How to build a solid and consistent home practice
Tips on how to overcome the most common obstacles and become your own teacher.
Ashtanga is a solitary practice. Even if you have a teacher, in reality you practice on your own. And if you don’t, building and sustaining a self practice at home can be challenging. Time constraints, lack of motivation, unrealistic expectations, feelings of inadequacy when you are not doing your full practice and so on…
Still, a solid and consistent self practice will give you not just autonomy but the kind of empowerment no group class will ever give you. The feeling that you are your own teacher, holding the space for yourself to grow, progress, get strong and healthy is worth all the effort and difficulty that come with independence.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe having a teacher is necessary especially at the beginning of one’s journey.
Still ultimately you want to arrive to the point where the only one holding you accountable is yourself.
Life changes and so does the place practice occupies in different phases of your life. Embrace this. You are building a close relationship with yourself through the vehicle of the practice for the rest of your life. And like with all long term relationships there will be ebbs and flows. Here are a few tips on how to navigate through them with grace and determination:
1. Do not outsource your motivation
The main reason students fail in establishing and sticking to a daily practice is lack of motivation. But the real problem here is that they view motivation as something external that needs to come to them and bring them on their mat.
But the truth is, you don’t find motivation, you create it.
Everyone likes to sleep in. Setting the alarm 1-2 hours earlier every morning to practice is no fun. What’s fun and rewarding and what really creates the motivation is the feeling after practice. The joy of accomplishment, the vitality in your body and the clarity in your mind, both thanking you for not taking the easy way. This is what you practice for.
But here’s the thing: this feeling won’t be there in the dark mornings, no matter how many years of practice you have under your belt. The bed will always be more inviting than the mat and don’t let anyone lie to you about this. But this is why it’s so worth it, because it’s difficult. So next time you find yourself looking for motivation just remember this feeling, so elusive but still so beautiful and worth trying for.
2. Manage your expectations
Unless your yoga practice is your main life purpose, chances are that you won’t have the same amount of time and energy every day for your practice. Many students get mad at themselves for not being able to do their whole practice every day, then they quit. This all or nothing approach won’t help you in the long run. It is much better to do a shorter practice, or alternate between shorter and longer practices than do your entire practice say once a week and then nothing at all for the next few days.
Ashtanga practice is much easier to stick to if you do it every day. So if at any given day you only have let’s say 30 min just do what you can with that time.
Any practice is a legitimate practice. The only way to get it wrong is to not show up.
The more you second guess the practice the more difficult it will be for it to settle in and become part of your life. So instead of beating yourself up for not being perfect just do the best you can with what you have.
3. Create a routine
Often students ask me which is the best time to practice Ashtanga Yoga and if they absolutely need to practice in the morning. Definitely early morning practice has benefits. You start your day with a clear mind and invigorated body. Practicing right before or at dawn has a very special energy, peaceful and powerful at the same time, which is difficult to find later in the day when the hustle and bustle of daily life has settled in. Since Ashanga Yoga is practiced on an empty stomach it is convenient to practice in the early morning so you don’t have to time your meals.
Still, any practice is better than no practice so if for you afternoon or evening works better then by all means go for it. That being said, ideally you want to practice more or less at the same time every day.
Your body craves routine and your circadian rhythm (biological clock) as well.
If you change constantly the time you eat, exercise, go to bed, your body will react in not so pleasant ways (insomnia, indigestion, soreness and fatigue). So find a routine that works for you and your lifestyle and stick to it as much as you can.
4. Celebrate discipline
One of the greatest benefits of Ashtanga Yoga is the mental strength you develop by putting the effort every day.
This path is only for those who are willing to trade comfort for discipline.
So if you are on this path, always remind to yourself that you are strong, always celebrate progress but also sticking to the path. Do not take anything for granted, you have come a long way already when most people don’t even start. This is an accomplishment and you have not just the right but also the duty to yourself to celebrate it.
By celebrating I don’t mean inflating your ego and thinking you are superior to others because you are an Ashtangi. I mean finding joy in the fact that you are doing something tough but valuable and are investing in your physical and mental health and your spiritual advancement.
5. Find a teacher
Even if you don’t have a local teacher or Shala that you can visit regularly, look for someone you can go to every now and then (even if only once or twice a year). It is always valuable to have someone else’s input and be part of a community. It should be someone you know and respect and who knows you and your practice well so they can follow you over the years. Resist the urge to practice with many different teachers as this can create confusion. Find someone you trust and take the time to build a meaningful relationship.
6. Examples of shorter practices
For those of you who are practicing mostly at home without a teacher here are some ideas on how to make practice work when you have limited time.
- 5 Surya Namaskara A and 5 B (10 mins)
- Standing sequence (up to Virabhadrasana) (20-25 mins)
- Standing and closing sequence (40-45 mins)
- If you have between 45 - 60 mins you can practice up to a certain pose in the seated sequence and then go to closing on time. By closing sequence I mean from backbending all the way to Utpluthih. Do not omit the closing sequence as it is important to calm and reset the nervous system after the effort. It is better to do less poses in the seated sequence and use the time to practice properly the closing sequence.
7. Manage your energy
This is not just for home practitioners, this is for everyone: In order not to burn yourself out in a demanding practice like Ashtanga Yoga you need to be smart about how your spend your energy.
Remember: energy is not unlimited. If you don’t respect your body you will end up either injured or chronically tired.
You should practice not at the maximum of your capacity but at about 70%. This can be less on days when you feel tired or unwell but rarely more (except maybe at your last struggle asana where you might want to go up to 80-90%).
At the end of your practice you should feel invigorated, not depleted. If the latter is the case, either you are overdoing it or you are not breathing right.
Right energy management is tricky and shows how advanced a practitioner one is. It is an art in itself and takes years to master but the above tips should help.
Finally, If you are a home practitioner and need some input / advice on the way you practice reach out to me and I would be happy to help!