At the start of October, I set myself the challenge of practising yoga every day. With a full-time job and a busy social life, not to mention this blog, I would really struggle to fit in and afford yoga classes every day. So I have been practising at home. Last week, I wrote about some of the benefits of self-practice so today I thought I would share some tips on how to practise on your own.
Where to go for ideas and inspiration
Go to a class
This might sound counter-intuitive but going to a yoga class is really important to developing your own practice. Firstly, it’s a great way to learn the basics and how to practise the postures safely. Secondly, your teachers (and I suggest you try classes with different teachers) should be a source of inspiration. Many teachers use a set sequence to base their class around so, once you’re familiar with it, use this as the basis of your practise. If you’re worried about not remembering it all (which doesn’t actually matter, by the way), take a pen and a notebook to your next class and jot down the sequence; just remember to let your teacher know what you’re doing – a, it’s polite, b, they are there to help you and may have their own tips on self-practice.
Go on retreat
In a similar vein, a yoga retreat is a great way to cultivate self-practice. You’ll be taking your yoga practice to new depths anyway, exploring new postures and techniques, and you have so much time on your hands away from the usual distractions of life. So take advantage! Use some of that spare time to practise on your own – your yoga teacher will be on hand to give you advice if you’re struggling. There are lots of retreats out there so hunt around but two of my favourite teachers, Natasha and Luca, are running retreats in Bali this autumn if you want to do something spur of the moment!
The internet is a wealth of resources for yogis! There are literally hundreds of websites out there with advice and ideas for your practice. Some of the ones I use include: MindBodyGreen, DoYouYoga, ElephantJournal, YogaJournal, Yoganonymous, and GaiamLife. There are also plenty of sites offering free and paid-for classes – not something I have tried yet but check out this handy little guide to some of the best.
Use a book
In addition to the internet, there are a whole plethora of yoga books out there. I am going to recommend two that I use a lot. First up is Om Yoga: A Guide to a Daily Practice by Cyndi Lee. This is such a great little book to practice with; it has short sequences for each day of the week, handily tabbed, with easy-to-follow stickmen drawings. You can use the daily sequences or the book also has a series of ‘recipes’ at the back to put together longer practices. This is my go-to resource when I don’t know what to do with my practice. The other book I love is How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally. This is actually a novel about a young woman in 12th century India, who transforms a community through her yoga teachings. It’s a beautiful story in its own right but also provides a really accessible way to understand the Yoga Sutras. I always recommend it to friends who have started practising yoga and they have all loved it!
Designing your own sequence
Keep it simple
All of my tips so far have been how to find ideas and sequences that you can practise at home but how do you make up your own sequence? I asked Natasha this question while we were practising yoga in Goa a couple of years ago and her advice still guides my practice: start with a few rounds of sun salutations, then pick one posture you hate and one you love. It’s that simple. The postures you don’t like to practise are the ones you probably need to practise the most; I don’t like forward-folds because I have tight hamstrings (thanks, running!) and so they are hard but that just means I need to do them more. And pick a posture you love because your practice should be enjoyable and it’s good to end on a positive note. This will also help keep your practice balanced.
Closing your practice
Always close your practice with a moment of quiet contemplation; this could be shavasana or just sitting cross-legged on the floor. Just take a moment to notice you feel after the practice and to reflect on all of the blessings in your life.
It can be daunting the first few times you step onto the mat without having someone else’s voice to guide you but it gets easier with time. Try not to get too focussed on how long you should be holding a pose for (as long as you’re comfortable for or about 5 breaths are both a good guide); instead, really try to focus on how the postures feel.
So over to you. What advice would you give to someone starting out with self-practice? Have you tried to practise at home? How did you find it?