The Ultimate Guide To At-Home Yoga [101 Must-Know Tips]
This guide is broken down into 4 sections
(Choose your ability level, or read the whole guide!)
Total Beginner Yoga
Wear Comfy Clothes
Relaxation is a cornerstone of the physical practice of yoga.
You know that stained, over-sized, and been-washed-a-million-times shirt you have? That’s perfect!
It’s a good idea to ditch your blue jeans or khakis. Yes, you may say, “But these ARE comfortable!” Trust me, the more rugged or dense the material, the more invasive it will quickly become.
If you’re just doing yoga at your house, you’ll want to make comfort a priority over most anything else. If you look at yourself and say, “I’d never leave the house looking like this!” Then, you’ve probably nailed the perfect at-home yoga outfit.
You Don't Actually Need A Yoga Mat
You don’t need a yoga mat if you are just starting out.
Just use the carpet or rug in your living room. Keep things simple at first. Okay, I’ll admit - if you have tile or concrete floors it may be a good idea to put SOME type of padding down, but I urge you NOT to go out and buy anything.
What if you try out a few online classes and realize (very quickly) that yoga isn’t for you? By NOT spending money on a yoga mat you’ll at least avoid that buyer's remorse.
Set a simple goal of completing a couple of beginner-level classes. If you’re feeling the whole “yoga” thing, THEN go out and buy a mat.
PRO TIP: Just get something basic. Outlet stores like Ross or T.J. Maxx will typically have a basic yoga mat for less than $10 bucks.
You Don't Need Fancy Yoga Gear
Here’s a list of things you DON’T need to worry about if you’re just trying yoga for the first time:
- Yoga Pants
- Chakra Wands
You can always substitute a stack of books for a block… You can always use a bed sheet for a strap… Quality yoga pants are expensive, so I’d suggest your favorite pajama pants (who are you trying to impress? Your cat?) Lastly, if you know what a chakra wand is, then you are probably further along in your yoga journey than you realize.
Open up YouTube, find a gentle yoga class or two, and see how it goes.
Remember, yoga isn't like professional rock climbing. You won’t need a backpack full of gear just to do a simple class. Furthermore, having a bunch of junk around you during your yoga practice could be distracting. For now, the fewer distractions the better.
Body Type Doesn't Matter
If you aren’t sold on the idea that “body type doesn’t matter” when it comes to yoga, then here are a couple success stories to consider.
The Success of Arthur Boorman
You can read more about Arthur's success story here, but needless to say, his transformation is remarkable.
When he began yoga he was close to 300 pounds and needed arm braces to help walk. Slowly but surely, with a regular yoga practice he was able to work past these limitations and flower into a much happier and healthier human being.
Even More Successes With Yoga
It's not just about your body type with yoga. There are countless other stories from people who have suffered with alcoholism, cancer, abuse, and even the loss of loved ones.
Here are even more incredible stories from people who have sought the help of yoga to overcome some of life's biggest challenges.
Age Doesn't Matter
If you’re thinking you’re too old to try yoga, think again…
Let’s take a look at the most recent study done by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance in 2016.
(tap/click to enlarge image)
The stereotype that only younger people do yoga simply isn't true. We see that yoga practitioners, "are from every age group."
And the overall amount of people who do yoga in America is also worth mentioning.
At last count, that number stands at 36 million.
And if we do the math...
21% of people who do yoga are in the 60+ age group...
21% of 36 million = 7,560,000
Have Realistic Expectations
This should go without saying, but if you can't touch your toes, then don't expect to do the splits after your first yoga session.
A more realistic expectation would be something simple like focusing on your breathing. Or perhaps being able to count up to 10 and back down from 10 without letting your mind wander.
I know it’s human nature, but please try to avoid comparing yourself to other people. If you are doing yoga at home, then you’re undoubtedly watching/learning from someone who has much more experience than you.
It’s okay if your form isn’t perfect...
It’s okay if you get tired or frustrated...
It’s okay if you’re not flexible...
Overall, your goal should be to feel better after completing a yoga session than you did when you started. We talk a lot about “setting an intention” in yoga. It may be a good idea to set your intention around relaxation, peace, or joy.
Keep it simple and just allow yourself to have fun.
Know the Difference Between Pain and Discomfort
When you’re first starting out, there is a tendency to push through real pain because you haven't yet built a frame of reference for how things should feel in your body when it comes to yoga.
Pain Warning Signs
Stop doing what you’re doing if you have these types of pain or issues:
- Shooting (upwards or downwards)
- Numbness or tingling
- Sudden loss of bowel or bladder control
The above issues are often neurological in nature, but not always. I’m not a doctor or a physical therapist, and the above information is not meant to treat or diagnose. However, if these problems only arise when doing certain poses - stop doing those poses and tell your doctor or P.T. about them.
Imagine you’ve just stepped out of the car after a 4 hour stent of driving part way across country. You exit the vehicle and what’s the first thing you do?
But does it actually feel good? Or does it hurt a little?
The same goes for a massage. It feels good but it also hurts.
This “hurts so good” feeling is what we often find in yoga. You feel discomfort, yet you know it's benefiting you at the same time.
We often speak about our “edge” in yoga. How far can you come into a pose/stretch before you start to feel pain. It’s the max of your discomfort without actually feeling real pain. Part of your journey in yoga is to cultivate that body awareness so you’re aware of how, when, and for how long it’s safe to test your “edge."
Hey Men - We Can Do Yoga, Too
Ladies, please forward this to a man in your life who feels yoga is NOT for him…
The fact is, yoga was originally only intended for men. I’m happy to report that yoga lost much of its sexist nature in the early and mid 1900s as it went through its revitalization and westernization respectively.
Now the industry is dominated by women, which can make men feel unwanted or self-conscious as they venture into a new world.
I’ve found my experience as a man in the yoga world to be fairly gender-less. Yes, when I take or teach a class it is made up of 80% women. And yes, I’ve had men ask me if it's “okay” if they come to yoga even though it's mostly women in the class.
Yet, when you’re in the middle of a yoga class - no one cares. Everyone is typically too busy focusing on themselves to be thinking about the only dude that’s in class.
So guys, if you’re going to take a yoga class either at home or at your local studio, just remember, nobody cares that you’re a guy. Just be patient with yourself, use your manners, and ask for help when needed.
Looks like your high school gym teacher was right…
Keeping hydrated is imperative if you begin practicing yoga regularly. Muscle cramps caused by dehydration are a very real thing. If you haven’t been drinking enough water, then moving through a yoga class could feel like fighting your way through a mess of rubber bands and quicksand.
However, it’s not enough to just gulp down a liter before sprawling out on your yoga mat. There are two reasons for this…
Hydration Started Yesterday
I’ve been teaching hot yoga classes for a long time now. Inevitably, a few times a year I’ll have a student come up and tell me, unsolicited, “I just drank like half a gallon of water before class!”
While I am grateful for their enthusiasm, I wish they would have drank that much water yesterday. Our bodies need time to process, digest, and distribute the water we drink. Slugging down a large water bottle right before class will do little for your muscles and only aid in bloating and discomfort.
A Sphincter Says, “What?”
No, I’m not talking about the last stop in your digestive system…
(image courtesy of WebMD)
There are more sphincter muscles in your body, namely those that help keep your stomach closed. It’s typically better to practice yoga on an empty stomach, says Dr. Loren Fishman (a world leader on yoga therapy).
“The reason why an empty stomach is so important is that increased abdominal pressure and tilting and compressing maneuvers are so frequent in yoga poses. The stomach can become twisted and/or compressed. If that were to happen, its contents could be displaced in an upward or downward direction, weakening sphincters and causing further problems. I have found that if patients do poses on an empty stomach, that can aid in returning proper digestive function and a healthy appetite.”
Copyright: Yoga For Back Pain - 2012
Suffice it to say, a sloshy belly before yoga is a recipe for discomfort. Yet, a stomach filled with water isn’t the only thing you should take note of.
Don't Eat (A Lot) Beforehand
Most every student AND TEACHER I know is guilty of this…
We rush around all day because of the kids, the dog, and the job. Now, it’s finally time for yoga - yet you’re starving! You decide to stop in at Whole Foods for a quick “grab-n’-go” meal.
You finally get an hour to yourself, so you eat your meal and tune in to your favorite teacher’s 30 minute power yoga flow.
Halfway through, you’re hating life and wondering why you bothered to eat anything at all.
If you have the option, yoga first - then eat. Dealing with mild hunger during your yoga practice is far better than the pain and bloating you may experience otherwise.
PRO TIP: If you MUST eat something, just try an apple or a banana. These are my go-to snacks when I don't want to teach my classes “hangry."
Turn off your phone.
