‘[Your yoga practice is] what you do when no one else is looking’
Georg Feuerstein, quoted in ‘Embodying the Yoga Sutra’ by Ranju Roy and David Charlton
Starting a home practice is something many find onerous, however over the years this private practice becomes a real sanctuary. We might lack confidence with memorising set sequences (as in Ashtanga) or devising intelligent sequences of our own. We might take some time to cultivate our interceptive awareness of how things, which we need to practice with wisdom and intuition – honouring what is right for us each day, which will always be a little different. We may suffer with the distractions of the home setting or struggle to find time and space.
When I first began establishing my daily practice I was in my early 20s and it was a private practice without a teacher. At home I would light candles, ready myself and my space and sometimes I would get no further than sitting on my mat. This was my minimum practice – get on the mat, even if it was just to observe my mind’s indecision process about whether to move. I would do this in a steady seated posture with breath and a sense that I was not the thoughts that manifest to cloud my deeper self. Slowly I would ease myself in and after some time, this obstinacy of my reluctant mind subsided and practice came with greater ease and joy.
When and Where?
1. Create a space at home as best you. If it is possible leave a cushion or rug in your sacred spot, preferably a clean, tended space. I like to mop my floor with essential oils, I sage the space and light candles in it regularly. If it is possible, find somewhere quiet; at best, somewhere that is not used for anything else to you can start to build the steady meditative energy of that spot.
2. Use the same mat, shawl, mala, props, yantra or effigies of deities, gongs, incense every time. You begin to associate them with a quieter mind and so they slowly help to induce that mental stillness; meditation is what I do when I smell, see, hear, feel these things. Elements of ritual can bring the sense of the sacred to practice – lighting candles, chants, sound bath and invocation.
3. If you can, rise a little earlier and practice in the morning so that your mind is clear of thoughts from your day, others in your house are not awake or moving around and there are no excuses. The time just before it gets light is particularly magical as the darkness brings a sense of steady quiet. In India this is sacred time – Brahma Muhurta
4. It is suggested not to eat before you practice, but you might find a little sweet tea or a morsel helps you to rise at six or your chosen early time in the beginning. This need might fall away with time.
5. Practising with others sometimes can be wonderful to get you on your mat alone. When we practice with others the shared breath and energy is invigorating, if you can, get others to practice with you by forming a self practice group at someone’s house or by getting someone to come to you now and then. Remember you don’t need to pay to practice, practice is free.
6. Keep going to classes and workshops, especially in the beginning too if this helps you. You will have to find a teacher who you respect and who understands your desire to self practice. You might have one to ones or go to class, then take some of the gems that you found there into your private practice. A compassionate teacher’s wisdom can help us break our less positive home habits and routines.
1. Start with the rule to get on your mat at home every day. Even if you don’t do much when you get there, this forms the routine. You might sit, meditate, chant, do pranayama, do restorative postures or a longer asana practice. You might do nothing. However, arriving on your mat every day is a potent step into your quiet space.
2. In the same vein, raising your arms high to urdhva hastasana (arms/hands up) with an inhale and then bowing to uttanasana (intense forward fold) on a long slow exhale is a Vinyasa practice; three of these every day will change how you feel. Start small and try not to put an optimal duration on what you are doing, just go to the mat and see what comes.
3. If you are an Ashtangi and you need a nudge there are many primary series recordings. Just listen to the audio of the breath and count and let this move you. With other practice styles as well, audio recordings are better for meditation than video. If you are using video put the screen away from the top of your mat so you don’t look to it unless you need to. Listen for the cues and see if the voice can guide you.
4. If it helps to quiet your mind, you might play music without lyrics, or recordings of nature sounds or chanting. Choose something that still allows your attention to be primarily with your breath.
5. Honour your own daily needs by opening with a period of checking in; see what the body needs that day. Maybe it is a restorative or nidra practice rather than a strong Vinyasa or Ashtanga practice.
6. Always have a period of extended sitting and or a long Savasana. If you are like me, these are sometimes the most challenging areas of your practice to settle into. However, you lose a lot of the benefits if you do not let the body absorb the fruits of moving meditation by dissolving into stillness. The parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s ability to relax and restore, replenishes the body in savasana.
1. Your home practice is where you consolidate what you learn, where you listen to your own body and where you discipline yourself to make time for these moments of quiet. This makes it very valuable not just in itself but for what it can teach you about other aspects of life.
2. It is humbling. You are not performing for anyone. This practice is truly just for you.
3. It is free! You do not need to pay teachers or get fancy gear. This is hugely beneficial and it is all yours for free.
4. All our teachers become redundant in the end; once we learn what we need to from them we move on. The Guru dwells at the very seat of our own hearts. If we practice sravana (deep listening) we will hear her.
Enjoy your home practice!