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Deepen Your Practice: 8 Steps to a Powerful Home Practice
Whether you are a dedicated yoga student or a yoga teacher, a home practice is essential to your yogic journey. On a very basic level, a home practice allows you to explore the avenues of yoga in which you are interested on a deeper level. A home yoga practice lets you work through any issues that plague you and helps you to rediscover yourself.
For serious yoga practitioners, all you may have to go on for a home practice is what you have learned in group classes. Yoga teachers who have completed a thorough teacher training program have an advantage, as they have the knowledge to put together various sequences and the resources to review from their teacher training manuals. However, these manuals are not all-inclusive and are mainly used as a launching blueprint to help newly trained teachers.
Another consideration is inspiration. Sometimes we question, “What am I going to work on in my home practice?” Yes! Even yoga teachers, just like the dedicated yogis, can step onto their mat and be stumped.
The Link Between Home Practice and Teaching Yoga
If you are a yoga teacher and do not have a home practice, it is absolutely necessary to start one. Not only will you be present in the physical practice of yoga, but you will excel in sequencing and embodying the sequence.
There are many teachers who can spontaneously, whip up a sequence as they stand in front of a class. Is this wrong? No. But having done both professionally, in my opinion having a practiced plan is the way to go. Through the home practice, you can literally feel your sequence in your body as you teach, which makes you much more specific and detail oriented.
That’s who I am as a teacher. I want to have a clue as to what my students are feeling in the practice and to know how each posture affects the sequence as the sequence progresses. Many times I write a sequence, use it as a home practice, and then realize how many adjustments need to be made because there was something missing or energetically the poses were misguided. However, my norm is to use my home practice as inspiration for what I teach. It works both ways. The constant is the home practice part.
Why Do Home Practices Fail?
Students and teachers normally fall off the home practice wagon when they can’t create the time for the practice and when the practice isn’t satisfying—Cat-Cow, Child’s Pose, Downward Facing Dog, bored, walk away. Creating a powerful and satisfying home practice helps to keep you coming back to the mat each and every day. Power does not necessarily mean power moves or reaching the peak posture and satisfying does not mean a sweaty, four-hour practice.
Powerful can be what keeps you balanced, healthy and interested. A satisfying practice is one that you can fit into your life that fulfills you emotionally, leaving you whole once you get up from Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Key Steps for Your Home Yoga Practice
(1) Choose a time and place in your home as your dedicated yoga space. Schedule your practice in your phone, set your alarm so that whatever you are doing is put on hold to have time for you. The length of the practice can vary but the start time should be the same. You don’t need a huge space. A quiet intimate space like a small corner of your favorite room or a hallway. This is your sanctuary to practice and breathe.
(2) Start with something you are interested in. Do you want to learn more about pranayama (breath awareness)? Backbends? Inversions? Creative use of props? Being interested in something relatively specific moves you onto your mat. Bring your notebook and a pen with you too! Let’s choose Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) because it’s pretty interesting.
(3) How do you want to explore Handstand (or fill in your interest here in place of Handstand)? There is an emotional approach where you sit on your mat and journal about Handstands. They seem fun, they are playful, terrifying, never going to happen, I’m optimistic, etc. How about an anatomical approach figuring out which muscle groups are working? A fascinating way to explore asanas (physical postures) in a physical way, is to find poses that mimic Handstand. In this case, we would choose Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Upward-Facing Salute (Urdva Hastasana), Plank, Low Lunge, Downward-Facing Dog, Standing Split and so on.
(4) So you have written down a bunch of different poses that will help give you the shape of handstand. Which ones do you use? For longer practices, use all of them and in shorter practices choose just a few. Remember, your home practice doesn’t mean you are going to hit that peak pose every day. You are using poses that keep your body attuned every day to the possibility of moving into a Handstand a week from when you begin your practice, a month, five years or longer. The beauty of a home practice is that there is no time limit.
(5) Part two of choosing poses for your home practice is moving from the easiest pose on your body to the pose that puts strain on the body if you placed it first on your list. I’m a Handstand addict. I practice them a lot and I can do it on demand. However, if you ask my body which pose is more demanding between Handstand or Downward-Facing Dog, my body would answer Handstand, so I would place Downward-Facing Dog before handstand. How about Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana) or Downward-Facing Dog? Parsvottanasana is more demanding, so once again Downward-Facing Dog precedes Parsvottansana. Downward-Facing Dog versus Supine Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana), Downward-Facing Dog is more challenging so Supine Big-Toe Pose goes first. With just these four poses a mini-sequence would look like this: Supine Big-Toe Pose, Downward Facing Dog, Intense Side Stretch, Handstand. Please bear in mind that a mini-sequence like this would be for someone who has years of consistent practice in yoga and has done Handstands in the past. For someone just starting to embark on the road to Handstand, a short sequence of Supine Big-Toe Pose, flowing back and forth slowly between Plank and Downward-Facing Dog, Intense Side Stretch and either Legs Up the Wall or L-shaped Handstand preparation (Downward-Facing Dog with the hands on the floor and feet on the wall to create half a handstand. Hands are approximately one leg’s distance away from the wall). You can create various mini-sequences, a 30-minute sequence and 60-minute sequence that you alternate practicing for the month or year.
(6) Just as you begin your sequence be kind to your body as it warms up. Be sure to do the same as you end your practice, especially if the practice is long and vigorous. Try Cat-Cow, rolling the wrists out, spinal twist, Legs Up the Wall and of course followed by Savasana.
(7) You may not have two hours to practice and that is just fine. It does not make you less of a yogi!! Throw out the illusion that practices need to be at least 75 or 90 minutes long. You know your schedule best. Each day has a different practice length with a modified sequence according to the time you have scheduled. Schedule your practice and yes, set your alarm. Take a few minutes to prepare and practice.
(8) After Savasana, take a minute to absorb the essence of your practice. This portion of the home practice induces the satisfying part of why it is essential to have a home practice. This time for reflection allows you to embody the sensations after your practice that may include feeling complete, rising up to the challenge or a sense of relaxation. This can keep you returning to your practice day after day.
This process keeps your home practice fresh, logical and satisfying. Throughout your home practice sessions, you might alter your sequences after making some discoveries or extra space in your body. You can keep track of your practice and use these notes while teaching to encourage and inspire your students.
As a serious yoga student, you can track your progress. Your sequences may evolve into more complex poses or inspire you to deepen your yogic knowledge through teacher training. There are many avenues to explore in a home practice. Get on your mat, get interested and get to work. It is the most powerful and satisfying work that you can do for yourself.
Interested in another inspirational article? Read this YogaUOnline article by Erica Rodefer - Cultivating a Home Practice: 12 Tips to Get You to Your Mat.
Embodying Spirit - Deepening Your Practice On and Off the Mat - A Course from YogaUOnline and Judith Hanson Lasater.
Allison Schleck, E-RYT 500, RPYT is a vinyasa based yoga teacher, fascinated by the intricate relationship between the mind and body. She offers a range of alignment-focused classes touching on anatomy, philosophy and creative propping with a mindful approach. In addition to teaching group classes and managing the Yoga Culture studio in Danbury, CT, she also teaches at Open Door Family Medical Center in Westchester, NY empowering mother's to be with prenatal yoga classes and childbirth education. You can find her @allisonschleck on instagram and www.allisonyoganidra.com.