Quite often I receive questions about my yoga practice; How did I get into it, how do I find time for a daily practice, how do I decide what to do when I practice without the guidance of a teacher?? So I thought I would cover a few of these topics to help any of you who are looking to start yoga or develop your own practice away from the comfort of a teacher-lead class.
First off it’s probably wise to point out that when practicing at home, you’ve no experienced eye watching over you, correcting your mistakes or guiding you into a posture. So most importantly, you have to really listen to your body and take it easy. And if only I could follow my own advice! I recently cracked a rib practicing yoga at home. It’s most likely that it was caused by a weak bone condition BUT I was trying an advanced move, without sufficient warm up and trying to take it further when my body was already at its limit. So take my word for it, its not worth it. Stay safe kids.
I’ve written a little about how I got into yoga on my About Me page. It was something that I just wanted to try out, I had no intentions to develop a daily practice, it just happened. I think this is quite a key point, I often get asked how do I motivate myself to practice everyday?! I feel this is a perfect of example of learn to walk before you can run. If currently you don’t have a regular practice, and then tell yourself ‘Right! As of tomorrow I will practice yoga EVERY day!’, well good luck to you. Such huge changes in your daily routine are incredibly hard to stick to. And this isn’t just relevant to yoga. Ever tried to give up sugar cold turkey?!
I started off by just doing some stretches on the floor at home whenever I fancied. I didn’t even have a mat. I was in the honeymoon period of curiosity so spent a lot of time looking up different poses. Personally I found Yoga Journal incredibly useful. Pictures and a step-by-step breakdown of how to approach a pose. I then started following various yoga accounts on Instagram for inspiration and education. There are hundreds of ‘Yoga Challenges’ run on a monthly basis on IG and they are an absolute fountain of yoga knowledge. Hands down, this is where I have learnt most. There are some yoga ‘celebrities’ who run super popular monthly challenges which are often very beginner friendly and THOUSANDS of people take part but personally I find the smaller run challenges the best. Super detailed instructions are given for the daily pose with instructions on how to enter it. There are endless excellent accounts to follow but for getting started as a beginner, some of those I would recommend highly are:
@busybodyogi (Always brilliant detailed instructions – great variety from stretch-based asana’s to arm balances and inversions)
@beachyogagirl (Great monthly challenges for beginners – although not much guidance on entering the pose/alignment)
@catbradleyyoga (A little more advanced but the BEST for inversion technique/tips. Lots of monthly challenges with preparation/beginner options to get you on track for getting upside-down)
@cyogalab (An absolute goddess of yoga. Very advanced herself but has a challenge every month with options for ALL levels and awesome instruction on entry and alignment)
The support and encouragement you receive from the ‘IG Yoga Community’ is the most heart warming and motivating feeling. I can’t tell you how much being part of this community has changed my life. I feel like I’ve made the best of friends with people who I’ve never even met. Everyone is there to support and uplift you, being your online cheerleaders for every ounce of effort you put in.
It was these challenges which gave me the initial motivation I required to practice everyday. Even if I was feeling lazy and didn’t particularly want to do yoga, I felt a ‘guilt’ of not wanting to miss a day of the challenge so would just give that one pose a go and snap a quick pic. They kept me accountable. So in terms of motivation, I feel this is a great method to help you form a habit that no longer requires persuasion.
But also, the photo’s you take are also invaluable to monitor your progress and be your own source of motivation. If I were to try and pinpoint what it was that got me ‘addicted’ to my yoga practice, it was probably the ability to see progress in a relatively short space of time. The ‘OH MY GOD I CAN TOUCH MY TOES!’ moment is so memorable for me, the feeling is commonly referred to as ‘feeling the yoga high’, and believe me, once you’ve had some, you’ll want more.