Tell your husband to take the dogs for a walk.
And lock your kids in the dungeon (grandma’s house).
You want to have as FEW distractions as humanly possible. This becomes difficult, however, if you are doing a yoga video from your phone which you’ve placed at the top of your mat.
Just keep your WiFi on, but place your phone in Airplane Mode. This will at least limit calls and distractions during your next yoga practice.
The Physical Space
Do you have enough space to extend your arms out? How about the area behind your mat?
While this may seem self-evident, there’s often a tendency to say, “Well, this is good enough.”
Distractions come in many forms. The last thing you want is an extra “something” to remember to avoid as you are flowing through your yoga practice. If you need to move a table - then just move the table.
The amount of times water bottles get kicked over in yoga classes is innumerable. Since you’ll be practicing at home, it may be best to keep your hot cup of Yogi-Tea out of arms/legs range while practicing. Nothing will be a bigger buzzkill than having to clean up your green tea spillage mid-yoga.
Socks are Not Your Friend
I know you absolutely LOVE the Harry Potter socks you got on your birthday this year but let’s just set them aside for now.
“But my feet are cold!”
If you are doing a slow-paced and relaxed class, then it’s probably okay to keep them on. However, the moment you come into Downward Facing Dog (adho mukha svanasana) it’s time to ditch the socks.
There are two important reasons for this…
First, you’re going to need that tactile friction and grip on the mat. You’ll most likely slip out of your socks in postures like Down Dog. Furthermore, they can become a distraction as you move from pose to pose, taking your mind off the present moment.
Second, depending on the intensity of the class you're doing, there may be a lot of pivoting and pressure on your socks as you go through your practice. This will only expedite the disintegration of your favorite socks. It’s best to avoid the wear n’ tear and just allow your bare feet to do their job.
Keep an Open Mind
Who Does Yoga Anyways?
What comes to mind when you think of people who do yoga?
Is it an old Indian man with a long, white beard chanting in indistinguishable mumbles? Or perhaps it’s a 22 year-old with a yoga mat, Starbucks cup, and body that looks like something between Gumby and an Olympic gymnast.
Fortunately, the above two outliers do NOT make up the majority of people who do yoga.
According to a study done in 2016 by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, the ages of people who practice yoga are much more equally distributed than you may think.
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Most Yoga Teachers Mean Well
You are going to hear cliche phrases such as, “Everyone is at a different point in their yoga journey,” or, "Yoga is for everybody.”
As stereotypical as these catch-phrases are, there still remains some truth herein. Yoga (when taught properly) is very welcoming to a wide array of spiritual, mental, and physical abilities. Because of this, you may hear or be asked to do some pretty strange things. In other words...
You are going to encounter some weird shit.
Just keep an open mind. If you see a yoga instructor doing a super advanced pose that looks like something more out of a kama sutra book than a normal yoga class, you’ll just have to laugh and keep going.
Some online classes will open or close with chanting. Granted, this won't happen often but if it does, feel free to join in, skip it, or vow to never watch that YouTube Yogi Guru again. All in all, keeping an open mind may lead you to an instructor that seemed odd at first but quickly became your favorite.
Which leads us to the next tip...
Vibe With Your Teacher
At last count, there are about 500 trillion yoga teachers.
This means you have options. It’s quite sad because I’ve heard many people say, “I tried yoga once and it wasn’t for me.”
When I dig a bit deeper, I find that either the style of yoga they tried or the type of teacher was to blame - not yoga itself.
If you are in your 60’s with bad knees and chronic sciatic pain, then trying “Hot Vinyasa” will most definitely make you hate yoga. Similarly, if you are in your 20s, hyperactive, and are accustomed to more rigorous exercise, then “Yin Yoga” will most likely be mental torture.
The style of class matters but moreover the teacher is the key.
There is a big difference between a rookie teacher who just completed their 200-hour certification and one who has gone to Yoga Therapy School (typically over 1000 hours).
Beyond that, personality matters.
We have all worked with a jack-ass who SOMEHOW does magnificently well at their job but just can't seem to play well with the rest of their coworkers…
Sadly, you may run into a yoga teacher you simply can't stand. Or, you may find the living embodiment of perfection whose voice sounds like audible chocolate.
Just keep searching, with 501 trillion yoga teachers, you’re sure to find one that you vibe well with.
About Comparing Yourself to Others...
This may be obvious, but…
There are probably millions of people out there who are “better” at yoga than you are. If that wasn’t enough of a hit to your ego, there are some yoga postures you just may never be able to do.
For the at-home yoga practitioner, it’s never about being “better” than someone else. It’s not even about reaching the same ability level as someone else.
Yoga means something different to everyone you ask.
Fortunately, you have a much HARDER task than just being objectively “better” at yoga than someone you admire. Your goal is to find out what yoga means to YOU.
I’m an optimist.
I genuinely believe in the saying, “Anything is possible.”
Yet, I also believe that there are real limitations to what your body can and cannot do - especially when it comes to things of a medical nature.
If you have fused vertebrae, then twisting and bending from certain areas won’t happen as much as it could if those vertebrae were not fused.
If you just had total knee replacement surgery, then you’ll want to avoid Hero Pose (virasana).
If you’ve recently herniated a disc in your lower back, then Forward Fold (uttanasana) will NOT feel good at all.
To keep a consistent yoga practice you’ll need to respect the limitations of your body. The ego comes into play here - big time. Make sure you know the difference between pain and discomfort.
PRO TIP: Make sure your doctor has cleared you for gentle exercise BEFORE doing yoga. You’ve probably heard this disclaimer a dozen times and discarded it every time. However, if you have a serious medical condition - then it may be wise to make an appointment with your physician.
What does "Set Your Intention" Even Mean?
We hear our yoga instructors asking us to set our intention but what does that actually mean?
Ask a dozen institutions and you’ll get a dozen different answers. Yet, there is a common thread.
Most would agree that an intention is something you want to bring more of and/or change in your life. It’s a positive “something” you offer up to yourself, your higher-self, your idea of god, or perhaps even another person in your life.
I like to call an intention a “mental totem."
It’s something meaningful you create that will help you:
- Refocus if your mind wanders
- Guide your practice when things get tough
- And lastly, breathe a larger sense of purpose into your yoga practice.
An intention often changes from day to day but it may stay the same for days or even weeks. No matter what that magical thing is for you, just make sure it is something heartfelt and meaningful.
Leaving Your Comfort Zone
You’re probably reading this because you want some type of change…
Physical health, mental health, and/or spiritual health are all big motivating forces.
However, lets face it…
Change is hard.
You’ve already established some type of routine throughout your week. Changing that will cause some discomfort because it’s simply not what you’re used to.
Here is my advice on the matter…
Don’t start with some big change or massive goal. Telling yourself, “I’m going to do yoga 6 times a week this year,” when you have never done yoga before just isn’t realistic.
How about starting with 2 times each week? Try once during the week, and once on the weekend. If you need a few gentle reminders - try my free membership. We take a tour through 50 postures throughout the year.
All-in-all, leaving your comfort zone of the weekly routine will be a challenge in and of itself. Yet, the benefits you’ll receive from a basic yoga practice just 2 times a week far outweigh the hassle of changing things around in your schedule.
If Something Doesn't 100% Make Sense - Just Keep Going
There are going to be times when the teacher says something that throws you off completely.
You may be 30 minutes into an hour-long yoga class when all of a sudden you realize you’re not only a few poses behind, but you’re also facing the wrong way…
I urge you to shrug it off and just keep going.
Allow yourself to laugh and pick up with the teacher/class as best as you can. It’s not going to matter all that much if you happened to skip a pose or two.
Some people have a fear that if they don’t stay perfectly balanced through their yoga session (doing the same poses on each side of the body for the same duration) that they will walk off the mat hobbling because suddenly one leg is longer than the other.
Yoga can be transformative but not in such a drastic manner.
Don't Get Frustrated at Poses
The more you practice, the more you will develop a love/hate relationship with specific yoga postures.
If your flexibility is poor, then Monkey Pose (the splits) will surely be top of the list. If your strength is lacking then Chaturanga (4-limb staff pose) will be quite annoying. Lastly, if your balance is bad, then poses like Eagle, Tree, and Warrior 3 will be a pain in the butt.
It goes without saying that you should never compare yourself to others, yet this is how we tend to learn in yoga. We LOOK at what the teacher is doing - then COMPARE our form to theirs and adjust accordingly. When we see an instructor doing something borderline impossible for us, frustration sets in and we feel hopeless.
The best way to get over being frustrated about specific poses is to LEARN MORE about that pose.
Find a teacher that shows you a totally different way of coming into the pose…
Find a teacher from a different style of yoga who explains things in a totally different way.
