Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have your own personal yoga practice?
Yoga is in and, because it is so popular these days, a host of podcasts, phone apps, YouTube videos, articles, books and DVDs, as well as a multitude of studio classes, and more (there is even a brewery venue for a yoga and beer class) have sprung up for giving one ample opportunity to give this eclectic form of mind/body exercise a go.
Perhaps you have tried one of of the above listed ways of experiencing this unifying ancient art form and have gotten hooked. Now, you want to go a bit deeper by practicing on your own at home, but your not sure how to get started.
Or, maybe you have never tried yoga and don’t know that much about it, but have heard how good it is for balancing body, mind and soul. Your curiosity is piqued, but you don’t know which class to attend (never mind that you are a bit timid about showing up for the first time), book to read, DVD to purchase or just where to begin.
Well, fear not. You can begin a personal yoga practice with a little desire, some motivation, and a smattering of yoga know how.
This blog is a very general and simple step by step guide to help you start a short daily home yoga practice. It is not intended to take the place of formal instruction by a qualified teacher nor does it take into account any injuries or preclusions to practice that you may have. However, if you pay attention as you practice making sure not to do anything that creates an inability to take a full deep breath in and let it go or brings on pain, you should be fine. Mindfulness or choosing to pay attention in a particular way on purpose without too much judgement or drama is the best way to start and maintain any yoga practice.
So, let’s get started.
Firstly, there is a formal daily home practice that consists of postures, breathing, concentration, and relaxation techniques. Secondly, there is an informal daily practice that encourages you to take your practice off of the mat and out into the world, aka… all the rest of the time!
Formal Personal Yoga Practice-
Find a space and everyday look at it and say, “one day I am gonna sit in that space and practice yoga”. This may take one day to several, but… at some point, you need to sit in the space and practice.
Sit in your space and feel what it feels like to simply be in a space that you have designated as your yoga practice space (your space can be the top of your bed, a closet, a small corner of your home or an entire room).
Start your practice by sitting with your legs loosely crossed and your sitting bones supported on a firm folded blanket. Close your eyes and pause feeling what it feels like to be here now. Bring the palms face down on your thighs. Think about softening and releasing the thighs into the support of the blanket and floor. Lengthen the waist up out of the hips and broaden across your chest in the front and your shoulder blades in back. Soften the shoulders away from your ears and let your head float as if filled with helium underside of the chin parallel to the floor. This is the beginning of your practice or what I like to call the “getting into it” phase. A time to prepare mentally for what is to come and to check in with yourself.
When you feel like beginning some movement, you transition to the middle of your practice or the “being in it” phase. This is where you will take the spine in each direction (forward, backward, laterally, rotationally, and axially) into a specific shape and hold the shape (pose) until you feel a bit of tension release be it physically or mentally. Begin by inhaling and creating a long, stacked spine (axial extension). Exhale and lengthen the spine any amount more. Now, inhale as you raise your arms over your head and when you exhale twist the body to the right bringing the right fingertips to the floor behind you (you can use a block for your hand if needed) and the left hand moves to the outside or top of the right thigh. Gaze down to the right hand behind you. Keep the shoulders soft and moving away from the ears. You want to think of the spine as the rod that the torso spirals around. Repeat this on the other side. Come back to the center. Reaching arms up again on an inhale, exhale and bend your torso to the right (lateral flexion) bringing your right hand or forearm down to the floor or onto a block and reaching your left arm up and over with the inside of the arm by your ear and the palm facing the floor. Try not to let your sitting bones lift off of the floor. Gaze into your upper armpit. Repeat this on the other side. Finally, reach your arms up on an inhale, then rotate your palms out and as you exhale lower arms bringing them behind your back and interlacing the fingers. Inhale and lift arms as much as possible, opening up your chest and lift you gaze (backward bend). Now, exhale fold forward from your hips and reach your interlaced hands and arms up and over allowing the crown of the head to move toward the floor and hold (forward flexion). Release the arms and slowly round up. Pause and feel what you feel.
Ending or “sealing the practice” is next. Close your eyes and simply watch your breath coming in and out. If you want, you can lengthen the in breath for a 4 count, pause for 4, exhale for 4, pause for 4 and repeat a few times to practice a more formal style of breathing technique. Then pause again and just watch whatever comes up for a few moments for practicing the limb of yoga called concentration. Roll down mindfully with arms and legs outstretched or stay seated and let your body completely relax (final relaxation). When you are ready to get up, give yourself an intention to take the benefits of your practice out into the rest of your day and to do any amount of formal practice everyday, even if just to sit in your space for a moment or two.
Informal Personal Yoga Practice-
This is the part where you take the benefits of what you are practicing daily and formally at home, into more and more moments of your daily life. This is where the practice can be defined as one that works… helps you experience more harmony and balance, or one that does not… has no ability to impact your life for the better. If your practice brings you more wellness, it works. Keep doing it. If not, you will need to change it up. Remember, it takes time and dedication to experience the fullness of this practice. Also, how you practice is crucial. If you practice in a harried way, it will only bring more of that. On the other hand, if your practice is mindful, then more mindfulness with its inherent calm and other benefits will ensue.
Keeping a gratitude journal, helping others, finding moments in your day to breathe deeply and fully, and scheduling in time for fun with friends are all ways to take your practice off of the mat. It is also helpful to read spiritual books regularly to remind you be your best, highest self.
Yoga has many branches and styles and creatively evolves as more folks experience, train and teach. The history and philosophy is varied, vast and rich. The end goal of all yoga practice and traditions, however, is to raise one’s awareness to such a degree that unity consciousness or the connection of all things is realized. A lofty goal, but certainly not the only one for most of us.
A personal yoga practice combining postures, breathing, concentration and relaxation techniques can bring physical ease, mental clarity and spiritual well-being… balance. The word yoga actually means to yoke or join, be it body, mind and spirit or small self with big Self.
I invite you to start this exciting journey of practicing yoga formally and informally and see for yourself the host of benefits that make a personal daily practice a smart move.
Questions? Contact Jeri Senor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeri offers a 2 day 16 hour approved CE course for Massage Therapists and Yoga Instructors called Yoga… a personal practice. This course, however, is for anyone desiring to learn how to create their own personal yoga practice. Contact Jeri for details.