How to Practice Yoga at Home
Several people who practice yoga with us at Tranquility Yoga in Owasso frequently ask me how to practice yoga at home. My answer is simply, "Just do it!" Find a place where you can move things out of the way, set out your mat, turn off your phone, T.V., etc., and begin. Of course, you can always use a DVD or watch an internet video to help you remember the sequence of poses. However, when I first began teaching yoga over five years ago, I would set out index cards with the yoga postures in stick figures in front of my mat in the order that I intended to teach them. Today, I study for several hours before my classes for the anatomy information, posture and alignment instructions, and flow sequence. I want to give you a quality practice that is different even though it may be similar to what we have accomplished before in one of our many classes offered each week. My goal has always been to inspire you to make yoga and fitness an important part of your life. Now when I teach yoga, I visualize the practice beforehand in my mind, write down the poses that I want to cover, and start the class.
Let's just pretend (since I am in Georgia right now) that we are ready to practice. Take a comfortable seated position on your mat. The first thing I would say is that I hope you haven't eaten right before you begin. In fact, wait from 1 to 3 hours since your last meal to begin your home practice. Morning before breakfast is an awesome time to do this if you are a morning person like I am. However, if you stumble from bed to breakfast to work in a stupor, you may want to add this to the afternoon or evening schedule of your daily activities. Drinking plenty of water is a vital way to start, and it won't interrupt your yoga time the way food does (especially when you turn upside down in downward facing dog).
I personally believe that setting an intention for your practice is a quiet way to set this time aside to do yoga. It gives you 90 seconds of quiet. This brief meditation allows your mind to calm down, focus, and begin to concentrate on your breath. In yoga the Sanskrit word is pratyahara which means "withdrawal of the senses." Wikipedia says that pratyahara is,"Control of our senses requires mastery over the flow of prana, as that is what drives the senses. To stop the scattering of valuable vital energy of the body or prana, we need to seek control over its flow, and harmonize it. This is done through various practices including bringing the entire focus to a single point in the body which is practiced by consciously withdrawing attention from anything that is unwholesome, and distracting for the mind such as by withdrawing attention from the senses, and directing it inwards." Essentially, it is focusing your attention on your breath and setting a self-affirmation for your day.
Now we are ready to begin by inhaling in through the nose and exhaling out through the nose, your hands are in front of your heart, your mind and room are quiet, and you keep your time like a moving meditation with your breath.
Posture #1 - Easy seated pose with lateral flexion
Sit on a folded blanket or two so that your hips are higher than your knees and your ankles are either in a cross-legged position or lined up one in front of the other. The important thing here in Easy seated pose or Sukhasana is to find a position where you can sit still and let go. Baron Baptiste, a famous yoga instructor, says, "Let go and let God." So, relax the tension out of your jaw, relax your cheeks, close your eyes or lower your gaze to the floor. Breathe in; breathe out, allowing your chest to fill up with air, your belly enlarges, and then empty out the breath on the exhale with every part returning to normal.
Inhale both arms up, exhale your left one down to touch the floor right beside you, and bring your right arm up and over your ear pointing towards the ceiling. You are lengthening the right side of your body and contracting your left oblique muscles in your core. Inhale back to the center and exhale your right arm down. Inhale both arms up, and exhale your right hand down to the floor while bringing your left arm up and over your left ear pointing towards where your wall meets the ceiling. Do this sequence twice on each side.
Posture #2 - Easy seated twist
Once again, lengthen both arms up on the inhalation, and then exhale as your right hand rests easily on your left thigh or knee. Inhale up with your left and touch your left hand on a block or the mat right behind your tailbone. Every twist begins at the waist; therefore, inhale as you reach the crown of your head towards the ceiling and exhale twist towards the left. Use approximately three breaths here each time twisting a little more. If you experience any type of pain, remember that is our stop sign. (Stay where you are and then return to the front if you feel discomfort.)
Turn your neck and head last of all to look over your left shoulder. Then, come back to center. Now, do the same movement, but do it on the other side as you twist to the right with your left hand on your right knee or thigh and your right hand behind you. I like to do this pose several times to release my spine.
Posture #3 - Cat/Cow pose
Come to all fours or "quadruped" as I like to call it. Check your alignment with shoulders over wrist creases (parallel to the top of your mat), and your hips over your knees (toes curled under). If you have any type of knee discomfort, double your mat or place a thinly folded blanket under your knees. Inhale in a neutral position to start, then exhale as you drop your tailbone and begin rounding your spine. Bring your navel in towards your spine with navel lock and contract the area between your pubic bone and tailbone with root lock. Arch your back as you pull your chin towards your collarbone. On the inhale, release as you lift your tailbone, letting go of the locks, reaching your chest forward between your biceps, and lifting your head. Continue this sequence several times as you feel your spine release any tension or ache that you may have incurred through the night of sleep or during the daytime hours with stress and tension.
Posture #4 - Spinal balance
As you are still on your knees, come back to a neutral position. Inhale stretch your right leg back behind you as you extend your left arm forward. Imagine that you were a bird dog pointing as you lengthen your body in opposite directions. Keep your gaze down towards the floor and reach towards opposite walls. Exhale to release your knee to the floor/hand to the mat and move to the other side. Your core locks (root and navel) are also important on this yoga posture as it brings strength to protect your lower back. Remember to push through your heel when you extend the leg backwards and reach through the fingertips forwards. Now, do the other side. Alternate the sides, right leg, left leg, right, left...several times. Keep your breath and movement steady and even.
