How to Cultivate a Home Yoga Practice
As a yoga teacher, I often hear that people want to start a home yoga practice, but they’re not quite sure how to get started. As a military spouse and a mom, I know just how important it is to have a strong home practice to see me through times when I can’t make it to a public class or there’s just not one available. Often, I actually prefer going quietly through the practice of my choice all by myself. Practicing yoga daily helps me maintain my strength and flexibility, and it helps me keep my stress level under control. I definitely notice when I miss a practice so it’s really nice to be able to do it in my own home on my own schedule. Home is on my mat, no matter where I may be.
Set the foundation. If you are an absolute beginner, take some public classes to learn the basics of the language and alignment of yoga. Yoga has its own unique vocabulary, both in English and Sanskrit, so familiarizing yourself with the pose names can really help once you start practicing with videos or books at home. Proper alignment is really important to keep your body safe because there are a lot of repetitive movements in yoga and you want to make sure you’re not putting undue stress on your body. A teacher can help demystify the language for you and help you into the proper alignment as you’re learning the poses. Many studios offer discounts to new students, so sign up for ten days or a month of unlimited yoga and learn all you can. If you can’t get into a public class at all, grab a friend or family member and practice going through basic poses together so you can help each other know when the poses don’t look exactly right. Yoga Journal offers a comprehensive online list of poses including step-by-step instructions, contraindications and cautions, modifications, beginner’s tips, and more helpful information.
Get the gear. If you’ve been practicing in a studio with all the gear and you’re ready to practice at home, it’s time to buy what you need to make your home practice safe and comfortable. At the very least you need a mat. Then add on a block, and a strap. Finally, you might want to add on a second block, a blanket, and a bolster. You can find inexpensive yoga gear at your Exchange, or other discount superstores. Or, if you’re ready to make a bigger investment, you can shop online or at sporting goods stores.
- Yoga mat. Make sure you get a proper yoga mat. Dimensions should be around 24” wide and 72” long or bigger. I’ve been seeing quite a few other styles of mats sneak into the studio that aren’t well suited for yoga. You need it to be sticky so you can maintain a good grip with your hands and feet. You want it to be long enough so you can take a long stance with you feet and still have mat underneath you. And, you want it to be firm enough to balance. Brands like Gaiam, Manduka, Jade, and Lululemon offer a variety of styles and price points.
- Blocks. Blocks offer a great support to your practice to help you build strength and flexibility, and to hold your body weight in restorative poses. You need at least one, but buy a matching set if you can. I prefer the firmness of wood or bamboo blocks, but you could choose the medium firmness of cork, or go for the lighter weight foam blocks which is what you typically find in studios.
- Strap. A yoga strap is great for helping you stretch hamstrings or shoulders or supporting more advanced poses like forearm balance.
- Blanket. A blanket is an underrated prop to have on hand. You can use it to elevate your hips in a seated position, or tuck it under heels, hips, or shoulders in other poses for soft support. It’s also great to throw over you for chilly early morning practices.
- Bolster. I practiced at home for a long time before I invested in a bolster, but I love it for sitting in meditation, supporting my hips in the splits, or lying back in a restorative heart opener.
Dedicate a space. You don’t need a ton of space to practice yoga. You just need room for your mat and to stretch your arms. A clear wall space is nice too for practicing inversions. Beyond the physical space, it’s nice to have a place that’s warm, quiet, and clutter free so you can feel at peace. I have candles, a plant, and a plaque with an inspiring quote in my practice space to make it a place I truly love to be.
Set a time. Make time to practice. I prefer first thing in the morning before my family wakes up and I start feeling the weight of my other responsibilities. But your kids’ nap time, before lunch, or after work might work best for you.
Choose a practice format you like. If you’re experienced enough with yoga, you might find that you can lead yourself through a practice depending on what you feel like doing. I’m a teacher, and I still prefer to have somebody lead me through practice so I can continue learning new things and pushing beyond my comfort zone. Streaming yoga classes online is a great way to find great variety in your practice. Do the free trials at Gaia, Yoga Today, Yoga Glo, and Daily Burn to see what is going to be a good fit for you. Books like Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health and Kathryn Budig’s Big Book of Yoga can help you with a more in depth study of the poses.
What do you love about practicing at home? Or, what is holding you back from practicing at home?