If you have been attending guided yoga classes for a while, at some point you may want to consider starting your own self practice at home. Daily self practice provides a context in which we can gradually awaken to ourselves as we are. Our yoga practice helps to establish and sustain the awareness of inner tranquility that is always available to us even we are going through the hubbub of everyday life. Fundamentally, Yoga is a life practice which facilitates an on-going inquiry into how to be completely engaged in life. Through practice, we begin to find there is a neutral “witness” that perceives these passing happenings in life yet this “witness” is untouched by all the external chaos.
An important aspect of the spiritual journey is to eventually be able to sit by yourself without the disturbance of our wavering mind. A self practice is the first step in spending time with your self in awareness and self discovery. I find that it is during my own self practice that I experience and realise many things in life – such as my mental patterns, the thought current of my mind, many inspirations for new yoga practice or topics/workshop, the creative Self, the blissful Self, the expansive Cosmos, the devotion to Ishwara and the inter-connectedness of everything in life. To me, there is a huge entertainment source within me which keeps me in touch with reality and that is why many external worldly entertainment pale in comparison.
Many of my students find it difficult to start their own self practice. I’ve been asked – “If I do my practice at home, what is the need for a teacher?” The teacher is there to share knowledge of the science of yoga and create spaces for students to experience different dimensions of self and life. You will progress to find different teachers or masters because each teacher will add something to your own practice.
Now, how to structure a home practice? It can be tricky if you are unsure how to get started. In my journey, I have discovered that there is a set of useful guidelines for beginners, written by Donna Farhi, one of the international yoga teachers whom I had the fortune of learning the technical knowledge of yoga practice. Before I share it with my readers, I like to give my gratitude to her for creating these practical tips so that many can also benefit.
Guidelines to structuring a self practice:-
- One Step at a Time or Setting “Achievable Goals”
It has taken you so many years of habits & ingrained patterns to become the person you are today. Like everyone, some of these habits are constructive, like brushing your teeth, and others are destructive, like over-eating. Don’t start by trying to do 2 hrs of yoga practice each day – that will last approximately 3 days I can assure you. You might set yourself a goal such as 30 mins 3 times a week, that you know you can keep. As you meet your goal gradually, set new more challenging goals that you also know you can achieve.
- Same Time, Same Place
It’s a good idea to practice at roughly the same time each day in the same place. After a while, your practice will become like brushing your teeth – something you simply do. A practice place can be the corner of a room, or if you are lucky, a whole room. Keep that place clean & have something beautiful such as fresh flower, a candle or an inspirational poem in view to inspire you. After a while, your practice place builds a certain energy that can even be palpable to others, much like a church or temple has certain energy. Every time you go to your practice spot, it gets easier & easier to practice because of the strong associations that you have built, (both consciously & unconsciously) over time.
Before you practice, take a refreshing shower or bath & make sure your practice clothes are clean & comfortable. By dressing for the occasion of practice, you are acknowledging that your practice is as important as going to work.
- Make Appointments & Keep Them
Make an appointment with yourself & keep it. There are countless excuses (all of which sound good beforehand & poor afterwards) for not practicing. If others challenge your practice time with their demands, be firm. They don’t have to know that the appointment is with yourself. If you absolutely must skip that practice appointment, immediately set up an alternate time that day or the next day.
- Breaking the Ice
If you feel tremendous resistance to practicing try this trick – make an agreement with yourself to do only 3 yoga poses. Usually after those 3 poses, the ice is broken and you find your resistance melting. You can also try doing a very relaxing enjoyable pose first. This may seduce you into the practice.
- True & False Fatigue
Sometimes we come to our practice feeling tired. It is easy to determine whether your fatigue is mental lassitude as often happens after a day of intellectual work or real physical tiredness. If you begin your practice & find your energy diminishing after a few postures you are truly fatigued. You may choose to do a forward bend practice, a passive therapeutic restorative practice or even a long Savasana (corpse pose) as part of your practice to recover from fatigue & build your energy. If, however, after doing a few poses you find your energy increasing, it’s likely that your “fatigue” is indeed mental lassitude or possibly resistance &/or depression. Before forsaking your practice because of fatigue, test yourself in this way.
If you find that fatigue is your major obstacle to practicing, you might ask whether you are willing to change your lifestyle in order to practice. What are your priorities? If going out to a late-night movie or socializing too much means you are drained for your yoga practice in the morning, you may want to consider making some lifestyle changes. This doesn’t mean you opt for the yoga practice, as yoga is not about rigidity, but it does mean you consider your practice as a priority that needs to be accommodated.
When you are starting a new habit, it helps to have a little incentive. Although it sounds silly, rewards work. In the beginning, give yourself a reward each week for completing the practice goal you set yourself. Then give yourself a reward for each month of completed practice. Your reward could be as simple as a walk on the beach, a new book, a manicure, a massage, a plant for the garden or an item of clothing. Resist the tendency to choose junk food as a reward – will you feel good after eating your reward or regretful? Ask yourself: “Will my reward make me feel good physically and psychologically?” and choose accordingly.
Starting (or ending) your practice with a simple chant or prayer is a wonderful way to reaffirm your purpose in practicing yoga. Most of the traditional yoga prayers are ecumenical & non-religious yet all affirm that bringing peace to oneself & others is the primary purpose of any yoga practice. You can also offer silent prayers of kindness towards yourself & others at the conclusion of your practice.
One final word of advice, stick to your self practice continuously for at least 21 days as this is the duration required for our body-mind to settle into a habit. Once you overcome the initial resistance, then you will be on the cruising mode entering into a world of self discovery. 🙂