By Jenn, Contributing Writer
This month at Modern Alternative Health, we are slowing down. And when I think of slowing down, the first thing that comes to mind is yoga.
When I was younger, I always thought yoga was a bit weird. All the chanting and meditation was kooky, and it never felt like a “proper” workout. But then I started to enjoy the relaxation and stillness of Body Balance classes at my local gym. I did these classes on and off for a few years, and added some mindfulness meditation two years ago, but it wasn’t until I moved to Brunei three months ago that I started to get serious about my yoga practice and realized that I loved all the kooky chanting.
Moving was a difficult transition for me, and I found that yoga and meditation kept me in the moment, and helped ease my tendency towards depression. So when I started another round of fertility treatments at the start of June, I decided that in order to really look after myself, I would do yoga every day for the whole month.
I had some classes available at the local club, but there were not classes every day, so in order to complete the challenge, I had to work out how I could practice yoga at home. I had never done much yoga at home before, but at the end of the month, I actually prefer my home yoga practice. I love the ease and flexibility, and the fact that I can do whatever my body is craving on a particular day.
I don’t always work quite as hard as I would in a class, and I like seeing other yogis, so I will continue to attend classes as well, but the month taught me a lot about myself and a lot about how to set up a solid practice at home.
Starting Your At-Home Yoga Practice
Get Set Up
When preparing for your yoga practice, the first thing to do is find a yoga space. It doesn’t need to be a dedicated space, but it will be better if it is easy to get set up. Make sure you have everything you need (laptop, mat, props) easily available, and plenty of room (you need to be able to lie lengthwise on your mat with both arms outstretched in a T shape at a minimum).
Getting set up also means getting a mat, which is really the only thing you need to do yoga (apart from your body and an open mind). On my old cheap yoga mat my Downward Dog slipped, especially in the heat, so investing in a seriously sticky yoga mat was well worth it. There are hundreds of different mats out there, and what you choose will depend on your preferences and your budget.
Then there’s the question of props. Depending on the style of yoga you do, and your flexibility, many yoga teachers and sites will recommend blocks, bolsters, blankets and straps to help your practice. If you have these available, or are able to purchase them, that’s great. But if not, when you’re at home, it’s easy to use alternatives. I purchased some foam blocks, but you can usually use a couple of thick books instead. Cushions can replace bolsters and blankets, and a belt or scarf can take the place of a strap.
Find Your Resources
If you’re a beginner to yoga, you’re going to need some resources to help you get started. It’s a great idea to visit some classes first. The teachers can help get your alignment right, making sure you stay safe, and can give you an idea of how a practice should be structured.
You can also find hundreds of different yoga classes and tutorials online, many of them free. I use YogaGlo (you can get a two week trial period, and then the site costs $18 per month). The site contains hundreds of great classes, organised by style, duration, body part, teacher, and I’m sure there are lots of other sites similar that have good classes. There are also thousands of classes on YouTube, but the quality varies. It’s best to check first that the teacher is qualified, and make sure it’s at the right level before you start.
Another great way to get started is to visit a private yoga teacher and to have them set up some routines for you. I still keep and use regularly the routines that my teacher designed for me.
Create a Habit
In my month of doing yoga every day, I have rediscovered how powerful it is to create habits. In the early part of the month, I was extremely consistent, practicing every morning. But then in the last week, my parents-in-law arrived for a visit, and we went on holiday. I had a change in routine and it was a shock. I realized that my habits were not as ingrained as I had thought. When we got home, I worked out how I could make my routine more flexible (because the first month was so great that of course I’m continuing the every day thing).
Your habit may not be daily. You might aim to practice once or twice a week. But whatever you decide to do, consistency will help you to achieve it. And if you travel a lot or have an inconsistent schedule, making your habits as transportable and flexible as possible will be a big help.
Listen to Your Body
The best thing about practicing at home is that you can do exactly what your body wants each day. It takes a while to be able to read the signs, but after practicing consistently for the last two months, I am getting more connected to my body. I know whether my shoulders or my hips need attention, when I should do a restful restorative practice and when I should sweat it out in Vinyasa flow, and how long I can tolerate. I know that on certain cycle days I need to rest and listen to my body, and that if I’m feeling tense I need long intense stretches. I can tailor my practice to me, making it that much more valuable.
These are the things I found most important when figuring out my yoga practice. But really, the most important thing is to just do it. The more you practice, the more you will learn and figure out for yourself. And learning about yourself and your body is the aim of any yoga practice, whether at home or in a studio.