Yoga at its core is an accessible practice. Anyone, anywhere can and should be able to do it anytime. In most cases, you don't really need anything other than yourself! And it is so versatile, that even if your body isn't functioning normally, you can still meditate, do breathwork, and implement the philosophical teachings of yoga in your daily life.
But thanks to the westernization of yoga, we often tend to have a tunnel view of what it is, and this causes us to think that we need to always go to a studio or have a teacher to practice. Don't get me wrong, these are great supportive resources for learning more, understanding better, and expanding your practice (heck, I teach yoga for a living!), but I just want to remind you that yoga is your practice, and it's nice to know that you don't always have to rely on something outside of yourself to benefit from this beautiful gift. And to have a sustainable, long-term practice, you gotta know how you can practice on your own in between your traditional yoga class! Hence, this two-part blog series: Building Your Home Practice.
This series will focus mostly on asana (postures), but as I mentioned before, don't forget about all the other aspects of yoga that are there for you to practice, anytime, anywhere!
In part two of Building Your Home Practice, I give you a simple structure for safely and effectively sequencing your home practice. Of course you can always just flow intuitively or let music inspire you, but if you're like me, sometimes it's helpful to have a little more guidance or structure!
Arrive - Take a few minutes to breathe and center. It's important to give yourself a bit of transition period from the chaos of your day or the external world into your practice, as it train you to check in with yourself and start to notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. When you start your practice simply, connecting with your breath and the sensations in your body first, you build the awareness that you need to take into the rest of your practice so that you can move as mindfully as possible.
Warm Up - There are two parts to this one. I like to start with simple joint warmups from head to toe (neck, shoulders, wrists, hips, ankles, etc) and taking a few dynamic (vs. stagnant) stretches to stimulate your muscle and tendon reflexes for more vigorous workouts. For warming up, and specifically when practicing vinyasa style, I also like to add in a few rounds of sun salutations (AKA Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit), which are considered a full body warmup and complete practice all on their own.
Add On - If practicing a vinyasa style, the simplest thing to do is just begin to add standing postures onto your sun salutations, from Downward Facing Dog! Step one foot forward, do 1-3 postures on that leg, take a chaturanga/vinyasa in between (or some other simple movement to reset/neutralize the spine), and then follow the same flow on the other side to balance the body out! If practicing a Hatha style, you may step back into each posture mini series from standing (Tadasana) or halfway lift, rather than moving through the vinyasa series that takes you up and down from the floor a lot. Follow this pattern at least 3 times all the way through for a 20 min - 1 hr long practice.
Aim to incorporate at least one backbend, balancing posture, and twist for a well-rounded practice. You could also include inversion in that list, which are great to do every day! It's also general best practice to do a counter-pose for every pose. For example, if you do a backbend, follow it with a forward fold; if you do a twist, make sure you do it on both sides; if you stretch the hamstrings a lot in your session (Pyramid, Triangle, etc), make sure to engage them as well (with some chair or bridge poses).
Alternatively, you could sequence your practice with a "peak pose" in mind, which just means that you choose a posture that is a little bit challenging for you, take a look at all the body functions that are involved, and see how you can prepare the body based off that. Take Dancer pose (Natarajasana) for example - You will need to start with some simpler backbending/heart-opening, prepare yourself with some simple balances, stretch the hamstrings (standing leg), open the hip flexors, and work on shoulder flexion and extension. Emulating similar shapes on the floor or in easier postures can be a great way to do it as well (such as taking Bow pose, in this case). Educating each of these component parts beforehand individually will ensure you are properly prepared to come into the full position.
Cool Down - End with at least three grounding floor postures to allow your body to begin to relax and integrate. Static stretching (stretches held longer) is great for the end of a practice because your muscles are now warm and therefore more elastic, allowing you to go deeper and possibly even increase your range of motion.
Rest - If there is one thing not to skip, it is Savasana! Be sure to give your body about 4-12 mins at the end of practice to rest in stillness and resettle the energy. Because we are so trained to do, do do in our world, this can be the most difficult part of yoga practice for many, and therefore our biggest teacher. After all, the whole point of practicing Asana (postures) is to get your body ready for stillness, so that you can sit in meditation, which is really when the personal growth begins to happen. So it would be best if you could always plan to follow your movement with some sort of meditation.
Hope this provides a little inspiration for building your own home practice! For more tips on getting yourself to your mat, check out my 6 Tips for a More Consistent Practice, which would be a great supplement to this article!