Posture #5 - Child's pose to release your back
Inhale back to neutral position just like you started. Exhale as you sit back on your heels with knees splayed widely apart and the roots of your big toes together. Lower your torso between your knees almost like you were cradling it with your thighs and reach your arms forward to the top of the mat. If it is difficult for you to be in this position comfortably, rest your forehead on a blanket or soft block; otherwise, bring your forehead to the floor. This is a pose that I always encourage you to come back to again and again. It is a good place to check in with your breath and release any tension in your wrists or back.
Posture #6 - Move to Downward Facing Dog
Inhale up to all fours or quadruped with your toes tucked under and feet hip width apart. This is just the same way we began our Cat/Cow sequence. On the exhale, press back into the balls of your feet and raise your hips high towards the ceiling as you begin to straighten your legs as much as possible. If you have tight hamstring muscles in the backs of your legs, keep your knees as soft as you need to in order to lift your hips high. Flatten your palms to the mat especially the index finger and thumb mid-knuckles. Dynamically lift the weight off your shoulders and send it towards your hips and down to your heels. Yes, in the beginning, your wrists will feel uncomfortable until you build the strength in them to enjoy this pose. (An alternative method is to use the Gripitz blocks that are soft like yoga blocks, but they have a bar between the soft squares on the ends. As you hold onto the bar instead of the big flexion of your wrists on the floor, you may be able to find more ease in this yoga posture.)
You can bend one knee in order to press the other heel to the floor and repeat on the opposite side. Some teachers call this "dog pedaling" out your heels. Your gazing point is always important as it helps you keep your mind focused. Thus, gaze between your feet in Downward Dog or up towards your navel center.
Posture #7 - Stepping forward to a Forward Fold
Bringing your big toes together in the center of your mat, lift your right leg to hip height on the inhalation. On the exhalation, pull your right knee into your chest and move your entire body forward in order to set your right foot on the mat between your hands. This may take some effort and experience.
Many people struggle with stepping the foot forward; therefore, use blocks under hands to lift a little higher off the mat or help your foot forward with the same hand. Once your foot is between your hands, bring the other foot forward to meet it.
Standing firmly planted with your feet forward (think of a line right in the center of your ankle drawn towards your third toe for your feet to line up correctly). Keep your legs active by lifting the knee caps and arches of your feet while your torso and head hang over your legs like a waterfall. Take any round out of your lower back by lengthening forward over your legs on each inhale and exhale folding a little more. Keep your knees soft once again if your hamstrings are tight. If you do this stepping forward a second time, alternate the leg lift to hip height with your left leg, then right leg the next time...
Posture #8 - Reverse Swan Dive up to a Standing Position
Inhale as you reach about halfway up and look forward at the floor or baseboard. Do this with a flat back. Make sure your hands are touching something, such as a block or your shins. No hanging hands with air underneath - this just increases backpain. Exhale as you fold forward again. Then, bending your knees as deeply as necessary, bring your arms out to the side as you reverse swan dive your hands towards the ceiling on the inhalation.
Posture #9 - Upward Standing Salute to Mountain Pose
Once you have inhaled up in a standing position, reach your arms to the ceiling and look upward if it is okay with the back of your neck and does not cause any uncomfortable sensations. Lengthen through your side body as you stretch upward and then exhale your hands to heart in "Namaste'" position or equal standing. Release your arms to your sides, your chest open, and your chin held parallel to the floor. Notice the feeling of your feet on the floor and spread your toes widely as you bring your attention back to your breath and your gaze forward down the tip of your nose.
Posture #10 - Sun Salutes A, B, or C
To warm up your body and be able to build flexibility and strength, I enjoy adding one, two, or all three of the sun salutations into my practice. They are like a micro yoga practice all in themselves. Sun Salute A is the simplest form with nine postures as you inhale and exhale each pose. Downward Facing Dog is the longest held pose with five breaths. Sun Salute C incorporates the lunging position with your knee on the floor or lifted and an extra Down Dog before the Plank. Remember to step back and forward with the same foot and change sides each time you do the next one. Sun Salute B is the most difficult salutation because it adds in the Warrior I and Chair poses all the while continuing on with the heat building vinyasa flow of Plank, Upward Facing Dog, and Downward Facing Dog between each standing pose. You can find the sequence broken down into segments by looking into the earlier posts on this blog. It is simply labeled, "Sun Salutations A and B." I encourage you to build your strength with this flowing sequence by adding one to two each day until you can do twelve in a row.
Always end your daily practice with a final meditation time. It will be tempting to just pick up your mat and travel on with your day, but this is the most important time of stillness and quiet. In our busy world, we often are lax about taking the time to build Savasana into our busy lifestyles.
Lie on your back on your mat and get as comfortable as you can possibly be. You can place a large sofa cushion like a bolster under your knees if it hard for you to relax on your back. Lift your head and lay a thin blanket underneath to make sure that your chin is not jutting upwards higher than your forehead. In my yoga classes, I give everyone a soft washcloth to place over their eyes. My cloths are lightly scented with doTerra lavender scent.*
Rest your arms at your sides with your hands (palms up to release your shoulders) several inches from your hips. Sink into the floor as you sink into your breath. The sweet sensation that comes with this pose with practice and with letting go is said to be taste of pure delight. You can set your timer for 5 - 10 minutes to rest here before you continue on with your day. Whenever you are finished, simply roll over to your right side resting here for three breaths and then press your left hand into the floor. Roll up to a seated position just like we began.
"A student of yoga ought to be a follower of truth in thought, speech, and action." Greeta Iyengar
Thank you for practicing with me today!
*doTerra is a company that produces scented oils. I purchase mine from De Fuller. If you would like more information on buying lavender oil from De, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org