During this unprecedented time of "social distancing" and "stay-at-home" mandates by state and local governments, yoga practitioners from all over the globe are facing the choice of practicing solo, choosing to participate in a virtual class or take a break until yoga studios open again. Most are opting for some combination of all three and are, perhaps for the first time, needing to craft a manageable home yoga regimen.
There are many reasons other than following "shelter-in-place" edicts that create a necessity for self-practice, including: nursing an injury, financial concerns, illness recovery, working through grief, logistical constraints, lack of childcare, just to name a few. Whatever the reason, it can be very challenging to initiate and maintain consistency when left to one's own devises. Our human needs for community, relationship and belonging are especially highlighted in this mandatory isolation time which makes starting a home practice even more challenging but, can be I believe, ultimately self-empowering and very rewarding.
I have been practicing mostly alone for over 25 years (for more info on my yoga journey... https://breathetogetheronline.com/yoga/getting-to-know-ashtanga-instructor-leigha-nicole/?fbclid=lwAR0gHQ0YkhVRh8zevdLW5-euKFFsZJeb4kdgrArMNJx4T9F9_45V9cc6RaY ) mainly due to a lack of close proximity to my primary teachers. Thankfully, going to India many times for extended study and visiting my Western teachers for classes and trainings a few times annually, allowed me to "plug in" to a learning environment which inspired and energized my solitary sadhana. I feel very fortunate to have had long-time relationships with my yoga, painting and bodywork teachers, some many decades in length and I have never lived close to any of them. Most of my extra money over the years has been spent visiting them as often as possible to obtain their much needed wisdom and advice. So, even though I believe there is no substitute for finding and maintaining a relationship with a qualified teacher that inspires, sometimes there is a need for deepening one's Svadhyaya (study of the self) through practicing alone.
* WARNING: These suggestions could be considered by some to be so unconventional they boarder on disrespect to yogic teachings. It is of course, not at all my intention to be disrespectful to any yoga lineage, ancient texts, or traditional methods. I believe in the importance of Parampara (the passing on of ancient knowledge through successive generations) and am deeply committed to preserving whatever I have learned out of respect for my teachers. These tips are offered in the spirit of self love and care based on whatever yoga style feels appropriate and loosening the strict ideas around what constitutes a legitimate "practice" that could be preventing us from carving out some much needed quiet "tuning in" time.
1) WARM UP WITH HYDROTHERAPY - Bathing before a yoga practice not only warms up the physical body but, will allow you to feel fresh on the mat. Also, we are observing Saucha (one of the Niyamas meaning "cleanliness").
2) TRY A LITTLE CAFFEINE - If your constitution can tolerate a caffeinated drink of some kind then perhaps timing a mug of your choice before you begin can give you an added energy boost to propel you on to your mat. Also, it can assist in intestinal elimination which is ideal!
3) CREATE A BEAUTIFUL SACRED SPACE - Making an altar that has deep meaning for you with pictures, deities, candles, talismans, etc., can inspire devotion and can allow you to start your practice with an attitude of gratitude! You may want to place your mat facing it. Even if you don't have a lot of room, turning the heat up, cleaning your mat, the floor under your mat, lighting a candle, putting some essential oil you love in a diffuser or burning some pure incense (I buy pure sandalwood and aloes wood here...http://kohshisf.com/ ) can create a warm and inspiring environment.
4) ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS - Give yourself a window of time to do necessary chores, answer emails, fulfill family duties, etc., then TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! It takes much discipline to focus in this modern age and it may take some time to be able to concentrate and stay on the mat but, Pratyahara (control of the senses) and Dharana (developing concentration) are 2 important limbs of yoga and worth cultivating.
5) START A PRACTICE JOURNAL - I have had many practice journals over the years that allow me to document my experiences with different poses and sequences. This is particularly helpful when working through an injury.
6) CHOOSE SOME INSPIRATIONAL CHANTING OR MUSIC - I sometimes love to hear music or sutra chanting while I am doing yoga. Listen to any music that inspires you. Maybe the kids or your dog will join in. Occasionally, the music I choose leads to spontaneous dancing which can win out over yoga! Not such a bad thing every once in a while!
As far as chanting goes, by far my favorite is Dr. Jayashree from Mysore... https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/drmajayashree1. I have found that her lovely meditative tone also makes it easy to memorize the Yoga Sutras, if that is something that interests you.
