Yoga snuck up on me. I was a somewhat reluctant beginner 5 years ago, and it wasn’t until I started my yoga home practice that it really grabbed hold of me. I was an off and on yoga practitioner until last year, when, on a whim, I bought and read the book The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Yoga Practice by T.D.K Desikachar.
A renowned yogi, Desikachar’s emphasis in his book is on the importance of having your own personal yoga practice. Yoga is an individual exercise, and while classes are great, it’s the time you spend on your own, listening to the needs of your body and not necessarily the instruction of a teacher in a classroom, that you really start reaping the benefits of yoga.
FIRST LESSON: IT’S A PRACTICE, NOT A POSE
One problem many people have when they begin a home practice, especially if they have not attended many classes, is what poses should I do? Start thinking outside the box of simply doing “poses” and instead, think of your personal yoga time as a holistic “practice” meant not just for your body, but for your mind, heart and soul as well.
Practice on the mat
Yoga is made up of many parts, and in a home yoga session, you can spend time on poses, of course, but also on breathing techniques (or, pranayama), imagery (during “savasana” the time typically at the end of your session when you lie flat on your back), and relaxation techniques.
Practice off the mat
Because yoga isn’t just about the physical, yoga goes beyond the mat too. It is a philosophy that can teach you how to be in harmony with yourself, your relationships, and the world around you. Many yogis study the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, an ancient text that is celebrated and whose words are practiced and are the aim of those who want to take yoga into their lives off the mat.
SECOND LESSON: IT’S YOUR PRACTICE
It’s your practice—it doesn’t belong to anyone else. Never think to yourself that you are doing things wrong. There may be a best way to do each pose, to keep from injury and to get the most benefit—you can work on each pose individually. But in the end, your practice as a whole is yours and yours alone. Perhaps if you are doing a pose that might be done in a different way that would further benefit you, the way that you are doing it now is part of your journey. Accept it as it is and keep moving forward, always aiming to learn more.
THIRD LESSON: PLAY
The greatest thing about practicing yoga at home is that you are away from all eyes, and so you will likely be less conscious of other people. Take this opportunity to experiment. If you worry that you are doing a pose “wrong,” then after your practice, look it up online and see what you can do differently to get the most benefit out of it. But be sure to thank yourself for exploring a new pose.
Playing doesn’t just mean doing new poses, though. It can also mean wiggling your legs a little when you are in a downward facing dog, or altering your breathing patterns when you go into a pose, just to see what it feels like. Never ever be afraid to play when you are practicing at home.
FOURTH LESSON: SEQUENCE
In the Heart of Yoga, Desikachar is hesitant to give any “general” or basic “routines” since he is so adamant about yoga being adapted to your body (instead of the other way around. But he does say that, if we ignore certain stipulations, we can focus “our attention to the way we can group the asanas according to the position of the body relative to the earth and to the basic movement of the spine” (p. 41, The Heart of Yoga; Desikachar). He then provides this basic grouping of asanas:
- Standing poses to warm up
- Back—exercises lying down
- Inverted poses (like, back bend or bridge pose)
- Belly—exercises lying on your belly
- Sitting—exercises in a seated or kneeling position
- Back—a rest, lying on your back (or, savasana)
- Breathing—breathing exercises, usually done while sitting.
FIFTH LESSON: IMAGINATION AND INTUITION
One of the things that I do when I practice at home, is, first a series of sun salutations . Then, as I move into other poses, I will generally hold each pose until another pose “appears” in my mind.
In essence, I am “seeing” myself in my mind’s eye, moving into the next pose. I generally think of this as my intuition telling me what I need to do for my body. I also believe that these “imaginings” are a response to different sensations my body is telling my mind. For instance, if my calves are particularly tight, I might “see” myself go into downward dog, and extending the heels of my feet all the way to touch the mat, stretching out those calf muscles.
MEDITATE ON THIS
Everybody is different and has different needs than the next person. When you spend the time practicing a personal yoga that will best help your weaknesses and capitalize on your strengths, you will start seeing the benefits. Or, better stated in the Yoga Sutra, 1.20, “through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realization of the goal of Yoga is a matter of time.”