Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cultivating a home yoga practice ~ Take what you need

My daughter had some questions for me last week about my home yoga practice. She wanted to know what time of day I practice, how long I practice, and what poses I do. I get asked these questions from others from time to time, so I thought I'd make a blog post out of it.

Why practice yoga?
Why? Well, because it feels so good and is so good for you! Science is catching up and proving yoga’s benefits, thousands of years after our fore-father-yogis instinctively knew how good it was for us. Not only is it great for our physical bodies – building strength, increasing flexibility, stamina and range of motion– it’s also calming to the mind, and soothing for your soul. Yoga can relieve joint stiffness, alleviate anxiety and depression, reduce blood pressure and help you sleep better… Quite frankly, yoga can change your life.
Pick a time to practice.
I know you’re busy – I get that. We’re all busy! So just like anything else that you really want to do for yourself, you’ll want to schedule some time for yoga. I typically practice in the morning before I start getting ready for work.

My favorite time for my home practice is at the end of my work day. A couple times a week I come home from work, change into some comfortable clothes, and hit my yoga mat. I love the transition between work and fighting rush hour traffic, to coming home and getting centered before it’s time to put dinner together.

Now, if you have a tough time scheduling it into your day, just practice yoga anytime you happen to think about it! Standing really tall and taking a few deep breaths doesn't have to happen only when you are barefoot and on your mat! Get creative with your practice on days when you can't roll it out.
How long do I practice each time I’m on my mat?
The length of my morning practice depends on how much time I’ve spent blogging or taking care of household stuff before I need to get ready for work. It’s usually between 5-20 minutes, with 5-10 of those minutes reserved for quiet meditation. I used to feel like those short bursts of yoga time weren’t significant, but I’ve come to believe that they are awesome! Five minutes of yoga is five times better than zero minutes of yoga!

The length of time for my evening practice varies, but I do have more time to linger on my mat if I choose. I practice between 20 minutes to an hour on those nights, once or twice a week. I also attend at least one yoga class per week at my local studio with a yoga teacher that really challenges me.
Using music as a time marker.
I have a few playlists of varying length. If I’m short on time I’ll press play on my 7-minute playlist and practice until it’s over. You could also turn the radio on and set a timer. Commit to remaining on your mat until the allotted time is done.
What poses should I practice?
I used to be very routine about my home practice, and in hindsight I realize that this may have created a little burnout or staleness in my time on the mat. If I am pressed for time, I’ll practice a few rounds of sun salutations (surya namaskara) and call it good. If I don’t really have a time limit, or I'm just not feeling it for sun salutations, I just take what I need.
My “take what you need” philosophy.
I have a “take what I need” strategy with my home practice. I step onto my mat, bring my hands to prayer position at my heart (Anjali mudra), close my eyes and take a really deep breath. I’ll repeat a few breaths, just settling myself in and preparing for my practice.
Sometimes I'll practice sun salutations – it usually feels like a good place to start – and then I just do what my body leads me to do. That might mean I do a bunch of standing poses, or I might free-stretch to my music – moving any way that feels good in order to loosen up areas in my body that feel tight. Once you’ve practiced for a while you will be able to focus on tight areas right away and you’ll instinctively know that you need to stretch into those spots.

Other times I might feel like I need a gentler practice so I’ll lay on my back for some deep torso twists, bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), maybe some core crunches, reclined cobbler’s pose (supta bada konasana), taking whatever I need.

When I practice for more than 20 minutes at any one time, I always make time for corpse pose (savasana). I've heard it said that this is the most important pose in the long list of asanas, and some might claim that it’s one of the most challenging. It requires complete stillness for a few minutes (or as long as possible up to 15 minutes) after a yoga practice, allowing your work to settle in and take hold.

But Deb, I don't know any yoga poses!
Here's the beauty of yoga: you don't have to know fancy yoga poses in order to practice yoga! Standing tall, deepening your breath, moving a little in your body, being mindful and in the moment - that could be your yoga! That could be your version of taking what you need at any time of the day.

And there's always the internet. You can search for poses that are specific to your own needs. Type "yoga poses for low back pain" in Google or YouTube and you'll be presented with all kinds of options!
In summary:
The way I practice yoga at home is based on my own individual needs; and those needs change on a daily basis. Ok, sometimes they change many times over the course of a day even! But when it comes to my home yoga practice, I am the boss of me on my mat. I use that time, every time, to take what I need and I don't get hung up on what I "should" be doing on my mat.

I would love to know that you do the same. Know that there are no set rules to practicing yoga at home, and that you will choose wisely whatever is right for your body. Yoga doesn't have to be a complicated mystery.

Yoga just wants you to take what you need.


Ruth said...

I'm so happy that you've found something that you makes you so happy!

Beverly said...

Thanks for letting us know that it doesn't have to be structured and by the book.

Maria Ontiveros said...

I love this post. It makes me totally rethink yoga, which I've always thought had to be done in 90 minutes sessions. Sounds crazy, I know, but I seem to get maximum benefit out of a session that long.
Clara's been interested in starting yoga, and she could really use it (I know we all could, but she REALLY could). And this helps me rethink how she might approach it.
Love you! Namaste.

alexa said...

That's a great reminder, that five minutes is better than none :). I like your title very much.

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