I began practicing yoga as a university student in London. If you have ever tackled the tricky challenge of studying in a big city, you will know well how it feels to live hand to mouth. As I began my yoga journey with the keen enthusiasm of a kid at Christmas, I soon realized I could barely afford to attend even one class a week. With London’s drop-ins averaging £15 and monthly memberships often hitting the £150 mark, yoga came to feel like something I couldn’t afford. Of course, cheap classes do exist, but even the most inexpensive I could find involved taking costly public transport across the city. To say that I felt disappointed and discouraged is an understatement.
Thankfully, I was determined. I began scouring Google and YouTube for free online classes, eventually signing up to EkhartYoga, one of various reasonable resources available to the modern-day yogi. As vital as it is to practice and study yoga under the guidance of an experienced teacher — whether physical or virtual — being nudged to practice at home gradually revealed to me the importance of going it alone. Articles like this one inspired me to eventually create my own sequences, so I am honored to be able to give back and share with you some tips on gaining confidence in your own home practice.
My Tips to Yogis
Skipped Class? We’ve All Been There
Financial limitations are not the only thing that can stand between you and a yoga class. Missed trains, unexpected plans, bad weather, overtime at work: we’ve all been there. Whether a lazy day or a legitimate excuse, sometimes it’s just not possible to make it to your local studio. Creating a skillful sequence that you can turn to at home will help to fill in these gaps, allowing you to keep your practice as steady as your tree pose, no matter what life throws at you.
(To help save your sadhana on these days, here are 5 Poses in 5 Minutes for a Complete Yoga Practice on Days You Have 'No Time'.)
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
First and foremost, I’ve found that it’s crucial to create a sequence that you click with, that makes you feel comfortable and at ease. Not only will this help you maintain the motivation to roll out your mat, but it supports the second step: repetition, repetition, repetition. This really is the key to gaining confidence in your personal practice. Repeating the same sequence nudges you deeper into the breath and the body each time, bringing an astute focus to the subtle sensations of alignment and fascia. Though repetition may be reminiscent of boredom, it’s helpful to remember that we exist in a state of constant flux; just as you can never step in the same river twice, it’s likely your body and mind will feel different each time you come to the practice.
Once you learn the basics of skillful sequencing, it’s also possible to treat your home practice a little like a yoga pick ‘n’ mix, which helps to keep things interesting. After taking the initial time to create and repeat a base sequence that you click with, you can switch up postures from time to time, progressively splashing creativity into the practice as your confidence grows. In order to do this, it helps to think of key postures in groups:
- Forward bends, like paschimottanasana, baddha konasana and padangusthasana
- Backbends, such as bhujangasana, dhanurasana and chakrasana
- Twists, from simple seated twists to parivrtta parsvakonasana or ardha matsyendrasana
- Standing poses, of which there are a huge variety, such as utkatasana, Virabhadrasana I and garudasana
- Balances, such as natarajasana, vrksasana and Virabhadrasana III
- Inversions, from gentle setu bandha sarvangasana, to strong sirsasana (dubbed the "king of yoga poses")
Try to include at least one posture from each group in your base sequence, giving you the flexibility to switch them around over time without disturbing the flow of movement. By involving each of these groups in your practice, it is possible to dedicate equal focus to strength, flexibility and balance, whilst also moving the spine in all directions — flexion, extension, lateral, rotation and axial extension (otherwise known as lengthening) — all of which are vital components of optimal health.
Template for a Well-Rounded Practice
Considering the huge variety of motivations for practicing yoga and the simple fact that we are each unique, it is impossible to offer a one-size-fits-all sequence. It’s totally up to you to play around with creating a base sequence that works for you, your body and your mind. Nonetheless, a well-rounded yoga practice should follow this basic, general template:
- Pranayama or breath awareness exercises, to incite connection with the breath
- Warm-up stretches, including joint rotation and movements of the neck and spine
- Sun Salutations
- A varied mix of poses from the above groups
- Relaxing, restorative postures to cool-down the body and settle the breath
Transition and Flow
If you like to flow from posture to posture, think carefully about the direction you want your movement to take and choose poses accordingly. For example, if you like to start in a comfortable seated position, try warming up close to the mat before working your way up to standing poses, eventually coming down toward the floor again ahead of meditation and savasana. This will help to guide your transitions between postures, allowing you to remain present in the flow of movement whilst you practice.
Feeling creative? Try choosing a peak pose to work towards — perhaps a challenge or a personal goal — and use this as the core around which to build your sequence. Consider which parts of the body need to be opened and engaged ahead of this pose, selecting appropriate postures to do so. For example, if you’re heading toward the strong backbend of wheel pose (chakrasana), you’ll first want to open up the fronts of the thighs and hips with postures like bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), in addition to chest openers such as cobra pose (bhujangasana) or camel pose (ustrasana).
Click, Connect and Feel Comfortable
With a little time, patience and research, creating your own unique sequence is a fun way to cultivate the confidence to practice at home. It empowers you to delve deeper into your personal practice, exploring your body and mind with equal amounts of curiosity and playfulness. Try to keep your sequence short and sweet, rather than aiming for an extended masterpiece; the latter is unlikely to be something you regularly make enough time for! If you click, connect and feel comfortable with your practice, it’s easier to maintain the self-discipline necessary to keep up the habit, and you will soon see your confidence grow.