Posted by: Yoga in Borve | August 21, 2016

Developing a personal yoga practice

What is a personal yoga practice? Who can do it? How do you go about developing a home practice?

After a certain amount of time attending yoga classes, many people start asking themselves these questions. Of course, there are others who are more than happy to keep yoga as something they are taught, in a group, usually once a week.  Which is fine. There are also people who practise yoga at home right from the start without thinking twice about it – maybe even before they’ve been to a single class. And that’s also fine. This post, though, is for the people who are intrigued by the idea of doing yoga outside a taught environment, but feel unsure how to go about it.

Yoga in Borve garden

A home practice can be outside too…about once a year, if you live in Skye!

Personally, I liked the idea of doing yoga myself at home from a young age.  I was never too worried about what to do: in those pre-YouTube times I simply bought a few books and worked from them.  And I was never worried about doing it ‘wrong’ or hurting myself, because I’d been to a lot of classes before the urge to practise at home arose, and I also knew I wasn’t the type to force my body into anything too ambitious.  But I really struggled with creating the time and space to develop a consistent practice.  I would do yoga at home for a while, sometimes daily, but it was difficult simply to make myself start, even though I knew I always felt better for it afterwards.  I came up with endless excuses to procrastinate (too busy, back too sore, too tired to get up this early today, too full of food, not enough space in this room, got-this-one-thing-I-really-have-to-finish-first…) and I spent literally years in an ‘off & on’ relationship with yoga classes and home practice.

What changed things for me was firstly I moved to an area with very little yoga – one great teacher, but her two classes were not on all year round and I couldn’t always make it on the evenings that classes did run.  Secondly, going through a number of stressful events (moving, changing career, undergoing emergency major surgery, renovating a house, ending a 9 year relationship) in the course of a year, along with working very long hours for years, led to a clear warning from my body that I had to look after my physical and emotional well-being better than I was.  In 2008 my back ‘went’ really badly and I decided I had to find ways of reducing my working hours a bit and making yoga a more consistent part of my life.  I wanted yoga to feel as routine, necessary and positive a part of my day as brushing my teeth or showering. With hindsight, I can see I set my intention then, but it took a few more years to find the way (and courage) to go about it.

There are lots of valid ways to develop a home practice. Personally, I decided I needed the support of a more in-depth experience of yoga, and took Yoga Scotland’s Foundation course. Helen Redfern says of developing a home practice ‘WARNING: this may completely revolutionise your whole life!’ and that was the case for me – I originally had no intention of teaching yoga, let alone becoming a full-time yoga and pilates teacher, but five years later, here I am!

Yoga room Jul 16

‘Legs up the wall’ pose 

What if you want to do yoga at home but don’t have the time, money or inclination to go on a workshop, retreat or course? Browse around the internet; chat to your yoga teacher; ask others who do yoga what works for them; find an app, online teacher or book you enjoy…Experiment with different lengths of practice and doing yoga at different times of day. People often assume you have to get up really early to do yoga at home, but that certainly doesn’t work for everyone. Try other slots of the day/evening. Tell yourself you’re going to do just ten minutes at first – begin with a gentle warm up (such as shoulder rolls, side stretches, hip circles, etc.) then only one pose which you know well and enjoy. Don’t be over-ambitious and plan to do an hour’s session which you then find you can’t squeeze in, or feel too tired to do; or one which contains physically challenging poses you’ve not had much experience of. Decide you’re going to do yoga on a number of days that seems manageable – perhaps two or three times a week, rather than daily. Remember that a beneficial home practice could be as simple as lying in a restorative pose such as Viparita Karani/Legs up the wall or the classic relaxation pose Savasana, maybe listening to a favourite calming piece of music. Get together with friends to do yoga from a DVD or CD. And crucially, don’t be hard on yourself or give up on the idea if your practice is as ‘off & on’ as mine was!

Here in Borve, we’ve recently finished a personal practice fortnight.  I was aware several people in my classes were keen to do yoga at home, and well able to do so, having been regularly coming to classes for a couple of years or more – but perhaps were needing a bit more support or encouragement in how to go about this. I myself do a personal yoga practice at least five days a week. However, the duration and timing of my practice is still all over the place (generally it’s from 20 to 90 minutes, any time between 9am and 7pm) and I thought it would be fun and interesting to commit to exactly the same slot for a fortnight. So I emailed all my yoga contacts inviting them to join me any day Mon-Fri 8.15-9am for a personal practice in the Borve yoga room. I told people they could come to as many or few sessions as they wished, staying for the full 45 minutes or a shorter session; they didn’t have to tell me in advance whether they were coming; and they could take inspiration from whatever I happened to be doing, use the books in the yoga room, or do their own things entirely. The only requirements were to be willing to give it a go, bring their yoga mat, and if they felt like it, to donate their loose change into a local charity’s collection can which I’d leave outside the yoga room door.

So how did it go?

It was a brave step for those who came, and for me too – it was quite hard in advance to reassure myself that if no-one showed up at all, it wasn’t personal, and I’d still benefit from the experiment! I had imagined there would be some mornings with nobody, some with maybe 4 or 5 people, some folk would come just once and some would come several times. As it turned out, around ten people responded to my invitation saying it was a great idea and they would have loved to come, but couldn’t make that time of day due to work/family commitments. A few people told me subsequently they participated without physically being there, by doing some regular practice at home at a time which suited them better, which I thought was a lovely idea! Actually in Borve, one person came once when he had a day off, and two people came to nearly every session. Feedback from them at the end of the fortnight was that it had been interesting and worthwhile, and given them confidence they knew more yoga than they’d realised. At the start they’d imagined they would ‘run out of yoga’ long before the 45 minutes were up, but by the end of the fortnight, they found the full session passed quickly. Two of us loved the way getting organised to do yoga first thing felt – both as a way of starting the day and for its impact on the rest of the day. Some of us are going to try to keep it up, though I’ve emphasised that ‘backsliding’ is a normal part of establishing new habits, and we’re not to be harsh with ourselves if it takes time to embed! As a final feel-good factor, between only four of us, our loose change raised more than £50 for a local charity.

I’ll definitely do something similar again; I feel my practice benefited from it as did that of a few people who were ready to take the step into personal practice – and it has also planted a seed about the possibility of doing yoga at home into others’ minds.

If you fancy developing a home practice yourself, here’s some easy reading to get you started:

The blog Yoga for Healthy Aging regularly has sound advice about all aspects of yoga, including doing it at home.  In Practice as many as you can, Nina Zolotow points out we shouldn’t be so worried about doing it ‘right’ as many of the world-renowned 20th century yoga teachers were constantly innovating and modifying their practice.

Helen Redfern’s 10 steps to get your personal practice started on the Yogamatters blog contains lots of useful advice.  I am less keen on the implication your teacher should tell you whether and when you are ready to practise at home. As long as you stick with simple, gentle poses you feel confident with (as outlined above) you should be fine. Though I’d agree with her that it’s good to get advice from teachers or friends who have more yoga experience.

Ekhart Yoga also have several posts on personal practice, including Esther’s own post with 8 tips on doing yoga at home, including how to stay safe and prevent injury. She’s also recently listed 5 poses you can sneak into your daily off-mat routine when a dedicated practice session feels impossible.

Most of all…however you do it, enjoy your yoga!

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