Starting a home yoga practice does not need to be daunting. However the style of self-practice that goes with it can be a real challenge.
This is what is called ‘Mysore-style’ Ashtanga yoga, more or less particular to this system of yoga. It demands a personal level of commitment which is quite unprecedented in the modern yoga world. Most classes gain their energy from being led from the front with students following along in sync.
Being accustomed to this, means the getting into ashtanga-yoga is quite a shock for someone starting off. Starting a home yoga practice, under our own steam, raises the question of discipline. As well as confidence and conviction in what we are doing.
The only way to make true advancement with one’s own practice, is to take responsibility for it. Here, we can learn at our own speed, and in the way we need. (modifying, experimenting in our own time).
More than this, however, the focus can be put on the primacy of the breath, instrumental for development in yoga. Where in a class situation we are distracted following along from the front.
True Yoga Lifestyle Comes from Starting a Home Yoga Practice
However, with the wrong approach to the concept of practice it can easily miss the benefits. Which also means enjoyable enough that it becomes part, even the very turning-point of our daily routine.
This is absolutely essential. For it is only when yoga becomes a lifestyle that we can really maintain commitment to self-practice. As well as throughout the course of the day, living within the focus of yoga. This is where the real change and transformation occurs.
In all other scenarios, the yoga-class is something we simply engage in as part of our daily activities. Yoga never usually makes its way into becoming the bedrock of our very life. In starting a home yoga practice we can always make time for it even when we can’t get to the yoga studio.
More than this, because it’s something done by us, it goes so much deeper. In as much as yoga is about our connection to ourselves and not to a teacher at the front of the room, or to their practice. The yoga lifestyle and ownership and responsibility for our own yoga are thus the same thing.
The ideas below provide guidance about nurturing an effective self-practice in line with the conditions that Patanjali sets for it. That it is stable, ‘grounded’ as he says, consistently done, as well as with the ‘right attitude’. Meaning, that our outlook towards what we are doing is the most appropriate to the end goal of yoga (peace of mind) as it can be.
Sa tu dirga kala nairantarya satkara asevtih dridh bhumih 1.12 Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (that practise is firmly grounded, that is done over a long period, consistently, and with the right attitude).
The Hardest Part is Always Beginning A Home Yoga Practice
The getting going in your home yoga practice in the first place is the hardest thing. After that, gradually, whatever the task at hand, it generally benefits from its own momentum. Similar to pushing a boulder, once we gain momentum, the process of guiding the rock may be more challenging. As it is with the continuously more advanced asanas we learn. But the greatest struggle is truly always in the beginning.
Indeed, it’s incredibly common that we may like the idea of doing yoga but need a teacher and a class full of people to actually do it. The step to actually stepping on to the yoga mat on ones’ own is a large one. Then to be able to do this for long enough that we see the benefits and then it becomes a habit.
At this point, it’s just maintaining a practice which is a whole lot easier. Establishing the habit is the key, and in this overcoming our doubts we are doing it right. Our quite instinctual resistance to resisting worldly-distractions andfacing ourselves.
When starting a home yoga practice there are a number of principles to consider that may lend us the strength until we find it in ourselves. Indeed, this is through the practise itself.
Find a Space and Set the Scene To Start Your Home Yoga Practcie
There is nothing more important for our ability to keep up any discipline than working it into a certain familiar routine. This is principally done in the beginning by location. Stabilising the outside is the quickest way to doing the same with the inside – that is, building our strength of intention.
Finding a quiet spot where we are unlikely to be disturbed for at least an hour or so. Making it uncluttered, and free from distraction we can return each day to forge a connection with ourselves. This resides in the memory of the space that confirms and strengthens our ability to make the appropriate effort.
A Daily Meeting With Yourself
Just as if we had decided to set-up a daily meeting with our being every day, it’s helpful to create the right kind of space for that meeting. One that directs and inspires our focus, as we would any other. To this end, it is also useful to have a specific focus. Some symbol/s to promote or ‘crystalise’ our concentration as a kind of physical representation of our aim.
It is firstly the very space that appears to contain the understanding, we could say ‘energy’, of our previous efforts. Therefore, even though it may still not be easy to get started, we recognise in our past-experience of being in this same place. That every time we have overcome our resistance to practise it has delivered much more than the difficulty we encountered in starting.
Memories are primarily associated with visual locations until they deepen further. So, it is as if the very bricks and mortar that surround us carry an energy built up over time. A sense of our persistent, cumulative intention, lending us much more strength than a momentary fancy in the instance.
It’s not easy to get the kind of effort together needed when all we have is that invested in the particular moment. This is the very crux of practice a lifestyle. Iit lays down a exponentially greater energy and commitment in our making of that small investment day by day.
For, there will be times when practise is wonderful, as well as tougher times – in life, as in practice. So, we need a sense of ‘collective memory’ as our investment to draw upon. And this will help you starting your home yoga practice and in years to come.
Keep It The Same
Once we have built this very literal firm-foundation for practise, it finally becomes ingrained and we do not inherently need the specific location. Yet, in the early days, this is almost essential. From these most visible associations, we then build; gradually creating more subtle, internal ones. Deeper reference points than our most external and material ones.
