Bring Your Practice Home (and avoid the distractions)
Originally appeared in Om Yoga& Lifestyle Magazine November 2013 (Cover Feature)
As a yoga teacher, I often recommend to students the benefits of home practice. Group and studio classes can often be one size fits all, and the opportunity to practice at home, at your own pace, through postures, movements and meditation that provide the most therapeutic benefit to you as a unique individual cannot be underestimated. However, to put it frankly, home practice is hard and filled with an ever-shifting variety of distractions, diversions, and desserts needing to be eaten.
It usually starts off well-intentioned. You lay out your mat, stand tall, and move slowly into a forward fold. Then, perhaps, you wonder if your pedicure can be improved. Twenty minutes later, you’re at your computer researching the pros and cons of raw food and wondering where the time went.
Like anything, home yoga practice takes practice. Deciding what to do on the mat, guided by your teacher, a video, a book, or your own intuition, is challenging enough. But sticking with it, through the disruptions of home, is where we often fail. Try these tips to avoid common pitfalls and to develop, in time, a strong and nurturing home practice.
Start small and be reasonable
Don’t set yourself up for failure. Make a reasonable commitment that you can keep. Even five minutes a few times a week will give great benefit. Get the support of those around you so they know not to interrupt.
If your routine is not well established, don’t expect yourself to dive straight into a ninety-minute flow. If thoughts are racing through your head, don’t expect to have a calm and introverted meditation immediately. Work with how you’re feeling within the time you know you can allow. Eventually, you’ll become more skillful and practices will become longer and more rewarding. For now, be reasonable and patient with yourself.
Set the scene
If you have the luxury of a dedicated yoga space, arrange and decorate it in a way that will be conducive to focusing your mind on the practice. This doesn’t necessarily mean a Ganesh or Buddha in every corner. Decide what helps you and make your perfect space with the resources you have.
Most of you may have only a sliver behind a sofa in which you can seek Samadhi. In this case, you must work even harder to create a space in which you will feel inspired.
Change the environment through music, a shift of lighting, or any re-jig that will send a signal to the body and brain that you are in a place dedicated to your unique form of yoga. This may sound slightly superficial, but we are indeed easily affected by our surroundings. Fancy yourself a stage designer and set the perfect scene; the practice will do the rest.
Find a form of quiet
We live in a noisy world of multimedia, emails, tweets and text messages. The need to read and respond to them immediately is becoming ingrained in our DNA. You must, if you can, turn off your phone, your computer (unless you are streaming an online practice, then at least close all other open applications or websites), and anything else that will buzz or beep you away from downward-facing dog.
This may not be enough. Often we’ll turn a device back on mid-practice to check one more time if someone has called or emailed back. This is addiction and calls for a serious intervention. Remove devices from the room, give them to someone for safekeeping, or do whatever you need to do to resist. Most likely, what you are waiting for can wait a little bit longer.
If your job insists on constant connectivity, find the longest amount of time you may be allowed to not see a new email, and wait that long. If you have to check, you have to check, but do your best to find as much quiet as you can.
Don’t get frustrated
If you’re at home, your mind will still be thinking on some level about domestic concerns. Don’t be frustrated by it. Keep a notepad by your mat, and when you remember that you need to call your mother back, simply write it down and move on.
If the oven goes off, a child needs minding, or the clothes need to be set out to dry, stop, do it, and come back to your mat. Don’t beat yourself up for perceived lack of discipline and focus. That negative thought spiral will only take you further away from your practice. You are not a monk, nor are you practicing in an ashram; you are a householder. So, learn to practice within the chaos of ordinary life and not be derailed by a temporary diversion.
Discipline takes time
Habit and discipline build through repetition. At first, it may be hard to devote even the smallest amount of time to home practice. We often place our own health and happiness at the bottom of our own to-do lists. Yoga that can feel invigorating and inspiring under the care of a teacher in a controlled studio space can feel torturous and tedious when we try to tell ourselves to do it. But keep at it. In time, and only through time, this changes. Day by day, practice will begin to take on qualities of ease and essentiality.
When you bring your practice home, you confront the real and complicated challenges of your life. Do not be discouraged or frustrated when this proves difficult. Learning to find peace in, around, and through these challenges is the true work of yoga.