Om at Home: Beginning a Yoga Home Practice, Part I

(Just kidding, you totally don't have to om. Unless you want to.)

I've been practicing yoga for 10 years. For the first four years — during which my practice was inconsistent, I'll admit — I practiced exclusively at home. I took a studio class in college, then returned to my occasional/non-committed home practice. Then I committed to my practice about 16 months ago, took a three-day workshop, and rejoined the studio world. All while maintaining a daily at-home yoga practice. So, yeah, I've had some experience practicing yoga in my living room.

For some people, and at some studios, taking a class can be incredibly intimidating, and I know this keeps a lot of people from trying to create a yoga practice. I hate this. I've said it before and I absolutely will say it again and again and again: Yoga is for everyone. Everyone can do yoga. Everyone can benefit from yoga. I know some people will prefer the studio, but I think a home practice is an important part of growing as a yogi. It can be in conjunction with your weekly studio session or independent. It can be your baby steps as you build up some confidence before you walk into your first studio. You can choose to never leave the mat in your bedroom, and that's fine too.

If you've been reading here for a while, some of this may sound familiar. I've recommended yoga YouTube channels several times, demo'd some poses, and talked about yoga...a lot. But as promised, I've finally put it all into one post for you guys! Please remember a few things: (1) I am not a certified yoga instructor (yet) and this is just my experience; (2) You can injure yourself in yoga, so be sure you're taking appropriate precautions before beginning a practice.

1. Decide what you want to get out of your practice. Yoga is a multi-faceted discipline capable of transforming your mind and body in unthinkable ways. There are various types of yoga (see next point) that serve you in different goals. A few different ways to utilize your practice:

• To facilitate recovery of a higher-intensity workout regiment (running, weight-training, etc.)
• To increase flexibility and fluidity in joints and muscles
• For a whole-body workout, or to target specific areas for toning
• Fat-burning/cardio workout
• To facilitate meditation, mindfulness, and mental clarity
• To engage deeper with the body's energy centers (called chakras) and master breathing
• As a sleep aid to help your body recover from the day and prepare for bed
• To learn to fly
If you read my Sunday Sweats posts, you know that I have no single expectation from my yoga practice; I use it as a vehicle for all different things, depending on the day and my mood. You can have a practice that helps you meet all of these goals. But it's important to be aware that it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to get each thing out of each session or workout.

Once you've taken a sort of inventory of what you want to get from your practice — and every goal I outlined above is valid and a great goal of yoga, on their own or in conjunction with one or several others — set your intention. We hear this a lot in yoga classes, to set our intention for the practice. I think it's important to do so at this juncture and in each individual session. Check in often to see that your intention still serves you.

2. Research the various types of yoga and become familiar with what does what. There are so many different types of yoga. The most commonly-practiced in the U.S. is vinyasa, or flow. It's what most people think of when they think of yoga. It can accomplish many of the goals I listed in point one. But it's not the only type of yoga.

Here is my favorite yogi, Erin Motz, giving a run-down of the most common types of yoga you will find as you begin your practice.

There are others, and depending on how deep into your practice you get, you may want to experiment. You may go for ashtanga one day, vinyasa the next, and hatha the day after that. You may love or hate Bikram yoga. You likely won't know until you try. But it's important to know what you can expect from each type.

One thing I have, have, HAVE to explain, which is irrelevant to home practice UNLESS you decide to supplement your home practice with studio classes: Bikram yoga and hot yoga are not the same thing. More than once I've read an "informative" article say hot yoga, aka Bikram yoga, but they are not interchangeable. Both are practiced in heated studios, but the similarities end there.
Hot yoga is — generally — vinyasa flow yoga that's simply practiced in a hot room, at 98-106 degrees (F). Hot yoga became trendy a couple of years ago and then hot yogis started kind of acting like they had invented yoga and like it's miles superior to other types. Hot yoga is NOT for everybody. There are claims that it releases more toxins and aids in flexibility during practice. There are also claims that it leads to dehydration and injury from over-extension. If you go this route: (a) bring a towel (b) drink a ton of water the day of, but not too close to class (c) bring water with you to class (d) check in with your body often and be sure you're taking care. 
Bikram yoga is a type of yoga popularized a few decades ago that focuses on one series of 26 poses in a heated studio. There's lots to read about it here. (I have limited experience with it, so I'd rather direct you there for the best info.)
3. Supply yourself. You will need a yoga mat. If you're practicing at home and are a beginner, you will need DVDs or a couple of YouTube channels.
It will help if you have a few yoga blocks. Two should be plenty. I have been using these since college and have no issues. Although, full disclosure, I do not travel with them and use them rarely in home practice, so I can't speak to their durability under vigorous use.
It will help if you have a yoga strap. Some mats you buy will come with one. You can buy them on Amazon or most box stores. Truth? I use a detachable shoulder strap from an old purse in the few sessions where I need a strap. You can also use an old neck tie, a towel, or a scarf if you don't anticipate needing it often.