But it’s a process, and there is nothing wrong with using every tool we can when starting your home yoga practice. In the early stages it does help to be a little more rigid with the use of our props towards helping our relationship with yoga deepen. Ideally, this translates to doing the same thing, in the same place, at the same time each day at first.
Of course, we also have the set-sequence as well, so there really isn’t much of a degree of doubt or indecision that might creep into obstructing our resolve to practice. Uncertainty as to what we are doing, or its benefit, is the real enemy of building up the habit of practicing on our own. We need to know what we are doing is OK.
Which means we also need clear instruction to follow. It is infinitely preferable that this come from a real person, not a book or video.
Find Your Inspiration
Practice is finally its own dynamo. But, until we have fully wound the turbine of our own commitment in the doing it. As well as being clear at what we are doing, we also need to be inspired. As with the physical location for practice providing a little strength in a material sense, people on the other hand, may provide a little support conceptually as well as emotionally.
Finding particular people that act as a source of inspiration is highly incentivising. On the days we don’t fancy practicing they may provide an image that motivates us and provide emotional support and encouragement. Indeed, this was the role of the sangha (community) in traditional yoga and it was considered of fundamental importance.
When we sense others are accompanying us on the journey, indeed, struggling with the same challenges we are; we feel we are not in it alone.
A sense of company, even though we will inevitably spend a lot of time practicing alone, this is why, when we are able, attending the Mysore self-practice class is a helpful tool for at least some of the time in providing that extra boost of support and motivation.
The Role of The Teacher
Especially when starting a home yoga practice the greatest enemy of is self-doubt as we’ve mentioned. This makes having received some clear and specific instruction before attempting to start practice on ones’ own absolutely essential. Furthermore, if at all possible, this guidance should be ongoing, for as we practice questions come up, and from there uncertainty and confusion may arise to ruin our resolve.
We, therefore, need someone to be able to turn to, check-in with, to feel re-assured we are heading in the right direction and not towards injuring ourselves, which is always the fear in putting our bodies into positions that may not feel comfortable. It is from here that the common question arises as to whether we might not be causing ourselves injury; how do we know what pain to endure and what pain to retreat from?
These kind of questions can be answered, or ought to be, by the teacher. In which case, it is imperative we have one, and this works best when we choose one and stick with them over some duration. This person does not have to stay the same forever; indeed, as we change and progress over time we will have a number of teachers along the way.
All equal in serving a particular and necessary role and function at that time, we tend to find the connection with them as long as it feels we are learning. However, a degree of singularity is extremely effective in the student-teacher relationship. Although the subject (yoga), remains the same; there is a huge amount of variation in its presentation.
It is quite normal these days, for our practice resolve to be diluted by the confusion through conflicting instruction in the trend to have many teachers at the same time. It also lessens the potency of what can be a uniquely powerful connection between two people.
Indeed, the teacher is more than just a logistical necessity; it is more than evident there is also this rather inexplicable energy between certain people. It has often proved to bring out more than the sum of its parts; much more than we may have been able to do working alone.
For this reason, it is worth shopping around for someone who can inspire this degree of connection, for it does certainly exist, and is another quite necessary part of our journey to building our own personal commitment to practice. Again, practice is our endeavour alone; the establishment of a conviction that is so deeply felt that yoga becomes our very way of life, and not just what we do on the mat. But, this takes time, so external supports act as stabilisers and ought to be taken full advantage of.
Our Own Expectations
Everything we do is judged good or bad, adequate or lacking, depending on the standards which we ourselves set. This makes the relationship with our own expectations incredibly important then, for maintaining a personal practise.
Here, what we expect in our practice, can serve as a source of inspiration, keep us motivated, or, just as easily, a deeply discouraging narrative that ends in our discouragement and disillusioned giving-up.
It is taken for granted, that at this early stage of our journey we are hardly likely to be an englightened yogi content with ‘the oneness of all reality. Instead, we need to perceive a somewhat clear direction in what we are doing, as well as equally visible signs of our progression towards this goal. Without this, practise would be meaningless, indeed hardly encouraging.
On the other hand, if these expectations are too great, they will only serve to put us off; in seeming insurmountable, or, produce a degree of frustration at ourselves that is likely to lead only to the pre-emptory conclusion that this practice is not for us, or, us, it.
Being thoughtful and in this careful about ascertaining the right amount of challenge is crucial. This means keeping a practical and realistic view as to what we are doing. This is not to say, as we progress with practice it doesn’t, indeed, yield results we couldn’t imagine possible at first. But, our expectations should only stay a couple of steps ahead of us at a time. If we aim for the moon too quickly, we are bound to fail.
Along similar lines, and, as much as this is easier said than done; a small dash of patience and acceptance of where we currently are with practice, goes a long way. It is as well to constantly attempt to keep in the forefront of our mind that it’s only our practice that matters, and that in this, it is peace we are aiming at.
We can also take the finger for the moon in confusing our feeling of ultimate wellbeing in having made yoga a lifestyle, with sticking our leg behind our heads.
Pragmatism over Idealism
A skilful and lucid relationship with our expectations is not only important for our practice, but, also our teacher, so incredibly important in the early stages in inspiring us to get on the mat ourselves. We need standards by which to judge and assess our own development as well as the validity of what we are being taught.
These are best constructed piecemeal; as we get the benefit, find the relevance of certain advice and suggestions, we may then trust and do a little more in line with the results received. Nothing is prefect in this world, not our practice, or our teacher.
We do not immediately appreciate this more nuanced approach, for its more pleasant to believe that practice is indeed ‘the holy grail’ when we find it.
Yet, we ought to be wary of this tendency towards idealism in our thinking. So many become ‘ashtanga-zealots’ in their early days, giving up all too quickly when it is realised that the practice doesn’t fit the imagined ideal.
It is at a certain point then that we might hear such statements as the practise doesn’t suit me anymore, is not spiritual enough, was designed for young Indian boys, etc, etc. These statements are only as true as they reflect our own attitudes and inordinately high expectations.
If we wish to do the exact same as a 12 year old Indian boy, for example, we may be disappointed as a 40 year old man brought up in The West with tight hips and no history of exercise. Suiting our perceptions to reality, looking for a little progress each day, and being honest about our starting point, will make practice quickly into a habit that we will want to keep returning to, day in day out.
In fact, more or less the only question we should be asking, for a while at least, is do I feel better having practiced, or not? It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that the answer will be yes even when starting a home yoga practice.
The Danger of Comparison
We are conditioned to understand our reality by comparing ourselves to others. However, this is quite lethal in regards building up a self-practice, for this can only feel good if its methodically constructed in the way that is relevant to our demands.
Having taught for 20 years I can wholeheartedly vouch for the fact that we may all be of the same species, but we are so incredibly different that, to compare two bodies against each other as to what they can and can’t do, is as ridiculous as comparing an apple to a pear tree.
We will inevitably get better at yoga, but, how this actually translates is a matter for us alone and the standards must then be our own. Practicing yoga as an image is not the same as the real yoga-lifestyle. It has no depth of felt-experience, so it ultimately feels hollow. Not only this, but, if we don’t suit the practice to our current ability and the degree we are able to spend the time and effort on it, we will only be disappointed, moreover, quite possibly injure ourselves.
In other words, a methodical and cautious start is best, always doing a little less than we think we can, and resisting doing something outside the practice that has been shown to us, or obviously above our level, just because someone else is doing it.
Get a Wider Perspective
Practise is something exclusively about us; for our own wellbeing, it is not just one more attempt to prove our value in the eyes of the world. Nevertheless, this is the very problem we suffer with in life, that yoga attempts to address. The ability not to apply these material standards to our yoga practice as we do everything else, as they say begs the question.
This is why it’s almost essential to read, or at least explore a little more outside isolating simply the asana part of yoga as our only focus. Without expanding viewpoints to the wider relevance of yoga and its’ deeper meaning for our lives. It can all degenerate very quickly into a very narcissistic preoccupation with ourselves and our bodies. This runs in direct opposition to the way it has been conceptualised, for it was meant as a system for opening us to life, where it may only serve to close us down in our exclusively inward-turned focus.
We need discipline and concentration, but this must also be tempered with a more thoughtful general inquiry into the nature of life most generally. Again, this is to talk of practice as our orientation for life, as opposed to just something we fit in as little more than another activity for our own pleasure.
Practise is For Life, Not Life for Practice
Perhaps, we may have read of the yogis of old living in exclusion in caves in the Himlalayas. However, this is not usually a realistic, hence effective, thought-process to apply to our own yoga practice. Most likely we are – and still want – to live within the world; therefore, practice should be practically used to serve this end, not the other way around.
In contrast, it’s an apparent pitfall that happens to many over a short-period of practice that it feels too burdensome to keep up because it has been approached too intensely in the beginning. We may end up falling into the trap of making our lives over to practice. As opposed to making practice enhance and serve our more fulfilled living. If getting up so early really isn’t your thing, for example, try practicing later in the day for a while.
Otherwise our practise only sours quite quickly. Indeed, there are ideals, more and less effective ways to build practice up, but the important thing is that it simply is. In this regard, yes, first thing in the morning might be best; when the stomach is empty and the mind clear. But, nothing is sacred here, find what works for you.
Our project for making yoga part of our daily lifestyle should not become onerous, a matter of drudgery or an obsession. We don’t have to do this; it is for us alone, and not a template we must squeeze ourselves into, or punish ourselves by upholding.
Neither should it make us feel isolated, or excluded from life, which self-practice can often quickly make us feel. To avoid this is best to start of slowly. Relate our intention with others, most importantly with a teacher, and not be too absolutist. Both as to the method, as well as our conception of the goal.
If this is our attitude, our practice will almost build itself, unfolding and deepening in its own way. And yoga will become the fertile territory and source of energy and clarity for living that is the profound gift that taking responsibility for our own yoga in self-practice yields.