There’s always a healthy workaround for the majority of yoga postures. The challenge is not letting frustration set in when you keep failing or falling out of a yoga pose. Just do a little research and an answer will present itself.
Be Okay With Modifying Poses
If you haven’t already been told so…
Modifying poses is PERFECTLY fine.
If you are in a yoga pose that feels out of your reach, I strongly urge you to modify. When you are in a high lunge (also called runner’s lunge) feel free to come down to that back knee. Even poses like Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2) have modifications as well.
Here are a few modified yoga poses to help customize your yoga practice:
Beyond FINDING a modification for a pose, there’s the mental aspect to consider. We are sometimes quick to beat ourselves up for not doing the “full expression” of the posture.
One day, you may indeed build up the strength or flexibility to perform that yoga pose you so desperately want to do. However, if you know you’re risking injury in a more full expression of the pose - slow down, check your ego, and just modify.
Don't Let Discouragement Set In
You’ll inevitably encounter yoga postures that are out of your ability range and this is a GOOD thing. You WANT to be challenged somewhat during your yoga practice.
You’ll quickly find that you are a little better at one “type” of yoga pose than another. You may not be good at strength-based poses like arm balances but you’re much better at flexibility type poses. You may hate balancing poses but when it comes to backbends - you’re a master.
The more you do yoga, the more you’ll gravitate towards certain types of poses.
Because of this, you’ll naturally become discouraged when poses you DON’T like keep showing up in your daily practice.
I often hear students say things like:
“I’ll never be able to hold an arm balance.”
“Backbends like Camel make me nauseous.”
“I’m too old to do balancing postures.”
Everyone has their own unique challenges. I often encourage students to “flirt” with poses they can’t do.
If you have access to a trustworthy yoga instructor, ask him or her to help you come into a difficult pose. Or better yet, ask their opinion on complementary yoga poses you could do that will help prepare you for that discouraging pose you loathe so much.
Please be Careful with Injuries
“I think I pulled a muscle in my back. I bet yoga can help,” students say.
Yes, yoga can help.
Yet, yoga can also make things MUCH worse.
In an average yoga class that’s made for the masses, you’ll probably end up doing 2 postures that help will your back, about 10 that don’t matter either way, and 4 that could harm your back.
Furthermore, it can be dangerous to self-diagnose. You may feel pain in your right knee and decide it’s time to “stretch-out your knee.” Yet, the real problem could be that your sacrum is misaligned, which is causing the tension in your knee.
If you have a recently herniated disc in your lower back, then a yoga class that has lots of forward-folding type poses will be absolute hell for you.
If you are recovering from an injury, then make sure you are cleared by a doctor (or better yet a physical therapist) to do yoga. Doing yoga asana can be a healthy and safe way to rehabilitate. Be certain to research your specific injury before stepping onto the mat.
Be Cautious in Backbends
In a culture of computers and smartphones, we tend to hunch forward far too often. So, it’s no surprise that suddenly shifting things the opposite direction could be a recipe for injury.
There are two areas to be cautious of when doing backbends:
Yoga Backbends and Your Lower Back
Cobra Pose (bhujangasana) can be a very intense backbend if you push too much. Be sure to listen to your lower back and back off at the slightest note of pain.
Upward Facing Dog (urdva mukh,a svanasna) has a large backbending aspect to it. Yet, newbie yoga practitioners tend to err on the side of bending WAY too much in their lower backs. Focus on creating length through the entirety of your spine rather than collapsing into your lower back.
Yoga Backbends and Your Neck
Allowing your head to just flop all the way back isn’t always a good idea for the vertebrae in your neck. Here are a few postures to be conscientious of.
- Wheel Pose (Urdva Danhurasna)
- Standing Backbend (Anuvittasana)
- Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Just Finish the Class
After practicing yoga for more than 10 years I still struggle with this.
Perhaps I’m not “feeling” the teacher. Perhaps my mind won’t stop the endless chatter. Or, sometimes a wave of laziness comes over me.
As long as the class you’re doing isn’t WAY out of your ability level and you’re not in pain, it’s always worth it to just finish the class.
Lots of things will come up in yoga. These may be emotions, old thought patterns, or who knows what…
You were probably meant to just deal with it…
Just keep going. Just finish the class. Typically the mental or emotional obstacle that comes up will fade by the end of your yoga session. If you give up halfway through the class, then you’ve let the obstacle win. Just stay strong. Finish the class.
Don't Skip Shavasana
“But I’m Busy!”
This will be short n’ sweet…
Don’t skip shavasana - ever.
If you are short on time, then skip the last couple poses toward the end of class… Take your shavasana and THEN go on with your day.
The fact is, you have GIFTED yourself time in your busy day. Shavasana is the embodiment of that gift to yourself.
Just lay there.
And enjoy the gift.
Can Yoga Help With My...?
Students approach me all the time asking if yoga can help with very specific issues. The most common ones I’m asked about are:
- Back Pain
- Weight Loss
The answer isn’t exactly, “yes” or “no,” to the above problems because there is a BIGGER issue at hand here.
A piano can make beautiful music, but it’s the musician PLAYING the piano that brings it to life. The same holds true for yoga. You could run through all the poses in Dr. Loren Fishman’s book, Yoga For Back Pain and end up doing more harm than good.
It’s quite sad really that so many people turn to yoga for relief from a specific pain point in their lives but then end up quitting yoga altogether because they made their initial problem worse.
Yoga can absolutely help with many specific issues. It all comes down to the HOW in which you approach your problem.
It may be best to seek out someone trained in BOTH yoga and the specific area you need help with. For example, a registered yoga teacher who has a counseling degree may be the best option for dealing with issues of anxiety or depression.
You Shouldn't Feel Drained After Yoga
A good yoga session should leave you feeling awake, relaxed, and/or energized.
If you feel like you just want to lay on the couch and do nothing for the rest of the day, then you probably overdid it.
Yoga isn’t exactly a “workout” but it’s easy to draw a comparison to working out. You know you pushed yourself too hard on your morning run if you feel drained for the rest of the day. The same thing applies if you went berserk on the weights at the gym and you don’t have the energy you normally have a few hours later.
Knowing what’s “too hard” and "not-so-hard" when it comes to yoga takes a while to develop. Body-awareness is key here so be sure to listen to what your body is telling you. Stressing your muscles a little bit is okay, but not to the point of exhaustion or injury.
If you like the video and/or class you are doing but find yourself too worn out afterwards, try modifying and focusing more on your breath to get you through the class. Slow things down a notch and you’ll be certain to leave your mat with that “yoga high” we all love.
Above All Else, Breathe
You’re going to have trouble with things as you move through certain yoga poses.
You may even choose to completely omit certain poses because the discomfort or difficulty is just too much. Some days your body just won’t feel like doing certain poses.
Here’s a list of postures frequently done in yoga classes that students often opt out of doing:
- Pigeon (ekapadarajakapotasana)
- Hero Pose (virasana)
- Back-bends (all kinds)
If your body is urging you to NOT do a posture, then you don’t HAVE to do that posture. Instead, find yourself in a comfortable seated position and focus on your breath. Just sitting calmly and breathing for 2 to 5 minutes is a perfectly fine substitution for any yoga pose at anytime.
This tip holds true for all ability levels. The more body awareness you cultivate in your yoga practice, the more you’ll be able to listen to those gentle nudges your body gives you to just sit-out for a pose and breathe.
Commit to a Specific Time
Your schedule may be frantic but we all make time for the things we care about.
Your specific time might be when the baby is finally down for a nap. It could be 6pm when you get home just before making dinner. Sometimes a slow Yin-Yoga style practice 30 minutes before bed works well.
I won’t suggest waking up earlier - we all know how that story ends.
Here’s a fun suggestion.. Put TWO reminders in your phone for when you are going to do yoga! The first reminder you’ll set is for the specific time - or at least a few minutes before so you can throw out your mat and get comfortable. The second reminder you’ll set is WAY BEFORE you even practice.
Imagine it’s 3:29pm and you’re at work. The day is droning on and you’ve got a whole hour and a half to swallow before you can head home. Then, at 3:30 you get a reminder on your phone, “Yoga at 6pm Today! Don’t Forget!”
It gives you something to look forward to and may even make those final 90 minutes at work speed by just a little faster.
Think About the Lighting
This can be an unforeseen problem, and we’ve all been there…
You’re at home watching a movie when you realize, “gosh, the lights are all wrong.”
So you pause the movie, get off the couch, turn OFF the lights that are the problem, turn ON one or two so there’s JUST ENOUGH light and then return to the couch to ask your partner if that’s better… To which they reply, “Much better!”
The same will hold true for your yoga practice. It’s often best to dim the lights before you start. This way you won't have to put your practice on hold while you’re messing with the lighting.
