible. Once you’ve found your place, you might like to add items to create a calm and nourishing environment; you could light candles (I love St Eval candles) or use an oil diffuser. You could play music too.
3. HAVE THE EQUIPMENT YOU NEED, OR IMPROVISE, AND MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE
Make sure that all of your equipment is easily accessible. If it’s tucked away at the back of your cupboard then getting it out every time is going to be a barrier. It’s best to use a mat (I love lululemon’s 5mm reversable mat). I’m a big advocate of using props too. For an asana practice that might be two bricks for your hands, a big block to sit on, a belt and a blanket. For Restorative Yoga you might have a bolster, blankets and an eye pillow too. For meditation you might have a cushion or a block to sit on. I get my yoga props from Yogamatters. But, fear not. If you don’t have these things you can always improvise; hardback books, biscuit jars and resistance bands all work just as well, so be resourceful!
4. WEAR COMFORTABLE CLOTHING
The great news is, you don’t need to make any effort to prepare for your home practice. When you are practicing at home, anything goes! Pyjamas, sweatpants, or your best leggings – it doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you feel comfortable and able to move freely.
5. MAKE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE A HABIT
Try to shift your perspective so that you view your yoga practice as a priority and integrate it into your life as a habit. According to James Clear in his book Atomic Habits “A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. Your identity emerges out of your habits. Your habits are how you embody your identity. Every action is a vote for the type of person you want to become.” By making your yoga practice a habit, being a yoga practitioner can become part of your identity, helping you to automatically make more positive choices, to believe in your ability to accomplish things and to help you to become the type of person you wish to be. I’d highly recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear if you’d like to learn more about this topic.
In order to integrate yoga into your life as a habit, you may find it useful to create an intention so that it’s an obvious and committed part of your schedule. A simple way to do this is to allocate time in your diary. You can book onto a live class in order to allocate time, but if you are following an on-demand class or you are practicing by yourself then you might find it useful to schedule this yourself, as if you are creating a meeting with yourself and your mat. For example, “Starting from 1st August, I will practice yoga at 6.30pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after I get home from work and before I have dinner”. This obvious cue will create structure and commitment from which you can build your practice habit. If you miss a session, make sure that you never miss two sessions in a row. If you have young children and struggle to find ‘alone’ time at home, scheduling time and asking someone to take care of them at this consistent time every week may help you to find a routine.
6. SHIFT YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF TIME
It’s important to be disciplined with keeping to your practice commitment, but be flexible, not rigid, with your expectations of the duration. Your home practice doesn’t need to be an hour every day (mine rarely is!). A short practice is better than nothing. If you are short on time, commit to just ten minutes. Ten minutes on your mat is better than zero minutes. Get on your mat and do it! I often find that when I only plan to spend ten minutes on my mat, it ends up as being twenty minutes, so set the bar low and see where that takes you. Remember that the more frequently you practice, the greater the impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Repetition is key, so a short practice is better than nothing.
7. DO WHAT YOU LOVE
This is YOUR practice. This is YOUR free time. Make sure you enjoy it. Practice at home with the teacher that you love. When you are doing a self-led practice, do the poses that you love, and the poses that make you feel good. There is no wrong or right, and you shouldn’t feel that you are obliged to do any particular pose. You have the freedom to use your time on your mat in the way that you want to. If you do what you love, you’ll love what you do, and that will motivate you to make more time for your practice.
8. CELEBRATE YOUR WINS!
It’s nourishing to reflect on how your practice is progressing. Whether that’s taking stock of how much more focused your mind is when you are meditating, how much stronger you feel in plank, or your progress with balancing in handstand, take time to consider how far you have come. You might also like to reflect on how your practice has impacted you on personal level; perhaps you’ve seen a change in your confidence, in your ability to remain calm and balanced in the face of adversity, or in your general outlook on life. You might like to do this by keeping a journal, by writing a blog, sharing your experiences with your yoga community or simply by giving yourself a pat on the back from time to time.