If you're a woman (which if you're reading here, you probably are), you'll need a comfortable sports bra. I prefer one with a front clasp, as backbone clasps can be uncomfortable in reclined positions. You can wear pretty much anything you feel comfortable and can move freely in, but I find that form-fitting clothing (leggings and body shell tank tops) is the least intrusive. Excessive fabric can be uncomfortable, too warm, or bulky.

As for your mat, if you're just beginning, don't feel the need shell out big bucks for a mat before you know if you'll keep at it. They can get very pricy. But, read reviews. You want to be sure the mat you use will be sticky enough to help you keep your grip in poses. If you notice your mat loses its stickiness after a little while, try cleaning it.

You may choose to enhance your practice with bolsters, Mexican blankets, dim lighting, a private room (if possible), music, candles, essential oils, drum beats/chanting recordings, etc. But as you're starting out, don't get bogged down in all of that. You don't even need a hardwood floor. You need a mat and an open mind.

My favorite yoga videos to follow can be found on the following channels:
  • Do You Yoga: Erin Motz's first 30-day challenge can be found here, and I find it absolutely IDEAL for beginning a home practice. I still do these videos often, because she offers variations and makes the class work for every level.
  • Bad Yogi: You probably know by now how much I love Erin Motz, so this should be no surprise!
  • Yoga with Adriene
  • Sarah Beth Yoga
I also recommend Rodney Yee's yoga DVDs and have cycled through a couple over the years. There are countless other yogis who make videos that I haven't tried yet, but these are just a few that I can personally recommend.

4. Let go of expectations and restrictive thoughts, and go for it. Things I hear often:
(a) I wish I could do yoga, but I'm so inflexible!
(b) I could never do a headstand/handstand/anything-stand/any pose!
(c) I'd love to do yoga but I just don't have the time!
(d) I've never tried yoga, but I don't think it's for me. I hate green juice and I don't speak Sanskrit!
(e) Yogis are so intimidating; I'm so worried I'll mess up and get made fun of!

My responses:

(a) Do doctors know how to perform surgery before they go to med school? You don't have to by physically flexible to start yoga; you need to be willing to work. You will gain flexibility. Every pose has an accommodation for every body.
(b) Well, I thought the same thing. Now I can. We do call it a practice for a reason. But also, you don't have to do anything more "advanced" or difficult than warrior 1, if you don't want to.
(c) If you want to do it, you make the time to do it — period. Besides, five minutes a day is a great place to start.
(d) I find green juice disgusting. I only know a few Sanskrit words because they're often used in yoga and I've picked it up. (Glossary in tomorrow's post!) You don't have to fit the yogi stereotype to be a yogi. Buddha knows I don't! ;)
(e) I know they can be. I wish they weren't. I find it so frustrating when people act like yoga is a secret club. That's why a home practice can be exactly what you need. But also, keep in mind, that no one in your class is perfect at everything. And most likely, no one is looking at you.

Go for it. Start small. Keep an open mind. Give it a chance.
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I intended to get through everything in one post, but clearly, this is already obnoxiously long. Part II — the fun part! — is coming tomorrow! 
In the meantime, any questions so far?

