Our popular contributor Kara-Leah is often asked by people who are just starting yoga classes if it’s too early to develop a home yoga practice. This is her response.
by Kara-Leah Grant
You may have yet to walk into your first yoga class, so the idea of starting a home yoga practice seems crazy. Me, practice at home? But I don’t even know any postures yet! I have no idea what I’m doing!
No, you don’t. But that’s ok. The big thing with home practice is that it doesn’t matter so much what you do in your practice, it matters that you practice every day.
When we first start home practice, we’re really building our ability to just show up to the mat every day. That’s the most important thing. We soon learn that the mind has 101 reasons why we can’t practice yoga today. We don’t have enough time, we don’t have the right space, we can’t be bothered, we don’t know what to do… There’s always a reason. This doesn’t change either – I’ve been practicing yoga at home for over a decade now and there’s still always something else I could be doing other than getting on my mat, or some reason why I can’t possibly practice yoga today.
Over time though, I’ve learned that no matter what the reason, it’s just an excuse and there’s always a work-around. There’s always some way you can get yoga practice in.
I’ve written an entire book on the subject, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice. That’s where you can find everything you need to know about creating and maintaining a home yoga practice, including handy worksheets.
All you need to know right now is that it’s never too early to start practicing at home. In fact, I highly recommend that right from your very first yoga class, you start practicing yoga at home. There’s a few reasons for this.
You’re sending a message to yourself that yoga is important to you and you’re going to give it your best shot. It’s not just a way to escape from your life once a week on the mat, but something you intend to integrate into your life.
Taking time to go over just one thing that you learned in class will fast-track your understanding of yoga so when you do show up to that class every week, you’ll get so much more out of it.
Doing some yoga at home by yourself means you’re taking responsibility for your practice. It’s not something that the teacher hands down from on high every week, but some thing that you’re responsible for learning. This is an important step towards empowerment.
You’ll feel better every time you practice yoga at home. It’s like a small lift-me-up in the middle of your day. If you’re having a really bad day – and we all have those – you know you can just get on your mat for five minutes of practice and things may just shift. Your perspective may broaden and suddenly whatever is bugging you might not be as bad.
Right from the start of your yoga journey, you’re imprinting home yoga practice into your nervous system and your psyche. It makes yoga a way of life for you, and means that you’ll get so much more out of your practice.
In the end, your yoga practice is your own individual journey and taking time by yourself on your mat gives you the space to really connect with what’s going on in your body, mind and with your breath.
Now, before you freak out and think that a home yoga practice means doing this spectacular ninety minute sequence of postures every day, take a deep breath in and feel that breath as it fills your nostrils, then your lungs, and descends down into your belly. Release that breath and fill the body soften and surrender as it expels the breath. That moment? Watching your breath? Becoming conscious of what it feels like and sounds like in your body. That was yoga. You were present and conscious of your breath. Congratulations. You just did some home yoga practice.
When you first start going to yoga class, it is enough to take five or seven minutes every day doing just one posture that you remember. Perhaps you choose Shavasana – Corpse Pose, which is traditionally done at the end of every yoga class.
In Shavasana you lie flat on your back, legs hip-width, releasing your feet out sideways, palms facing up to the ceiling and away from the sides of your body. Eyes closed, tongue released from the roof of your mouth. And you breathe. While staying conscious of your breath.
The mind will wander… ‘Oh I wonder what I should cook for dinner tonight, I can’t believe my sister is still dating that guy, I have to call the plumber tomorrow. Oh!’ And then you notice it’s wandering and you come back to your breath again letting those thoughts go. Inhale. Exhale.
Hmm… ‘I need to be a card for my mother’s birthday…’ And so it goes on. Just doing this every day between classes is a home yoga practice. It’s a great place to start. In fact, given the nature of many of our lives – busy, busy busy, online all the time, commuting – our nervous systems are over-stimulated and need the stillness of Savasana more than even the dynamism of Sun Salutations.
You may feel like you’re not ‘doing’ anything – you’re just lying on the ground, watching your mind and your breath – but that’s the whole point. Most of us spend all of our days doing, doing, doing and often our yoga practice becomes just another thing to DO. Taking time for Shavasana every day is taking time to be – nothing to do, nothing to achieve, nothing to attain, nothing to perfect, nothing to fix or heal or change. Just us, our breath and our bodies.
Other simple and effective postures you may wish to explore are Child’s Pose, or Mountain Pose, or one of my favourite’s, Legs up the Wall Posture. If you can’t remember exactly how to do the postures, Google it, read through, watch a video, get it clear in your head, and then get on your mat and practice that posture.
The beauty of taking time to do your own home practice right from Day 1 of yoga is that when you go back to class, you may have a question you want to ask the teacher, because you’ve spent time in the posture and are beginning to notice things about your body. Plus, an experienced teacher will be able to tell you’re doing a home yoga practice. Students who practice at home progress so much faster than students who don’t. Not that yoga is about progress as such, but it’s obvious who is practicing at home as the yoga deepens into student’s bodies faster.
So even if you haven’t yet made it to your first yoga class, know that you can start practicing yoga at home straight away. It doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to be long. Mostly, you’re focusing on building the habit of integrating yoga into your life. And the habit of taking responsibility for your practice – of paying attention to your body and mind and observing what’s actually going on. It’s simple, but it’s powerful.
Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29.
Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga. She’s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel.
She’s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and has just published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice. She’s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal.