Yoga is meant to be practiced individually and the benefits of tailoring a practice to your personal needs are immense – so why is it so hard to start practicing on your own? I remember setting up my mat, getting my props, and then looking at it all without a clue where to start. Sound familiar? If so, hopefully this blog will help – I sure wish I had this when I was starting out!
The first step is setting up a location and time where you can practice. This doesn’t have to be a large space, but if you have to move furniture each time you want to practice, the likelihood of actually practicing goes down dramatically. You have to make space in your life for the practice, by both finding a physical location and by prioritizing the time for practice. Mornings are the traditional time to practice and there are many studies that show that morning exercise has great benefits – but the ideal time to practice yoga is whenever you will actually do it!
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started was that I was very rigid about needing to practice for at least one hour. While this is a great goal, I found that I put off doing yoga when I didn’t have the “required hour.” Then one day, I finally realized that I benefited from practice so much, even if it was only 15 or 20 minutes. By skipping practices on days when I didn’t have “time,” I was actually hurting myself by denying my body and mind the benefits of stress-reduction , strength-building, and overall wellness that I received from my practice. So, my advice is channel Nike and “Just Do It” for however long you can!
Once you have the space and time to practice, you need to decide what you’re going to do. There are many options here, but these are a few of my favorites for beginners:
- Use a standard sequence like Sun Salutations. They are classic for a reason.
- Copy sequences that you’ve done with your instructor in class and enjoyed. In fact, I would often keep a notebook handy and write down as much of the class as I could remember immediately afterward. These notes became a guide for my early home practices.
- Use a book. I found that I preferred books with picture sequences, as the sequences that just list the names of the poses caused a lot of page flipping that I found distracting. One of my favorite books is “30 Essential Yoga Poses” by Judith Lasater. The sequences in the back are varied and easy to follow (though some are pretty challenging for a beginner – you can always skip poses with which you are unfamiliar).
- Incorporate poses that you know are good for you. Need more stress relief? Spend more time in relaxation. Have an injury or weak area? Spend time working on poses that help strengthen that area, improve mobility, and alleviate the pain.
I don’t recommend using a video or iPod, though it can be useful when you’re first starting out. These techniques force you into a sequence with little to no room for variety – it’s essentially being in a classroom, but without the guidance and assistance of an instructor who can see you and adjust to your abilities and needs. The biggest benefits of yoga come from tailoring the practice to your individual needs. Learning what your body and mind need and how yoga can help fill that void is the essence of the home yoga practice. To experience those benefits, you need to be able to change up the practice based on what you are learning.
A few words of caution, while yoga can have many benefits, it can also be very challenging or even dangerous. Many novice yogis have caused themselves injury by being overzealous, attempting poses they weren’t familiar with, or not having adequate instruction. I highly recommend sticking to poses that you have first learned from a qualified yoga instructor.
Another option is to work one-on-one with a yoga instructor to have them develop a sequence specific to your goals. This is a great option if you have health concerns, injuries, or areas on which you want to focus.
Whatever option you choose to start your practice, make sure that you take time to notice how you feel before, during and after the practice. Adjust your practice based on that feedback. Your personal yoga practice should leave you feeling energized, strong and healthy. Good luck!
Heather Anastos, RYT-500