PRO TIP: If you’re watching a yoga class from your tablet or your phone then consider using a “blue light filter” on your screen. It gives your screen a gentle orange hue but your eyes will thank you.
Crafting a Good Ambiance for Your Yoga Practice
Yoga and Music
I love punk, metal, and rock just as much as you do but those music genres don’t always lend themselves well to a soothing yoga practice.
Some yoga practitioners are purists and insist that ZERO music is best way to go. However, I feel that music can help get us “into the zone” a little easier. Instrumental music is typically the best for helping to focus. Too many words in songs take your attention away from your steady breath work that SHOULD be omnipresent in your yoga sessions.
Yoga and Candles
There’s just something about fire…
A few gentle flames surrounding your yoga mat can do wonders for your focus and relaxation. You may be able to turn off ALL of your lights and just practice by candle light alone. The radiant light coming from your candles and the device from which you’re watching your class on should be enough to light your way.
Do You Have a Diffuser?
Now we're really customizing the yoga experience…
Aromatherapy and yoga together can be very cathartic. For all of you out there who love essential oils, now’s your time to open up those vials and go wild. There are plenty of scents that will help with a myriad of ailments you could be dealing with. On the flip side, you may be in overall good health and just want a little extra zing in your morning yoga flow to help start your day - peppermint anyone?
Most days I gravitate towards a more relaxing and restorative yoga practice. Here are a few scents I enjoy from GoodRelaxation.com
"Looking the Part" vs. "Feeling the Part"
Perhaps a wooden board is more flexible than you…
Maybe your balance sucks…
Whatever you think “looking the part” of doing yoga is - I’m happy to tell you it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter your age, flexibility, weight, balance, or gender. Yoga is very welcoming to all who are open to trying.
It’s normal to have preconceived notions about how you should “look” to do yoga. However, this is more about how you feel.
Take your attention inward and focus on how your body FEELS in a pose rather than how it LOOKS. Naturally, you should follow the alignment queues of the instructor as best as you can. After this however, try closing your eyes and connecting with the feeling of the pose/stretch.
What matters in yoga is NOT what OTHERS think about how you LOOK…
What matters in yoga is how deeply you can FEEL each pose…
Connecting with that feeling first is paramount if you do desire to change your outward appearance.
Leave Your Issues Off the Mat
Give yourself a moment to look at your life with fresh eyes.
Maybe your day went to hell because there was an issue with the car… Or maybe Rachel at the office just wouldn’t shut up… Or it could be even something more serious like your father being hospitalized…
No matter the severity, if you are powerless to change anything in the immediate future, then it’s best to just check your baggage at the door, or in this case - your yoga mat.
Here’s a simple yet powerful exercise…
If you’re plagued with issues leading up to your next yoga session try “setting them down.” Walk into a different room or even go outside for a moment. Go through the physical motion of actually setting your issues down.
Your palm opens up as you release the car. You brush off your shoulders to help get Rachel off your back. Lastly, you comb your hands through your hair a few times to help take the issues surrounding your father off your mind.
Go back to your yoga mat, do your class, take an extra long shavasana and most importantly, relax…
Now, with a clear state of mind you’re better equipped to handle the rest of the day. You text your cousin about recommending a good mechanic. You call to your best friend (who happens to be a nurse) to chat with her about your father’s condition.
Oh, and Rachel? Who’s Rachel?
"My Wrists are Hurting!"
Let’s examine 2 possible reasons why your wrist may be hurting AND potential modifications you can do…
(keep in mind this is information is not meant to treat and/or diagnose)
Two Common Reasons for Wrist Pain in Yoga
If you have this problem then you already know the challenges you’ll face. Your hand feels weak and/or has a tingling or numbness to it. For more info on carpal tunnel, see this visual guide from WebMD.
Misaligned Wrist Bones
There are 8 total bones in your wrist called your “carpals”. Furthermore, these bones attach to the next 5 bones in your hand called your “metacarpals”. If any one of these 13 bones are seriously misaligned, it can make bending your wrist (especially in plank pose) damn near impossible.
This is what happened to me…
I wasn’t able to comfortably do Plank Pose for MONTHS until I sought help from a chiropractor who fixed the messy jigsaw puzzle in my wrist.
Two Modifications for Wrist Pain in Yoga
Come on to Your Fists
If you’re struggling on your palms in Plank Pose - can you come up to your fists? This straightens your wrist out and takes some of the pressure off of a normally bent wrist
Drop to Your Forearms
Image courtesy of JessPurtellYoga.com
For people with wrist pain, Downward Facing Dog can quickly become their least favorite pose. This is when coming down to your forearms helps. Try Dolphin Pose instead. Furthermore, you can simply do a forearm plank rather than a normal plank on your palms.
Wait, What's This Pose Called?
Don’t be surprised if there are 5 different names for one pose…
In the past roughly 100 years since yoga has undergone its revitalization, there have been many different interpretations of both classic and newer poses.
Some names are unique to specific branches of yoga - especially the “Yin” and “Kundalini” dicipines.
It’s not just the English names that differ. Often times there are two or even three varying Sanskrit names for postures as well.
Here’s a short list to help confuse you more than you already are.
- “Bound Angle Pose” or “Butterfly” or “Cobblers Pose”
- “Forward Fold” or “West Posture” or “Caterpillar”
- “Pigeon” or “Half Pigeon” or “Swan”
- “Wide-Legged Forward Fold” or “Standing Separate Leg Stretch” or “prasarita padottanasana” or “dandayamana bibhaktapada paschimottanasana”
All in all, don’t worry about what the “best” or “right” name for a pose is (especially if you are just starting out). For now, just go with the flow and the pose names will eventually start to sink in. Just don’t be surprised if two different yoga teachers call the same yoga pose 3 different things.
PRO TIP: If you’d like to know the most “common” name for a pose (at least in the past 10 years). You can always check instagram hashtags. For example #BoundAnglePose has roughly 16,000 tags, while #CobblersPose has only 3,000.
Bodily Functions are Normal
Yoga is designed to get things moving through your body.
Your blood, your energy, your lymph, your synovial fluid, your spirit, and yes - even your gas.
Poses such as Wind Removing (Pavanamuktasana) are intended to aid in digestion. By squeezing your right knee, then both knees, and lastly your left knee into your torso, it encourages your body’s natural functions.
If you are practicing yoga at home, then you’ll have nothing to worry about.
A classroom setting is different, however. It’s always polite to simply head into the restroom to take care of the situation (oftentimes more than an expulsion of gas is needed).
Yet, no matter how careful you are, eventually you're bound to just “let one slip.”
When Your Mind Wanders - Tricks To Refocus Your Mind
It’s going to happen…
You’re in the middle of Warrior 2 and you think, “Hmm, what should I have for dinner tonight?”
It happens to even the most advanced yoga practitioners. Keeping 100% focus throughout an entire yoga session is a rare accomplishment. Therefore, here are 3 tips to help you refocus when your stomach starts talking louder than your mind.
Bring your awareness to your breath. How does it feel when your lungs expand? How does it feel as your chest gently falls? Perhaps try envisioning the air entering your lungs - filling you with that life-giving oxygen. Then, envision all the worry and stress leaving your body with each exhale.
The intention you set at the beginning of class is a wonderful way to refocus a busy mind. You undoubtedly centered your intention around something meaningful. This mental totem is a perfect thing to return to if your focus begins to shift elsewhere.
Counting your inhales and exhales has been a tried and true method of meditation for centuries. Start off simple by inhaling as you count up to 3 - then exhale as you count back down from 3. After your breath has slowed and deepened try progressively higher and higher numbers.
Try a Simple Mantra in Shavasana
Two great yoga masters K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar have said Shavasana is one of the most difficult postures of all.
But you’re just laying there… What’s so difficult?
There are only a few alignment queues for shavasna, so the real challenge lies in quieting the mind.
The mental space you enter into for shavasana should be akin to that of a meditative state. Some would say shavasana IS meditation while others feel it’s a state of “no-mind." Regardless of the semantics, one thing is for certain…
The mental chatter needs to stop.
I’ve found that a simple mantra can help to clear your mind of useless noise. Try counting up to 10 as you inhale, then counting back down from 10 as you exhale.
Perhaps mentally repeating a few “I am” statements will help to keep your focus:
“I am love.”
“I am light.”
“I am at peace.”
A mantra doesn’t need to be chanting in a foreign language. Make it your own. Make it something simple.
Customize Your Shavasana Time
You want to be able to RELAX during Shavasana.
This may mean placing a rolled up blanket underneath your knees to take the tension out of your lower back. Sometimes a rolled towel under your neck, supporting the back of your skull, is the best option.
