With many yoga studios temporarily closing their doors due to the public health crisis that began this Spring, an increasing number of students are exploring what it means to commit to regularly practicing at home. While certainly a challenge, this also presents an opportunity to explore the practice in a new way that can hopefully extend past the time when business reopen and life returns to a “new normal”. So, for those just beginning a home practice or simply thinking of rolling out the mat in their living room, I’d like to discuss some of the advantages and challenges home practice presents.
There are many forms of “home practice”, including improvised flowing, following yoga videos, online classes, morning meditation, drilling specific skills (related to calisthenics)...and the list goes on.
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on two broad types. The first is self-guided home practice. This entails practicing in one’s own environment without the aid of a video or virtual instructor. The second is guided home practice, where one is at home but using a video or virtual instructor.
Self-Guided Home Practice:
In some ways, self-guided home practice is where a practice truly begins. When we’re following an instructor, our focus is intentionally drawn outwards for the sake of learning specific postures, following along with movements, and receiving motivation from our peers. When we guide ourselves, all the focus is turned inwards to the breath, pace, and sensation in the body. We learn to motivate ourselves and begin to recognize subtle changes and emotion. We’re allowed to truly quiet the mind. However, to practice in this way, there is a prerequisite level of knowledge required. Find some more information on these benefits and challenges below...
Increased body awareness: This is, in my opinion, the greatest and most powerful benefit of a self-guided practice. When you’re not constantly half-focused on what an instructor is doing or asking you to do, you’re really able to listen to your own body, focus acutely on matching your breath to each movement, and provide your body with precisely what it needs.
Self-determination: Being able to set your own pace and decide your own movements and asana, your practice ends up more effectively meeting the unique and individual needs of your body.
Freedom: This form of practice only requires a mat (if that), meaning you can take it with you wherever you go. Similarly, you can start and end whenever you like, and go for as long as it feels good. You are less limited by the constraints of yoga studio schedules and even commuting to and from other practice spaces.
Knowledge: To lead yourself through a practice, you must already know how to perform a full sequence of movements and static postures. Understanding the specific alignment cues of each posture is necessary both for safety and to maximize the benefits of your practice.
Self-discipline: Practicing around others is motivating. When you’re on your own, you need a greater level of self-discipline both to begin your practice and make it all the way through.
Use pre-made sequences: If you’re not yet able to create your own flows or if you’re looking for inspiration, find some sequences online that you can jot down and keep by your mat. Our mini-flows section presents multiple short flows that you can use individually or string together into a longer practice!
Build up slowly: If you're not used to long practices or have trouble finding motivation, it's ok to ease yourself in. Start with 20-30 minute practices, or perhaps with a little independent movement after your regular guided class and build up from there.
Work on what you need/feels good: Have you ever taken a yoga class that just hit all the right places? Gave you the perfect time for meditation? Stretched out everything that was feeling tight? Well, luckily you can design that for yourself pretty easily. Don’t be afraid to stack up poses that feel good or spend more time on the movements you like. This enjoyment of your practice will also help you remain consistent in coming back to the mat each day.
Guided Home Practice:
Guided Home Practice, which may entail the use of videos or an online instructor is a great way to get exposure to the huge diversity of teachers and classes in the world. With the freedom to choose from styles and studios, not limited by what's available in your local area, guided home practice is a critical way to discover all that the yoga world has to offer (while doing it on your own schedule). It’s also a great way to transition towards self-guided home practice.
Guidance and Inspiration: These days there are so many resources, from so many teachers, online. This means guided practice at home has the potential to introduce you to an almost infinite diversity of styles and teachers.
Relative freedom: Unlike studio classes, guided home practices don’t require you to show up to a studio at a specific time. You can find a video on your laptop or phone and dive right in, whenever it's convenient.
Relative control: Guided home practices, as opposed to studio classes, give you more opportunities to stop and work on specific postures or movements (since you can always hit pause on a video to play around). This can really help to master difficult poses that you may not have enough time to focus on when being cued by a live instructor.
Relative cost: The price tag for online yoga subscriptions is far less than in person classes. If money is tight, online portals can be a great way to get exposure to expert teachers.
Lack of personal attention: Unfortunately, in virtual classes there are a lot fewer opportunities for individualized attention. In the case of online videos, there’s no back and forth. This means if you’re performing movements without a preexisting knowledge of proper alignment, you may get into some bad habits that can be hard to fix later down the line.
Technology needs: You’ll need internet, a screen, speakers, etc. You get the point.
Explore your options: A lot of online yoga resources offer free trial periods (we typically use glo.com and alomoves.com). Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them and try out new teachers until you find a few that you really like.
Pick up some props: Having a few yoga blocks and a strap at home can make a big difference in terms of the overall quality of your home practice.
Grab friends: If you’re having trouble getting motivated, grab some friends. Since you’re still being guided, this type of home practice is great to do with others.
Ultimately, the “right” form of practice for you is going to depend on your personality, goals, available resources, and interests. When in periods of actively trying to build strength and flexibility for specific movements, a self-guided home practice will give the consistency needed master skills. For many teachers, a guided home practice may provide inspiration for designing classes while also giving the freedom of stopping a video to explore different movements. For someone looking to build a close community and get some meaningful human interaction, perhaps nothing will replace the value of an in-person studio class. For most, a mix of all these modalities is probably necessary for a well-rounded experience.
What’s important to recognize is that, as with any tool, each practice serves a specific purpose. Understanding that purpose is the key to unlocking the full potential of each format and most effective way to achieve whatever your goals may be.