Disclaimer: Please exercise caution in attempting any recommended workout and honor your own body. While I am a certified yoga instructor, these views are my perspective alone, based on my own experiences. Always consult a certified yoga instructor, trainer, physical therapist, etc. for additional guidance and instruction.
Your alarm goes off abruptly, startling you out of a peaceful sleep. You are barely roused and quickly hit the snooze button. You lay there, allowing your body and mind to acclimate to your surroundings. You begin to gently bring some movement into your limbs, stretching your arms overhead for a full-body stretch. Then you feel it. The tightness in your body and that dull achy feeling deep in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around your joints.
You reflect on how busy the week has been between work deadlines, house guests, family obligations and extracurriculars (not to mention your social life!). There has been no time to get to the gym for a workout and certainly no time for yoga. Where has the time gone?! you think to yourself. It has been two weeks since you had a real workout and your body is definitely feeling the resulting effects.
So what can you do?
The best, most convenient option for immediate relief would be to implement an in-home yoga practice into your day. This practice can be done in the comfort of your own home, first thing in the morning, just before bed, or anywhere in between. It gives you no excuse to not practice because it can be done on any budget, in as little as 20 minutes, with no commute time, requires very little space and take just a little bit of thought up front. Now this is not to say that you should give up on your studio practice, but, when you are in a pinch or even adding this to your typical workout routine you could benefit your life in an big way, all while creating a zen space right at home.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You have already read up on the benefits of practicing yoga at home and how to go about doing so. You’ve tried to execute it but it never stuck, there were too many distractions, you didn’t know how to guide your own flow or you didn’t even know where to begin. Trust me, I get it! As a certified yoga instructor, I struggle with it as well. I know that if it is difficult for me (and I teach yoga), then others must find it challenging, too. Not to worry. I think that with the right set-up and a little bit of organization before you begin, you will be able to create your very own at-home yoga flow.
Create a designated space
My first recommendation would be to create a designated space in your home or yard (depending on the time of year, time of day, weather, etc.) that is consistent for where you will practice. This may require some creativity initially but you only need a space large enough to fit your yoga mat and about one foot of space surrounding the mat. I currently live in a 700-square-foot space (downsized from a 2,000-sqaure-foot home so there is a LOT crammed into a small space). To say that space is tight would be an understatement. If I can make it work, you can too!
This does not mean that this space can’t be multi-functional, it simply means that you should have a designated spot so that it doesn’t require thinking and de-cluttering each time you want to practice. The space doesn’t have to be large, but it should be quiet, clean and safe.
This assigned space also means you get to create a space that feels zen and that is open to your own interpretation. You can place essential oils or rosewater nearby for a morning pick-me-up or a candle or two in your space for an evening zen practice. You can add anything that would bring stimulation to the senses and create a safe-calming environment. Creating an inviting environment for yoga can make a huge difference, so by all means get as creative as you like! Roll out your yoga mat and get ready to flow!
Helpful tip: Pogamats are PERFECT for an at-home practice because the thicker the mat, the better, especially when the flooring is not made specifically for exercise like you might find in a studio.
Begin Your Practice with 5-10 Minutes of Breathing/Meditation
Because yoga has just as many (if not more) benefits to the mind as it does to the body, it is important to begin the practice with either a 5-10 minute meditation or a controlled breathing exercise to get you in the zone and create a calm, de-stressed frame of mind.
I would recommend keeping this simple to start. Get into a comfortable cross-legged seated position on your mat (Sukhasana), sit up tall and allow your muscles to relax as you let gravity sink you deeper into the floor on your exhalations. For the breathing exercise, try to first master your basic “ujjayi pranayama”. To do this, inhale and exhale through your nose and into your belly, creating a slight constriction through the back of your throat which adds a natural resistance to the breath. Try to focus your attention solely on your breath.
To take this a step further, begin to lengthen your inhalations and exhalations to be equal beginning at four counts each (i.e. breathe in for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four). You can increase the counts over time up to 8 counts per inhalation and exhalation.
*** Side note: I will be creating a more in-depth post on breathing and meditation soon, so stay tuned!
Create a Simple Yoga Flow or a Series of Stretches
This is often the most critical and challenging aspect of an at-home yoga practice. The flow and physical postures piece of the yoga sequence is often quite difficult because we are used to being guided through our yoga flow by a teacher and told what to do and how to do it. For this reason, it is important to realize that an at-home practice is going to look and feel far different than it would in a class setting. Set that expectation from the start and, instead, listen to the needs of your body and allow yourself to move accordingly.
Begin your practice with Surya Namaskar A, especially if you are choosing a morning practice, as “Sun A” is the perfect flow to awaken the body and focus the mind. See this great step by step instruction of each pose from BuzzFeed. Just 20 minutes of flowing through Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) can have tremendous effects on wellness and can even get you out of a mental slump, according to a recent study in the International Journal of Yoga. This can be the extent of your practice, OR you can add on Sun B or any additional stretches you need. Again, let your body direct you based on what you feel.
Another option is to put a little prep-work into creating a series of stretches that target a specific area of the body. This way, we have direction with our practice and can cater to our specific needs for that day. For example, let’s say you get home from work and have lower back pain from sitting at a desk all day, then you might gear your practice to address the lower back.
- Cat pose (Marjaryasana)
- Cow pose (Bitilasana)
- Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Big toe pose (Padangusthasana)
- Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
- Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
***Side note: I will be creating a post with specific sequences and stretches to try at home in an upcoming post! Keep an eye out!
Allow Yourself to Complete Your Practice in Final Savasana
Savasana (corpse pose) is an important way to round out your practice because it allows your breath and heart rate to return to their natural state, your muscles to relax and your body temperature to normalize. It also acts as an effective de-stressing tool because it requires a complete stillness of mind and body.
I suggest setting a gradual alarm just before you allow yourself to get into this final pose so that you are able to fully relax without becoming restless or worried about falling asleep. Have this all set up prior to beginning your practice and set your alarm before savasana.
Creating your own at-home practice is like developing a muscle. It takes time and practice and, while it may feel strange at first, over time it will begin to feel more natural. The benefits are endless and it puts you in a position where you are really able to fully listen to your body and give it what it needs.