Don’t be afraid to do a different posture completely if shavasana isn’t working. Child’s pose or fetal position are perfect substitutes.
The biggest point here is to know that when the teacher says the magic words of, “final shavasana” that’s your queue to move into your unique relaxed variation. Don’t feel obligated to do a normal shavasana if it's going to hurt. Make it your own.
It's Okay to Laugh
Yoga doesn’t have to be so damn serious.
Funny moments are going to happen while practicing yoga - it’s inevitable. You may laugh at what the teacher says, you may laugh at yourself for wobbling in a balancing pose, or you may just start laughing in shavasana for no reason - it’s normal.
As a matter of fact, “Laughter Yoga” is actually a real thing.
Laughter Yoga By Dr. Madan Kataria
Furthermore, this style of yoga boasts some pretty impressive statics...
If this style of loving and lighthearted yoga appeals to you, then you may want to seek out a teacher near you. You can find Laughter Yoga International’s Teacher Locator here.
Allow Yourself to Have Fun In Your At-Home Yoga Practice
Small things to spice up your at home yoga experience can go a long way. Here are 3 quick ideas to make things a little more fun during your next yoga session.
Yoga with Music
Did someone say Prince? Madonna? Okay, if that’s not your favorite genre, then try exploring a bit. If you have Spotify it may be worth looking into other people’s playlists for yoga. Just go to Spotify and search “yoga playlist” or “mellow yoga playlist." You may find a few gems to follow.
Yoga Spa Time
Let your romantic side shine! Take yourself on an unforgettable date to your yoga mat. Light some candles. Sprinkle a few rose petals around. Put a few drops of lavender in your diffuser for some aroma therapy. Turn off the YouTube yoga teacher and listen to some Al Green instead. Close your eyes and move through a few gentle seated postures. Treat yourself! You deserve it!
Yoga, Wine, and Friends
Normally I would never suggest combining yoga and alcohol…
But I’m certain not everyone reading this is a saint. We all have our guilty pleasures and one glass of wine or beer while doing a few basic, gentle poses won’t do you any harm.
Call up your bestie and tell her to bring comfy clothes because you’re finally going to con her into trying yoga with you!
Con Your Friend Into Doing Yoga With You
For some people, doing yoga may be WAY out of their comfort zone…
It could be way out of YOUR comfort zone…
Sometimes having your bestie beside you can make the overall experience much better.
Just by having another human there next to you will be motivation to take that first step in completing a short yoga class.
You might end up HATING yoga but your bestie may end up LOVING yoga. Who knows… Your own initial selfish desires of conning your friend to do yoga with you may end up as bountiful life-long gift for them.
Here’s another option!
Oftentimes, that best friend lives far away. How about committing to a long distance yoga date? Each of you commit to doing the same 30 minute class at the same time each week. Then, call the other on the phone and chat for another 30 minutes. This once a week yoga date may be exactly what your friendship needs.
Get A Yoga Accountabilibuddy
Who do you live with that would commit to doing yoga with you at home?
It may be your roommate, son, daughter, spouse, and/or a grandparent. Instead of sitting on the couch like a lump, try flowing through a short yoga class or two.
Much of this guide is about coming up with unique ways to keep that yoga practice fun and consistent. It may sound odd but creating a culture of yoga in your home is a way to do just that.
Having others in your home to practice yoga with on a semi-consistent schedule will help you stay on top of your weekly yoga practice. Now instead of needing the self-motivation to roll out your mat and get moving, you’ll have that accountabilibuddy who’s handing you a yoga mat saying, “Let’s go!”
Make Learning Easier with Social Media
We all love looking at those gourmet meals and/or cute puppies on Instagram and Facebook, but how much do you see in your feed?
Yoga on Instagram
No matter your vibe, style, physique, age, and/or gender there is a yoga instructor on Instagram that you’ll undoubtedly find to be your soulmate.
But beware. Yoga on Instagram is a BIG business. It may be hard to find someone you vibe with when you see him or her asking you to, “Use my coupon code and save 15% off blah blah!”
This may or may not be annoying to you. Sometimes the products people push are actually wonderful and very helpful. Yet, other times you’re left wondering if they are just trying to make a quick buck.
PRO TIP: Rather than worrying about which mega account to follow, seek out smaller yoga-beginner accounts. A heartfelt post from someone with 300 followers could resonate with you better than a post from a major corporate account.
Yoga on Facebook
It’s not worth your time to search for yoga classes on Facebook…
However, it IS worth your time consider liking a few pages that keep you entertained. You might not learn the secrets to enlightenment in a 3-minute video but at least you’ll get a few laughs in.
Yoga on YouTube
Yoga on YouTube is a little more pure than yoga on Instagram...
But sometimes, a bit too pure...
As in, the quality of the videos really suck.
However, there are a few hundred quality accounts to follow. What’s important about subscribing to a channel is the publishing schedule. Here are a few things to consider:
- How often does this teacher post a new video?
- How long are the videos they post?
- Is their style of yoga right for me?
If you have a voracious appetite for yoga and know you’ll be burning through classes left and right then you’ll want to find someone with a large library of classes you can revisit.
If I may humbly suggest starting here…
I spent most of 2017 creating over 100 yoga flows that center around a specific posture. You’ll find fifty 25-minute classes, fifty 55-minute classes, and fifty 10-minute pose explanations.
All of my YouTube classes are ad-free so there are no annoying distractions throughout the videos.
Have You Tried Your Local Yoga Studio?
I know this is a guide on “at-home" yoga...
However, there is a lot to be learned from your local studios which you could incorporate into your home practice.
Variety is the key here.
A local teacher may open up an entirely new realm of yoga for you. The “Yin Yoga” you are accustomed to by your favorite YouTube instructor could be totally different from the yoga offered in your hometown.
That tangent may lead you down another tangent where you may find something truly special. Once you are comfortable with most yoga poses it’s time to mix things up. Yoga is such a vast discipline that sticking with just ONE instructor for life would be doing yourself a disservice.
Watch Yoga Documentaries
I’ll be straightforward with you…
Unless you REALLY love yoga, reading books about “asana” and the “eight-limb path” are going to be pretty dull.
Documentaires are a wonderful way to deepen your knowledge of yoga without investing too much extra money or time.
I’d recommend diving into your Netflix or Hulu account for any of their top documentaries on yoga… But surprisingly, YouTube has at least 3 or 4 information-packed documentaires.
Here are a few I’d suggest adding to your “watch-later” list…
Join a Basic Challenge
Yoga challenges are everywhere!
Gratitude challenges, animal asana challenges, balance challenges, and even shavasana challenges!
Committing to a challenge is a fun way to keep your at-home yoga practice fun and consistent. If you’ve seen the homepage of this site, then you know I offer a new week-long themed yoga challenge each month. If you’re not quite ready to commit to seven, 30-minute classes for the week then I’d like to introduce you to the holy grail of fun and easy yoga challenges…
Instagram has at any given time 10 to 20 different yoga challenges happening. Some come from major brands like Alo Yoga, Lululemon and Manduka. Others however, come from smaller start-up companies and local studios.
Typically there are prizes involved, but the real benefit of these challenges is two-fold. One, you get to meet other yoga-lovers just like yourself who are also having fun with the challenge. Two, it’s that extra drop of motivation each day to get on your mat and get your yoga on!
Share Your Practice With Others
By this point, you’ve done a few classes, you know the names of half a dozen poses, AND you’ve even told a friend or two that you’ve started doing yoga.
A good way to help your at-home yoga practice be consistent is by simply sharing it with others. Take a few pictures of yourself in some of your favorite postures. Post them on Instagram and write a small caption about how you’ve started yoga and are enjoying things thus far.
You’d be amazed at how endlessly supportive the Instagram yoga community can be. Thousands of long-time practitioners and yoga teachers are there to answer questions and give you pointers as you progress.
As long as you don’t go crazy with it, sharing your yoga journey on Instagram can help with your consistency because of the feedback you receive. There will come a day when you simply don’t FEEL like doing yoga. But if your new-found “Insta’ friend” is waiting to see what pose you’re going to share next, that may be just enough encouragement to roll out your mat and make it happen.
Embrace the Positive Change for Showing Up for Yourself
Who are the cheerleaders in your life?
Are you one of them?
It’s worth taking a moment to really think about why you are doing yoga in the first place. It’s probably because you want to be/feel better in some way. It’s obvious, yet subtle. You’re choosing to spend time making yourself a better human being and that is something to be VERY excited about.
We all say negative things about ourselves from time to time, and our self image suffers because of it. However, doing yoga is a step in a beautifully opposite direction.
Even if it’s for 30 minutes each day…
Or an hour 3 times per week…
You are putting YOURSELF first and this is a VERY good thing. It’s not selfish or arrogant. It’s needed. It’s that invaluable “me-time” we all talk about but never get.
