Overcoming the Obstacles to Yoga Practice
Part 3 Tips for Establishing Your Home Asana and Pranayama Practice
By Shayna Ogden, October 2017
Edited by Cara Steele (thanks)
In the previous two blog posts I shared my own experience of establishing a home yoga practice then explained some of the obstacles to practice that we all face, as outlined by Patanjali in sutras 1.29 – 1.31.
Here I give some practical tips as to how to start your home asana practice that will get you onto the mat and keep you returning on a regular basis.
- Put all your printed yoga material in a ring binder folder. Use divider tabs. Alternatively, organise your files within a specific folder on a computer or tablet.
- Keep a note book for your ‘yoga journal’ in which you can write goals, reflections and class notes.
- Decide where you will practise each day. Remove the clutter from the space, clean it and ‘mark’ the space by storing your yoga equipment there.
- Decide the days of the week and time that you will practise. Write a yoga practice timetable and ensure it fits with your weekly life schedule.
Take notes after attending classes in either stick figure format or long hand. Record the class sequence and any pertinent points you found helpful. This way you will develop your own library of practice sequences for when you can’t think of what to do yourself. Whilst this approach is sometimes criticised for being too ‘heady’, it is a good technique to get started. If you write your notes using long hand you will quickly learn the sanskrit names of the asanas.
Try setting goals to help you get going. Choose up to three personal goals that you would like to achieve and write them down in a yoga journal. You can self-evaluate by reviewing your goals against your overall progress over time. You will determine whether you achieved your goals or made some progress toward them. You may discover that other areas of your body or life improved which might be more important than your original goals.
Examples of goals are:
- improve flexibility,
- alleviate and manage physical pain ,
- alleviate and manage mental pain (stress, anguish, despair, nervousness, anxiety, depression),
- improve sleep,
- improve confidence,
- develop strength,
- improve posture and health
- develop the mental discipline to practise daily.
Plan Your Practice
- Plan what to practise over the course of a week. Write it down. Practise poses from each group of asanas (e.g. standing poses, forward bends, twists, backbends, inversions and restorative).
- Decide what to practise the night before.
- Include a longer restorative practice each week.
- Don’t be overly reliant on other people’s sequences. Be creative and explore your own. Try ‘winging it’ – start in a supine pose like supta virasana then go to uttanasana and adho mukha svanasana. See what comes up next for you.
Children and Practice
When young children are around it can be very difficult to practise. Practice becomes something of a ‘body maintenace’ activity rather than a deeper exploratory experience. Accept this and try the following:
- Split the practice into morning and afternoon or evening sessions, eg 45 minutes in the morning doing standing poses and 45 minutes in the evening after they have gone to bed doing inversions. I often started my evening practice after 8.30 pm when my children were young.
- Practice when the kids are sleeping. Be prepared to accept that nothing else can get done (eg washing, cleaning).
- Panayama, is best done before anyone else in the house wakes up. Pranayama can be done quietly in the dark so you are unlikely to wake other people up if done early in the morning. If you are breast feeding young babies during the night, consider doing pranayam after the breast feed since it is a time that you are up anyway and everyone else is alseep. Despite my best attempts to do pranayama on my own, there were many times when my children lay down beside me whilst of was doing lying pranyama, with their head in the crook of one of my arms. It meant of course that my body was lopsided but I continued anyway.
- When doing forward bends, get the kids either lie, sit or stand on you.
Use props (belts, blankets, blocks, bolster, shoulderstand pads, wall) as you have been taught in class or for your specific condition. Modify poses as required, but don’t compromise on alignment or integrity. If you are unsure as to prop use for your condition, please ask your teacher.
Record your practice
Consider recording your practice. Write down the sequence you practised in stick figure format. This allows you to easily look back and see what you have practised over time. Write down the day of the week and time of day you practiced. You may find that you feel different practising in the morning compared to the evening, and on different days of the week.
Pay Attention to your Needs
- If you feel tired, start with a restorative pose like viparita karani, then do uttanasana, adho mukha svansana and sirsasana. You may then feel refreshed to practise other poses that require more exertion.
- Don’t overdo. Don’t under do.
- Pay attention to your own specific needs e.g. menstruation, injuries, energy level etc.
Record the number of minutes you practice. Aim for a minimum of 45 minutes to start with. Work up to 90 – 120 minutes per day six days per week. Due to time constraints, you may have to split the practice into morning and evening sessions.
Reflect on your individual practices and your practice over time. Record any thoughts you may have or discoveries you make:
- What came up, what did you discover?
- Did you enjoy the practice?
- Did you find it difficult or easy?
- Did your mind wander?
- Did you stay focussed?
- Are you progressing towards your goals?
- Have you changed as a person?
- What were the expected changes? Compare these to the unexpected changes.
- Is your sleep different?
- Do you behave differently?
- Are you more patient, less irritated?
- Do you feel calm?
- Do you have a sense of mental clarity?
Refer to other sources
These days there are many sources easily available to assist you in practice:
- Many books contain practice sequences including:
- Iyengar, BKS 2001, Light on Yoga, Thorsons, Hammersmith, London
- Iyengar, BKS 2001, Yoga the Path to Holistic Health, Dorling Kindersley Limited, London
- Mehta, M 1994, How to Use Yoga, Anness Publishing Limited, London
- Mehta, S & Mehta, M & Mehta, S 2001, Yoga the Iyengar Way, Alfred A. Knopff, New York
Make a point of going through and practising each of these sequences.
- If you have a few hours, try some of the courses in the appendices of Light on Yoga. Remember these sequences are not necessarily given in order and you may need to reorder them. As an exercise, consider starting at Course 1 and work through to Courses 2 and 3. This is a good way to become completely familiar with this book.
- There are many Iyengar Yoga websites you can refer to for information, such as:
- There are also many short video clips on You Tube of BKS Iyengar and Geeta Iyengar teaching, as well as demonstrations of Iyengar Yoga which can be both informative and inspiring.
Establishing a practice can be a long journey, it is not a linear process. It is normal to have has ups and downs, ins and outs. Practice changes over time. It requires tapas – discipline and perseverance but should not be austere such that there is no enjoyment or fun. Unless we inject joy into our practice it becomes boring and we will lose interest.
I hope you manage to use some of these tips to establish your practice and to enjoy your yoga and the transformation it brings about. It is a rewarding journey and you will discover more than you think. Just start practising and you may find that many of your obstacles drop away.
Iyengar, BKS 2001, Light on Yoga, Thorsons, Hammersmith, London
Iyengar, BKS 2001, Yoga the Path to Holistic Health, Dorling Kindersley Limited, London
Mehta, M 1994, How to Use Yoga, Anness Publishing Limited, London
Mehta, S & Mehta, M & Mehta, S 2001, Yoga the Iyengar Way, Alfred A. Knopff, New York