Whether you’re a long-time practitioner of yoga or a beginner – and no matter what kind of physical or spiritual pursuit you follow – it takes practice to improve and receive the benefits. One of the most challenging aspects of yoga is developing and maintaining a home practice. We know it’s a lot easier to go to class, but time, money, and location can get in the way of making a daily trek to your favorite studio.
It’s common, too, to start a practice and then run into stumbling blocks. An illness or injury can throw us off the schedule we’ve developed, and so can a business trip or visitors from out of town. Not to mention the changing needs of a baby or child! Many things cause us to stop practicing and we may find an inner resistance to getting back on the mat.
And then, what if you practice regularly, but the postures seem to be getting stale? How do we inject freshness, enthusiasm, and energy into the poses, our breath, or our time sitting in meditation?
Challenges may arise when you’re trying to revitalize a regular practice or start a new one, but you can find vitality in your home “studio” again. Here are a few tips that may put the spring back into your asana!
1) Change your environment
If you’re used to practicing with music, try silence, or vice-versa. Or you can pick some music you’ve not considered before. If incense inspires you, ignite a stick. Light candles, open a window or sliding-glass door, make a little altar in front of you. Wear your favorite color. Practice in the bathroom, on the kitchen floor, or out on your deck (but not in bright sunlight or the heat of the day). Sometimes a change of scenery or your senses will revitalize a stale practice or inspire a new one.
2) Shift your pace
If you usually jam through vinyasa after vinyasa, mix it up a bit and try some longer holds of poses. Those who tend to stay in poses for long periods can add in a flowing Surya Namaskara (sun salutation) sequence of your choice periodically throughout your mat time. Try restoratives if you feel burned out. Or play with moving in and out of a pose several times before you settle down into it. Explore what it’s like to move to a different rhythm than you’re accustomed to.
3) Change your breath
Focus on either inhalation or exhalation for an entire practice. Work on equal inhalations and exhalations (Sama Vritti Pranayama), or explore an exhalation that is twice as long as the inhalation. How does it affect your experience if you retain the breath for a bit at the top of the inhalation, or bottom of the exhalation? Can you maintain the same pace of breath for your entire practice? You can even spend a few minutes only doing pranayama (breathwork), especially on those exhausting days. Try alternate nostril breath to balance out before the physical poses, or to refresh yourself in the middle of your day.
4) Mix it up
Play with a specific sequence for a while, like the Ashtanga Primary series or the Bikram series. Or, focus on different kinds of poses each day. For example, backbends on Monday, twists on Tuesday, forward bends on Wednesday. You could also do a well-rounded practice with a little of each. Or pull out Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar or another interesting yoga book and try a pose you’ve never done before.
5) Consider a different focus
Spend an entire practice feeling your toes in every pose, or observing your gluteus muscles. You can pick any part of the body and use it for exploration. It may bring about whole new insights of the poses! Or you can shift your focus to mental or emotional realms – watching what reactions certain poses bring up. If you’re feeling resistant, take that energy onto the yoga mat and see what it feels like in the Warrior poses. Take note of what movements, breathing patterns, or postures calm you the most or increase your energy.
If you’re recovering from injury, explore backing way off from your old intensity and see if you can find enjoyment in little movements and simple poses. Make use of props, even if before you were able to easily do without. Attempt easier versions of the postures rather than jumping into the most advanced. Simplicity can be profound and a greater challenge for the mind, even if the body doesn’t believe so. Get curious about simple, gentle, and subtle movement.
7) Start small
If you have a hard time getting on the mat, just practice for 5 minutes. Set a timer and give yourself fully to that time. Or decide to do 4 sun salutes. You could also pick any three poses and decide to do them. If all else fails, lie in Savasana and notice what that is like. A little bit is better than nothing at all. You’ll often find that once you’ve started, you’ll want to practice a little longer.
The energy of each season, too, can motivate you to start anew in your own exploration of yoga. Fall entices us to look within, winter beckons us to be still, while spring brings new adventures and summer invigorates us. In whatever season you feel inspired to spruce up your yoga, time spent practicing on your own will offer you insights you won’t experience in the structure of a class.
Copyright © 2005, 2013 by Constance L. Habash