So, be excited! Embrace the positive changes that are coming your way!
Everyday is Different (Sometimes Vastly)
If you haven’t experienced this yet, you soon will…
Monday’s class was amazing! Your balance was spot on, you feel like your hamstrings are finally “letting go,” and your shavasana was a total transcendental experience.
Tuesday’s class however, was total garbage…
Your balance was barely better than a 10-month old baby, your hamstrings felt like steel cables, and it sounded like a true German Oktoberfest inside your brain during shavasana - complete with oompah band.
Ask anyone who’s been doing yoga for a year or more… experiencing the above is VERY normal.
The idea of “progression” in your yoga practice is a strange concept.
You may start doing yoga because you want to be more flexible. Over a few weeks you forget about being flexible because you fall in love with the relaxation it awards you. You realize your overall anxiety has gone down in the past couple months.
Then, suddenly you realize, you can touch your toes! At that point you remember you started yoga because you THOUGHT you wanted to be more flexible. So you did “progress” in your practice but now you find you could not care less about being flexible. What matters to you NOW is how yoga helps soothe your anxious ways.
Every day is going to be different in your yoga practice - good days and bad days. Sometimes it feels like taking 3 steps backwards to only move 1 step forward. Other times you’ll feel like an Olympic athlete pole-vaulting over the bar WITHOUT the use of a pole.
Just take each day as it comes, because progression in yoga is often quite elusive.
Make Yoga a Priority
We make time for the things we care to foster…
Simply put, if you want to advance in your yoga practice you’ll need to make it a priority in your life. We often fall into the habit of being that seesaw yogi…
You hit your goal of 5 classes one week, then only take 1 class the next week. After that, you vow to do yoga everyday! You start off strong the first two days but ultimately you look back and realize you haven’t done yoga in over 2 weeks.
This back-and-forth is a broken cycle that often leads to us beating ourselves up for no reason. We feel guilty for not doing yoga. Then, as we consider rolling out our yoga mat we (unfairly) assume we’re totally out of “yoga-shape”, so we decide to delay a little bit more.
And on and on it goes…
Please, make yoga a priority in your life. This may mean you need to talk with your significant other about schedules… This may mean a little less Stranger Things at night and a bit more yoga.
However you need, find the time. It’s there - I promise.
Okay, Now it's Time to Invest
If you’re just starting out, I highly recommend spending ZERO dollars on yoga gear. You want to make sure you actually ENJOY this new weird hobby before sinking money into it.
But now that you’ve been doing this for some time it’s a good idea to actually spend some of your hard-earned money on those leggings you’ve always wanted. How about upgrading your mat from that ugly sponge one to a brand-name one?
Spend enough time on any hobby or interest and you eventually come to understand the value of gear created specially for that niche. Yoga is no different. Yes, the clothes, mats, blocks, and straps can be expensive, but (most of the time) you’ll notice a positive difference.
Here’s another sad but true point...
It may be vain, but we are all guilty of it…
You buy your new headband, mat, or leggings and there’s a natural tendency to show it off. On some level you want that social acceptance before any buyer’s remorse sets in. Even if you’re only showing off your new outfit to your cat, it’s still motivating to do more yoga.
I wouldn’t recommend dropping $200 on yoga clothes every time you need motivation just to step onto your mat. Save your money for the things that will help make you more comfortable and have the most utility.
Consider Setting Yoga Goals
You’ve been doing yoga for at least a few months now. You’re comfortable with most poses and it's not too often you get derailed or see something totally different. It’s now that you should start thinking about setting some basic goals.
But goals don’t have to be just physical ones.
Think outside of the box! Here’s a mix of goals you might consider to help you advance in your practice.
- Do at least 5 hours of yoga each week
- Touch my toes by the end of the year
- Hold Eagle Pose for at least 5 breaths without falling out
- Focus on my breath for at least 80% of my next class
- Introduce 3 friends to yoga
No matter the goal you set, this is a lovely way to keep that consistency in your practice.
Reward Yourself if You Reach Your Yoga Goals
You reached your goal of going to yoga 5 times each week for the whole month! That’s huge! We never give ourselves enough kudos for the good we do for ourselves. Take a moment to reward yourself for a job well done!
Does that mean taking yourself out to dinner at the new vegan restaurant? Does that mean buying some delicious 85% organic dark chocolate?
Attaching your completed goals to a reward is a subtle yet powerful motivator.
Branch Out to Different Styles of Yoga
If you’ve been die-hard on one style of yoga for the past year or more, it may be time to branch out. Take a workshop or two! Try something totally different. Here are some other styles of yoga to consider.
Hatha Yoga classes are wonderful for beginners. This style focuses on holding postures for longer periods of time and therefore is typically much slower than other styles of yoga. You'll find a very classic and gentle approach to postures and breathing exercises.
Vinyasa Yoga and the term "flow" are often used together as you FLOW through lots of postures. This style of yoga is often quicker paced and you'll move through many more poses than you would in an average Hatha or Yin style of class.
Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, you'll notice the extreme attention to alignment and detail in each posture. This is a lovely form of yoga for those who suffer from injuries and may need props to assist in their yoga practice.
Developed by Baron Baptiste, this form of yoga is much more of a workout than other forms of yoga. Think endurance, stamina, and strength. Beyond the physical however, Power Yoga practitioners are encouraged to develop a sense of their own inner power as well. It's quite similar to Ashtanga yoga but not as rigid.
Pattabhi Jois is the father of modern Ashtanga Yoga. This style is NOT for total beginners... You'll find a difficult series of postures linked together that demands strength and focus throughout your practice. There are set "series" of poses you perform depending on your ability level.
Gravity is your best friend in this style of yoga. Yin Yoga is VERY slow paced. You hold postures for about one to two minutes. You'll remain seated or lying down for this style of class. This relaxed form of yoga also lends itself well to entering a more meditative state during your practice.
Change the Venue
This Ultimate Guide To At-Home Yoga wouldn't be complete if we didn’t examine the “At-Home” portion of the title.
Just because you’ve always done your yoga practice in the living room, doesn’t mean you couldn’t take it into one of the back bedrooms. You may find there are less distractions there. Yes, you’ll have to watch your favorite instructor on your tablet or smart phone, however you may enjoy the more intimate setting.
How about getting out of the house altogether?
If the weather is nice, then roll up your mat and take it to a nearby park. If you’ve been doing yoga for a while, then you’re capable enough to run through a few gentle postures by yourself.
Who said “At-Home Yoga” needed to be at YOUR home?
Head over to your bestie’s house with a few post-yoga snacks and tell them to make some space in the living room. Doing yoga with your best friend may or may not help you focus but at least you’ll get some quality time in AND your yoga for the day.
Yoga at Work
It may be time to take a Chair Yoga class…
Yes, your skill and ability levels are that above your average person who attends a Chair Yoga class but it doesn’t mean you still can’t learn a few new tips and tricks.
If you’re sitting at your desk all day, then how might you change the way you are sitting to get a little yoga in as well?
Chances are your coworkers already think you're a bit strange. So what’s to stop you from proving them right?
There is an astonishing amount of yoga poses you can do at your desk. Believe it or not, it’s very possible to fill up an entire hour with yoga right from the comfort of your work chair.
Try Crafting A Basic Flow Or Set of Postures On Your Own
Sorry to take all the magic out of a yoga class for you - but here is how the majority of yoga classes are structured.
- Warm Up:
- Breathing, Cat/Cows and/or other gentle movements
- Sun Salutations:
- Lunges, Half Lift, Plank and/or Down Dog
- Warrior Series:
- Warrior (1 or 2), Triangle and maybe a few more chaturangas than normal
- Standing Series:
- Tree Pose, Eagle and/or Warrior 3
- Floor Series:
- Cobra, Pigeon, Bridge and/or Wind Removing.
- Yup, Shavasana.
Granted, there is MUCH more that goes into it than that when crafting a whole class, but on a basic level - that’s pretty much it.
Try crafting a short yoga flow on your own! Just pick one or two poses from each of the above segments. You’ll be surprised at how well you do!
PRO TIP: Do your best to craft a decently “balanced” set of postures. Balance out a backbending pose with a forward folding type pose afterwards. Your hips may be hurting but try NOT to make every pose on your list a hip-opener.
Consider More Balancing and Strength-Based Postures
As we advance in our practice, it's easy to fall into the same basic rut of Sun Salutations, Pigeon, and Wind Removing.
We tend to stray from standing poses such as Eagle, Warrior 3, and Half Moon. Furthermore, we tend to totally disregard strength-based poses such as Supported Headstand, Crow, and even Side Plank.
