I have been practicing yoga for over 25 years (teaching for over 18 years) and I have seen the trends come and go. When I was in my early 20s, my first yoga class was in a loud and chilly community recreation centre. It wasn’t very zen-like, but something about the practice had me intrigued. I continued to deepen my knowledge of yoga in small yoga studios. There weren’t many to choose from. This was well before the “big box” type of studio. Usually, you worked closely with one teacher and attended a small class once per week. The trajectory for establishing a deep practice was to develop and nurture a consistent at home. This was the goal per se…that a committed yogi had an established home practice and also learned deeply from your teacher while in a class. This was what we all strived for.
My home practice started simply. Rolling out my yoga mat and exploring some of the poses and ideas that I had learned in class. I explored sitting still in meditation and pranayama. It was challenging to stay committed, but it was essential to a nourishing practice. It became the backbone of my practice.
When I opened Creating Space Yoga Studio in 2007, it was my intention to do for others what my first yoga teachers did for me. To help them establish a personal practice in the studio and on their own at home. My studio was small and we did good and important work. When wetness became a trend, yoga became more mainstream and yoga studios started popping up on every corner. Yoga became a thriving business venture and soon the story changed from working with a yoga teacher to help you with your home practice, to students becoming dependent on a studio. Practice at home was not the focus. Classes in a yoga studio became the preferred way. Very rarely did the average student has an established home practice.
Recently, when we all experienced the world shutting down with the onset of the global pandemic, all of the yoga studios were closed indefinitely. Initially, there was the discomfort and shock of not being able to go to a yoga class. For many, their wellness depended on a yoga studio. Eventually, we yoga teachers found a way to teach you at home virtually. It was strange at first, but effective. The home practice was once again the focus. Although I LOVE teaching my students in person and I believe the work we do in person is invaluable, I quietly felt that many students were missing the confidence and neglected the importance of regular home practice.
Helping my students establish a home practice has been a satisfying focus. I observed how some students really struggled with not coming to the studio and their practice suffered. I also witnessed how many students, although reluctant at first, began to thrive with their growing home practice. Their ability to attend multiple classes per week due to the convenience and feeling a sense of confidence with building the habit of practicing daily (either on their own or with the guidance of a teacher.) Their practice helped them move through the stress of a global pandemic!
As the world returns to “normal”, I hope that we don’t lose the attention that we gave to our individual home practices. Practicing in person can never be replaced. Yoga studios and group classes are powerful places to learn. However, I would argue that the intimacy that we can create at home and the discipline required for home practice to flourish is a skill we need to continue to nurture!
Tips for creating a nourishing home practice…
- Create a practice space that is clean and free of clutter. Your space does not have to be bigger than the surface of a yoga mat. Don’t make lack of space an obstacle. Your practice is about being present in your real life, including the sounds, smells and obstacles that every home contains. Acknowledge how you feel in the moment and with kindness shift your perspective to gratitude. Do what you can to create an environment that feels safe, comfortable and calming. But don’t be held back by a need for perfection.
- Build a prop library. Gather your props and have them all in one place that is close to where you will practice. Find a cute basket or bin that you can hide in the corner of your room or slide under your bed or couch. Use your props in creative ways that support your practice.
- Set a schedule each week that reinforces the routine of an established practice. Plan your practice times for each week just like you would do for work, appointments, meetings and social gatherings. If you have time, schedule a studio class, a Zoom class and/or recorded classes to meet the needs for the week. Multiple experiences offer a well-rounded practice. Use all of your resources. Remember that your home practice can be any length of time. Some days it may be just a few minutes of stillness. Any practice is better than no practice. Nurture the commitment and your practice will deepen.
- Establish a ritual that feels natural for you. Part of the allure of attending a class in person is the process. Stepping away from your day and driving to the studio, stepping into the space, rolling out your mat, listening to calming music and enjoying a few calm breaths before the class begins. Create a similar routine for yourself at home. Step away from your day and dim the lights for evening practice, or open the curtains to let the sunshine flood into your space for morning practice. Create a ritual where you light a candle, diffuse essential oils, put on some calming music or read a passage from an inspiring book. Enjoy the routine of your practice at home
- Start with something that feels good and follow your body’s lead. Usually, I tend to give the advice to just begin on the ground with some lovely breathing. Then allow yourself to simply move and stretch in ways that feel good. Don’t worry about sequences, what poses to do, if you are doing something wrong etc. Allow yourself to move through a practice that responds to how you feel moment by moment. Some days your practice will be quiet and gentle, other days you will feel the energy to move and feel strong and challenged. It is all good. Enjoy it all!
- Don’t forget the importance of stillness. A practice that incorporates stillness can be the most illuminating. Stillness could be conscious resting (Shivasana, body scans), meditation, pranayama (breath), restorative yoga, self-massage, etc. While enjoying a movement practice, be sure to add moments of stillness to feel the residue of your work. Moments of quiet in an active day can be incredibly healing. Give it a try!