Comments

  1. Yay! I just finished day 3 of the Yoga Shred on DoYouYoga and am sitting on my mat cooling down as I comment and blog. Multitasking at its finest. I only do yoga at home. I have no time for studios with a full-time job and three kids, each of whom play some sort of sport, so I'm stuck with at home practicing. I've done a few classes from the 30 Day Challenge course (but never really completed the entire challenge) and I still do a few classes from it here and there depending on my mood. I'm a super fan of Erin's too!

    I found this post to be really helpful because even though I do yoga at home, I'm still very inconsistent and never thought of my expectations from doing it. I just started doing it because it was something that I wanted to do and continue doing it because I like it. Maybe understanding more about why I'm doing it will help me focus more. Also, I have a yoga mat I got from Fabletics and it suits me fine and I have only one yoga block that I found in some random bin at Ross for $2 but I've only used it a few times so far (to practice my crow pose thanks to Erin's tips) so I agree that it doesn't take much to start a home yoga practice.

    I'm looking forward to reading tomorrow's post!!

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  2. i love me some yoga! i've been trying to get my friend to do it because he seriously needs to do more than just lift - he's stiff as a board.

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  3. I have tried tried tried to get into yoga and I so wish I was but my mind literally will not shut off...but I promised myself I would try it one more time because I really think it can help me feel less stressed and really center me!! Gary loves it and even meditates daily so if he does it so should i!! xo, Biana - BlovedBoston

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  4. It's like you wrote this post specifically for me!! :) I still kind of giggle at the Om in-studio and don't know when I'll get the balls to do it too. Thanks for always being informative and inviting to your world.

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  5. This is amazing! I absolutely love this post. I have been using MyYogaWorks.com which is a website that offers hundreds and hundred of classes for just $15 a month. I'm obsessed with yoga and I can't wait until I can do headstands and cool tricks!

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  6. I want to hug you for this post!! Saving it for my come home when it can have my gym attention. So I'll comment again later :)

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  7. So much great yoga information!!! You referred me to the Erin Motz 30 Day challenge a while back and I subscribed and got all the emails...and never did it. Sigh. I have tried to get in to it but I just cant. I think I need to try again!!! I know now every exercise if for everyone, but I really think yoga is beneficial! I love how passionate you are about it!

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  8. Yup, totally love it! I'm with you on your first 3 channel recommendations. As for Erin, she's THE best. I like her because she's real. She doesn't use ostentatious words or descriptions and she makes it fun. Full disclosure, I haven't touched my mat in weeks. Can't wait for tomorrow!

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  9. I'm so glad you finally did this! Realizing that I didn't (and maybe shouldn't?) have one singular goal for my yoga practice was really key for me.

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  10. ok, now it makes so much more sense. I did Bikram yoga pretty regularly a few years ago, and now that I am doing yoga again, none of it is familiar. That makes a thousand senses now.
    I loved reading Erin's descriptions as well, I had no idea.
    I really want to find a studio close to me, well priced, and not scary. just maybe once a week or so, I feel like I need that assistance. I ordered some yoga blocks off amazon, they were a set of two purple ones (pro source?) hopefully they are good. they havent arrived yet, stupid winter storm.
    and I know I am the queen of saying 'i can't do this' or 'will never be able to do a headstand' .... gotta remind myself it's a practice.. practice, practice, practice.
    definitely want to fly though, how do i do that?!

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  11. THANK YOU! This is a million times helpful! I already have a yoga mat so I feel like I'm halfway there... how much time do you think you need/or is ideal to spend each day for it to be helpful or worthwhile? Sometimes I feel like I do an 8 minute blogilates videos and I wonder if it's really making any kind of difference (mainly because I never do them regularly!). And I'm still so amazed by all of your handstands!

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  12. "to learn how to fly" - you crack me up and yes I caught that ha!. Im so happy to read you kinda started at home. I think I needed to read that. I dont have yoga blocks but Ill definitely get a couple now that I know how important they are!

    This was ridiculously helpful and Im soooo glad you did this post!

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  13. Just messing around on your blog and found this...super thankful! I am bookmarking it, I'm a member at a bikram studio but I only make it out there like 2 days a week and I'd like to implement more at home stuff. Gotta get me some yoga blocks!
    Linds @ Not A Mom

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