Balancing Yoga Poses
You’re probably at the point in your yoga practice where you KNOW that your body doesn’t need to be in a perfect “Capital T” shape for warrior 3, yet we still scrutinize ourselves for only doing the pose part way. How about “wrapping your foot” in Eagle? Or even “growing your branches” in tree pose?
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water…
There’s no need to ditch a posture completely just because you can’t do the “full expression” of the pose.
Try incorporating these balancing/standing postures at least a few times per week into your yoga practice.
- Tree (vriksasana)
- Eagle (garudasana)
- Half Moon (ardha chandrasana)
- Warrior 3 (virabhadrasana 3)
- Forehead-to-Knee (dandayamana janushirasana)
- Dancer’s Pose (natarajasana)
- Dancing Shiva (parivrtta hasta padangusthasana)
Strength-Based Yoga Poses
The same principles hold true with yoga poses that demand more strength than we may be willing to muster… Don’t just ditch them all completely.
Yes, you do need a certain amount of arm strength for many of the more difficult yoga poses out there but there are always workarounds.
You're a resourceful student! Research the following poses and seek to incorporate them into your yoga practice.
- Baby Crow
- Baby Grasshopper
- Modified Side Plank
- Vishnu’s Couch
Read a Book
Here are a few book recommendations. The ones that follow could be categorized as “general interest” as they cover a wide array of aspect within yoga. If you lean more towards the spiritual side of yoga then you may want to read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or even Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
The Science of Yoga by William Broad
This was a VERY eye-opening book for me. You'll learn much about the history of yoga and it will even dis-spell some popular myths you may take as fact in your yoga practice.
Yoga Body by Mark Singleton
If you have curiosities about the origins and evolution of modern postural yoga then you'll love every page of this popular book.
Yoga by Eric Shiffmann
This is book is a hidden gem amongst the bazillion yoga books you'll find in the world. Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness delivers the philosophy and deeper purpose of yoga WITHOUT complicated terminology. A beautiful blend of yoga, inner reflection, and meditation, this book is absolutely perfect for students in the beginner to intermediate realm.
If you rolled your eyes at this tip, then just keep scrolling…
Because the language nerds are totally about to nerd-out!
Sanskrit is a beautiful language that starts to make a lot of sense once you break it down. Longer words such as eka pada rajakapotasana can actually tell you a lot about the pose… In this case we’re talking about Pigeon Pose.
We always hear teachers talk about just plain old Pigeon Pose…
After that, they will inevitably say the Sanskrit name, eka pada rajakapotasana. When in actuality… That’s not quite correct.
You see eka means “one”
Pada means “foot”
Raja means “king”
And kapota means “dove” or “pigeon”
So in the version of pigeon we see above, it may be best to say “one footed pigeon” or eka pada kapotasana and just leave out the raja part.
FULL Pigeon Pose is something we don’t see to often in intermediate level classes because it tends to fall in the more “advanced” realm of poses.
Nonetheless, here’s a picture of it from a very talented yoga-friend!
Consider a Yoga Journal
We’re not talking the massive publication Yoga Journal…
This tip has everything to do with keeping a personal, written journal to chronicle your yoga journey.
If you love writing, then it may be worth it to incorporate your thoughts/feelings into daily/weekly writings.
Now that you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you’ve undoubtedly noticed what a healthy physical outlet yoga can be. Yoga awards you the chance to physically move through the stresses and troubles in your life. This, coupled with writing, can be a very cathartic practice.
PRO TIP: Keep your dedicated yoga journal next to your mat while you are practicing. Sometimes the urge to write may strike mid-yoga. Just make sure to get your shavasana in as well!
Consider Meditation if You Haven't Incorporated it Already
Yoga awards us a unique opportunity, namely that of quieting our minds.
For some it may take a full hour-long class before our minds finally slow down enough to where meditation is possible.
You should never skip Shavasana, but consider moving into a seated position immediately after Shavasana for a brief meditation. Moreover, you may want to consider budgeting more time for your yoga practice altogether. Instead of marking 30 minutes in your calendar for a half-hour class, could you get away with 45 minutes?
If you’re still not sold on the idea of meditation, here’s a certainty I've noticed in my life…
The times when I spend just an extra 5 or 10 minutes to meditate right after a yoga class help me keep that “yoga high” for MUCH longer after class. I take that sense of peace and relaxation with me through my day for at least a few hours LONGER than if I DIDN’T take the time to meditate.
PRO TIP: Spend 5 minutes meditating before AND after your next yoga class. Note the differences of how much easier it is to come into a deeper meditative state at the end of class vs the beginning. Overtime, you’ll be able to reach that deep meditative state much easier (even during your initial meditation at the beginning of class).
Measuring vs. Tracking Progress
This is a deeper dive in the the previous tip of “Consider Setting Yoga Goals." It may be beneficial look at HOW we achieve that progress.
We all want to keep a consistent and rockstar-esque yoga practice right?
One of the ways I’ve found to keep that consistency is by showing ourselves REAL progress. Yet, we often set the bar too high or measure the wrong things.
Here is a chart to illustrate the point..
In essence, you could read each one of these examples backwards.
“I now hold shavasana for 20 minutes after each class. Because of that, my panic attacks have dropped to only once per week. Therefore, I’m achieving my goal of reducing anxiety.”
Please note the above is NOT medical advice. It’s simply a way of connecting your yoga goals to more controllable and trackable things in your practice. Namely, how long you spend with specific postures.
PRO TIP: Gradually work up to holding yoga poses for long durations. Holding Forward Fold (paschimottanasana) for 10 minutes may feel good in the moment but don’t be surprised when your back feels awful the next day.
You're Probably More Advanced Than You Think You Are
About 80% of people who classify themselves as a “beginner," are actually an intermediate student.
Most “intermediate” students probably fall in the “advanced” realm.
The whole point is this…
Don't shortchange yourself!
Most yoga teachers measure their students on how much body-awareness they have, not on how flexible or strong they are.
A student with what some may see as “beginner” level flexibility may be just fine in an intermediate or advanced yoga class because the student has enough body-awareness to know what he or she can and cannot do. Furthermore, they will understand how to properly modify if needed.
If you’ve been attending “beginner” level yoga classes a few times a week for the past 3 months, it’s probably time to consider taking things up a notch.
Don’t hurt yourself but you can probably do a few more “advanced” poses than you think you can.
If you don’t have back or neck issues then you may be able reach your hands to your heels in Camel Pose (ustrasana).
If you can put down a few blankets and large couch cushions for a “crash pad” then try coming into Crow Pose (kakasana).
If you’re afraid to push up into Wheel Pose (urdva dahnurasana), then try getting an instructor to spot you as you raise up.
Give yourself more credit than you are - you’re doing great!
A Mantra to Overcome Stubborn Hesitation
Why do we pause before doing something good for ourselves? If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here are a few common scenarios:
- We call to cancel our massage because we didn’t want to drive across town
- We stay dehydrated on the couch because we would rather keep reading our book than get up for a glass of water
- We stare at the coffee table for 5 minutes rather than doing yoga because we’re too lazy to move the damn coffee table to make space for our yoga mat.
This type of stubborn hesitation is primal and abundant in every human being on earth. We each have our own little tricks or things we tell ourselves. I’d like to share with you mine. It’s a simple mantra of…
“This is only going to suck for the first 5 minutes.”
Most everything we hesitate in doing has some minor element of annoyance - generally towards the beginning of the task at hand. I feel that by admitting to myself “this is only going to suck for the first 5 minutes,” that it allows me to accept the mild annoyance.
This way you know what you're in for…
Yes, the drive across town is annoying. Yes, it’s a LONG walk to the kitchen for water. And yes, moving the table makes that terrible sound as it slides across the floor.
Just take solace in the fact that it’s only going to suck for the first 5 minutes.
Never Shy Away From Going Back to Basics
Once you reach a certain level of confidence with your yoga practice there is a tendency to think, “you’ve got it” when it comes to the simple stuff.
Yet, each pose is filled with life-long depth and discovery.
Simple postures such as Staff Pose (dandasana) and Happy Baby (ananda balasana) have plenty of technical subtleties that will reveal themselves to you as you progress in your practice - and this only comes from returning to these “basic” poses.
For those of us with tight hamstrings (myself included) you might not be able to roll forward on your butt to really feel those sits bones. As your hamstrings loosen up more and more, you’ll be in touch with this alignment queue.
If your shoulders slouch forward then you may not be able to feel the gentle opening in your collarbone as your shoulders roll back WHILE AT THE SAME TIME growing tall through your spine. This gentle opening at the top of your chest is another small gem you might discover.