There is no right or wrong time to practice yoga. Some people swear by a morning practice to set them up for the day, personally first thing in the morning I do a pretty good impression of the tin-man and much prefer to practice in the evening. Find a time that works for you in your schedule, do your best to not make it a chore and feel like you ‘have’ to practice, you want to keep it as something you enjoy. On days where I’m up at 6am and at work for over 12 hours, there’s not too much time or energy left at the end of the day for yoga. But I gave up sitting on the sofa a long time ago, I much prefer to sit on the floor and do some gentle leg stretches whilst watching TV, and that might be my only yoga practice for the day.
The brilliant thing about yoga is you can do it for 10 minutes, or you can do it for 2 hours. You can go hardcore and get a super sweaty workout from it, or you can keep it chilled and gentle if time for a shower afterwards isn’t realistic. It seems a pretty well known fact that ‘little and often’ is best in terms of increasing flexibility so whether it be 20 minutes during your lunch break at work, a few sun salutations before a shower in the morning or holding some stretches before hitting the hay, I firmly believe we all have time if we want it.
Find Your Flow
‘Flowing’ is more technically termed Vinyasa, linking one pose to the next in a dynamic movement in time with the breath. In my opinion, flowing is the trickiest part in being a self-taught yogi. Classes are a great place to learn to link pose to pose but I want to start by saying that you really shouldn’t get your knickers in a twist about this. When I first started, my practice was a mish-mash of trying one pose, shuffling about and then trying the next, with no elegance or fluidity between any of my moves. But I was still practicing yoga. Its not all about aesthetics. There are many other types of yoga which aren’t based on the vinyasa sequencing so don’t be fretting that you aren’t practicing yoga ‘properly’ if you aren’t emulating Meghan Currie on your mat.
Linking your breath to your movements is a foundation of vinyasa-based yoga. The idea is to stay focused on your breath as you move, keeping the mind calm and relaxed. All well and good on paper but when you’re passing through your tenth chaturanga, trying to get your foot behind your head or attempting to stand on your hands all whilst your muscles are burning like hell, its actually not quite so easy. Again, no twisting of knickers please. It takes time and practice and I hold my hand up and say I am entirely guilty of losing my connection to the breath when the intensity of my practice gets too much. Its always a work in progress. But as for the basics, a good rule of thumb to follow is to inhale when opening or expanding the body (eg. rising to upward facing dog, bending backwards), and exhale when closing or contracting the body (eg. forward folds, twists). The breath should be through the nose, with the inhale and exhale being of the same duration. When holding a stretch, its a good idea to use the inhale to lengthen the body and the exhale to stretch a little further, to allow yourself to gradually move deeper into the pose.
When starting out, don’t get too hung up on ‘what do I do next?!’. Sure, it can be tricky to remember what poses you even know, but this really is something that you just improve upon with time. As your knowledge of different asana’s expands, your creativity improves and some links start to feel very natural. Again, Instagram is a great place to find inspiration for flows and there are also endless yoga videos online to follow and give you ideas for when you are practicing alone. Following video ‘classes’ is something I’ve never really done, for no particular reason other than I didn’t really know they existed! But Do Yoga With Me and obviously YouTube are great resources – Yoga With Adriene being a personal favourite.
Remember your yoga practice is an entirely personal thing. Your practice is unique to you and you shouldn’t feel like you have to share it with anyone, in person or online. These suggestions are just what have worked for me and I share it here in the hope to help any of you who just feel ‘stuck’ with getting into yoga. As much as all these online resources are great, remember as a beginner it’s very unlikely your practice will look the same way due to flexibility restrictions. In all stretches, you should only go as far as feels right for you, with a moderate level of discomfort expected in areas of tightness but never pain. Stretches should always be felt in the ‘belly’ of the muscle, not at the origin or insertion point. Remember to go slow to allow your body to process the intensity, try and stay with the breathe. Most importantly, have fun! Yoga doesn’t have to be all serious and straight-faced. It’s totally acceptable to lose your connection with the breath if in fits of giggles at your latest face plant.
Any questions?! Ask away! Anyone else a self-taught yogi? I’d love to hear about your practice ♥