7) BE REALISTIC ABOUT TIME AND ADJUST ACCORDINGLY - How much time do you really have for yoga? Don't be hard on yourself if you have less time than usual. We all have busy lives and fitting in just a few minutes for ourselves can seem almost impossible at times.
Since we follow specific sequences in the Ashtanga system that are progressive, it can be a little easier to abbreviate than in other systems. Sometimes we may only have time for a few Sun Salutations, which is fine since they are mini practices in themselves. Make sure your routine is balanced (lots of yoga books have sample routines in them) and that you are mindful of practicing progressively. We may have to realistically weigh quality over quantity.
Consult your teacher if you need ideas regarding shorter sequences in your lineage or style. Practice what you know and remember that a little yoga is better than none at all.
8) TRY SOME VIRTUAL COMPANY - Practicing to a DVD or an audio class is sometimes a fun idea. Of course, YouTube has lots of yogic lectures available for streaming. Richard Freeman has some great "Studio Talks" available for purchase as well as his brilliant series, "Yoga Matrix". A must have for serious students of yoga philosophy... https://www.richardfreemanyoga.com/audio .
Another great option, which many teachers are now offering is an online class! The Mindful Body in San Francisco, a studio where I teach several times a year, has a full online schedule available with excellent teachers... https://themindfulbody.com/yoga-schedule/ .
9) START WITH A BRIEF SITTING PRACTICE - A few minutes of Zazen (sitting meditation) can be a great way of tapping into the present moment and exploring one's inner landscape before launching into movement.
10) BEGIN WITH SOME INSPIRATIONAL READING - For decades I have started my early mornings with some spiritual reading. When the mind is fresh is a good time to implant some affirmations or uplifting words. You might want to study 1 Yoga Sutra a day. "The Unadorned Thread of Yoga" is a compilation book that has 10 translations per sutra... https://www.yogasutras.net/product/unadorned-thread/ .
11) SAY YES TO COMFORTABLE CLOTHING - Consider wearing a loose fitting outfit made from natural fibers. If you normally practice in fashionable, tight, spandex-type tights and tops (ie., Lululemon) try something less constricting. Maybe, if it feels good, try practicing braless!
12) PHONE A FRIEND - Inviting a friend over for a practice date can go a long way to keeping us committed and accountable.
13) CHOOSE A THEME - Picking a area of focus in advance can provide some interesting insights. Grouping poses together from a catagory (twists, forward bends, back bends) can provide an easy theme. If you are an Ashtanga Yoga practitioner then there are some obvious areas of focus which can be isolated such as: Ujjayi breath, Bandhas, Drishti, etc.
14) START WITH YOUR FAVORITE POSE OR AN INVERSION - Lately, I have been starting my practice upside-down. It flushes my brain with blood and changes my perspective immediately. Doing your favorite pose first sometimes can lure you on to your mat like nothing else.
15) GET CREATIVE WITH PROPS - There are so many fun props to incorporate into our practices these days. Balls, blocks, bolsters, blankets, wrist wedges, back bending wheels, backbender benches and headstanders are just some of the toys you can try... https://www.yogaprops.com/ .
16) USE A MIRROR TO CHECK YOUR ALIGNMENT - Occasionally, checking my alignment in a mirror is very educational. Sometimes our proprioception can play tricks on us and the alignment we are trying to maintain in some poses is much different than we think. Using a mirror is especially helpful when checking for body asymmetries.
17) CHECK IN WITH YOUR TEACHER - It is very helpful sometimes to get in touch with our teachers. They can provide answers to our questions and give needed suggestions regarding our yoga practice. If you are lucky enough to have an established relationship with a teacher, getting some feedback can feel like a lifeline!
18) EAT A TINY BIT OF FOOD - Depending on when you are practicing, having a little bit of easily digestible food (half of a banana, a few almonds, some fresh juice, etc.) can quell hunger long enough to squeeze in a little yoga. Ideally, we would have at least 4 hours between a meal and yoga but, when we are trying to fit in our yoga during a child's nap time or a lunch hour, we may need a small snack to get us through.
19) SET OUT YOUR MAT AND YOUR YOGA OUTFIT THE NIGHT BEFORE - Seeing our mat rolled out and our clothes ready to put on can inspire us to begin without delay.
20) GIVE YOURSELF A LONG SHAVASANA - Committing to giving ourselves a long uninterrupted rest at the end of our practice can also provide needed incentive. Particularly when we have not slept well the night before.
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