If grabbing for the outside of your feet is attainable in happy baby but your lower back is still slightly lifting off the ground, then this is another area of which you could make progress. Eventually, once you can feel your lower back and sacrum on the mat the pose will change slightly for you…
Now that your lower back is fully on the mat, you’ll be able to use your elbows to gently push into your legs which will deepen your hips even more.
Yoga Buzz Words
We’ve all been there…
The class is flowing beautifully.
You’re breathing. You’re focused…
Then the teacher says, “Now keep your drishti just a few feet in front of you.”
You look up from your mat and blurt out…
“WTF is a drishti?”
There are plenty of words like this which yoga teachers take for granted. Instructors assume students have done enough yoga that these buzz words have sunk in overtime, yet no one ever stops to explain them.
Here are 3 yoga buzz words you’ll be “expected” to know:
This is your gaze. Your point of focus. Where you look.
These are “locks” in your body. Teachers LOVE to talk about Bandhas (especially the Mula Bandha). Certain poses require the engagement of one of these three primary areas in your body. This MindBodyGreen article explains it in more detail.
This word means many different things depending on the context it is written. Close synonyms would be “life force” or “energy." Much like word “Qi” in Chinese or “Ki’ in Japanese.
If you hear something odd, just ask your teacher after class. Beyond that, Google always has the answers you seek…
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
If you consider yourself at an intermediate stage of yoga, then you're about halfway to mastering the physical “asana” limb of yoga.
This means if you're halfway through ONE of the EIGHT limbs of yoga then you’re ONE SIXTEENTH enlightened!
Okay, maybe it doesn’t work that way, but if you’ve come this far in your yoga practice, then it’s time you should at least know what each of the limbs are, not just “asana."
The Yamas are your outward actions. How you act and behave with regards to others people in the world. How you restrain yourself from doing poorly by others, yet also the actions you take to do right by others.
These are personal observances. Disciplines such as being content with one’s self, developing a connection to a higher power, and overall self-study.
This is the physical practice of yoga - basically what you’ve been doing for some time now. The word “asana” means posture or seat in Sanskrit. Asana is all about developing a healthy physical posture to help aid in moments of sitting still for meditation.
These are breathing techniques (of which there are countless). You may have already been exposed to some such as “Ujjai” known as your Victorious Breath. Another common breathing technique in Asana yoga classes is “Kapalabhati," translated as Skull Shining Breath.
This is the withdrawal from your senses. Not being lead astray by sight, touch, and sounds. It’s about harnessing your power and not allowing energy to be expended when and where it’s not needed.
Dharana is all about focused concentration. It is complete mental, physical, and spiritual absorption to a single focused task.
Dhyana is absorption into meditation. It is about keeping that mental focus and clarity in meditation as you are fully immersed therein.
Lastly, we have bliss or enlightenment. Samadhi is what you reach after progressively working through the above 7 limbs. It’s when your life, being, and meditation ultimately culminate into the realization and embodiment of an enlightened state of being.
In the west, “doing yoga” has become synonymous with the Asana limb of yoga. Just be aware that there are actually 8 branches of yoga.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Take a look at the Yoga Sutras!
These date back to sometime around the year 400 CE which outlines the nature of yoga and the 8 limb path. If looking into the Yamas and Niyamas of the 8 limb path interests you then you’ll find this collection of 196 yogic aphorisms to be a true gem.
As a taste, here are a few popular ones:
tasmin sati svâsa-prasvâsayor gati-vicchedah prâñâyâmah
Translation: Once a posture has been achieved, you will begin to incorporate breath control, which is known as pranayama. Breath regulation is the fourth of the eight rungs.
tato mano-javitvam vikaraña-bhâvah pradhâna-jayas ca
Translation: With mastery over the senses, thoughts, and actions comes quickness of mind and perception.
tadâ sarvâvaraña-malâpetasya jnânasyânantyâj jneyam alpam
Translation: Then, by the removal of the layers of imperfection, there comes the experience of the infinite, along with the realization that knowledge is infinite.
Most people who practice yoga at home in America won’t have a need to memorize and vow to live their lives by these sacred principles. Yet everyone is different. The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali may just be a soulfully transformative ancient text for you.
Yoga and Body Awareness
Have you started taking the skills you’ve been learning in yoga off your mat?
Perhaps you’re at work and you’ve noticed you tend to favor one leg over the other while standing at your desk…
Maybe you bend down to pick up your child and bring your feet into a different position for more balance as you do so…
Posture is important and you’ll start to notice subtle changes that need to be made in your day-to-day life.
There might be an odd pinch in your neck so you decide to raise your monitors up higher with a few books, thus bringing your neck into a more neutral position.
Perhaps you bring a pillow from home to place next to your lower back for your work chair. This encourages you to roll forward on your sit bones a little bit more - just like like you learned in Staff Pose (dandasana).
Feeling Nauseous in Backbends is Normal
This is ESPECIALLY true in Camel Pose (ustrasana).
The reason behind WHY this happens is different for every person. Some would say that because Camel is a “heart-opener” it’s forcing you to be vulnerable which can make you feel nauseous.
Others speculate that bringing your head back causes this feeling as more blood begins to rush into your head. This in combination with quite literally “turning your world upside-down” can cause that anxious/nauseous feeling.
No matter the reason, just know that this feeling is experienced by many people in Camel and other backbending poses.
Just take things easy. There’s no need to force it.
Crying is Normal
Well, not in every class…
The fact is, we are dealing with our bodies. Emotions get stuck in our bodies and through the physical practice of yoga asana, we will inevitably release those emotions.
You may be surprised but if you asked a group of about 100 yoga-lovers (both men and women) if they have every cried in yoga, about 80% or more would say, “Yes."
I base this number on my years of teaching and one-on-one conversations with dozens of students. It happens far more often than you think. Needless to say, don’t worry too much if you suddenly feel a strong urge to cry in Shavasana - it’s normal.
Disobey the Teacher
If you’ve been doing yoga at home for a few months now, then you undoubtedly have a few favorite teachers you watch.
You may even be at the point where you can anticipate what postures they are going to do next.
For example, your favorite Vinyasa style teacher tends to do Lunges with Sun Salutations on the first go-round. Then, once you’ve completed both sides of the body she goes through ANOTHER set of Lunges but this time asks you to twist.
If you’re not feeling the twist - then you don’t HAVE to twist.
Just stay in your Lunge Pose…
The teacher will inevitably return to where you are, so picking back up with the flow will be easy.
Other times you may find yourself in Pigeon Pose (eka pada kapotasana) and it feels amazing! Rather than moving though the remainder of different poses, just stay there for a few more minutes. Simply come out of the first side of Pigeon and then hold the next side for equally as long. You can always pick back up with the class when you like.
The longer you practice yoga for the more you can anticipate and sense what direction the class is going. With this intuition, it becomes easier to use the teacher as a loose “guide," rather than a wrote leader.
Alignment Queues Are Not Holy Scripture
There is a certain arrogance that tends to arise around which alignment queues are the “best” for any given pose.
I fell victim to this myself…
When I first started practicing yoga, I took only one type of class from one specific teacher. She encouraged us to, “bring your arms by your side with your hands facing palms-up,” while in Child’s Pose (balasana).
Eventually, when I began taking other yoga classes I noticed many teachers teaching Child’s Pose differently. They would say, “Extend your arms out in front of you with your palms facing up.”
I was convinced this new teacher was confused…
I was ALSO convinced that the original way I learned Child’s Pose was the ONLY acceptable way to perform this posture.
It wasn’t until I took a yoga teacher training I realized a sad fact…
It doesn’t really matter…
Whether you have your hands in front of you or behind you, won't speed up the enlightenment timeline.
Comfort and what feels best for your body are what it all boils down to.
Consider Doing Amplifications of Poses
Let’s keep that progression moving right along!
There are many ways to amplify in yoga poses. Here are a few basic areas you may look to amplify if your practice has gotten a bit stale.
Poses such as Warrior 2, Yogic Squat, and Lotus all offer binds if your shoulders are open enough. Granted, each of us are at a different place in our respective journeys, so don’t force anything if it doesn’t feel right.
Raising Up Your Leg
Try amplifying in postures like Side Plank, Bridge, and/or Wheel by extending your leg upwards. Granted, One-Legged Wheel is a very advanced pose but if you have the strength and find that backbends are easy for you, give it a try!
Just Come Deeper
This point has more to do with complacency rather than pushing yourself beyond your edge. Poses we do often such as Lunge (anjaneyasana) and Warrior 2 (virabhadrasana 2) are suspect here. We tend to keep our feet at a set distance on the mat. However, after practicing yoga for a few months you may have gotten more flexible in these poses - you just don’t realize it. Try widening your stance.
Consider Using Breathing Techniques
You’re probably familiar with “Ujjayi”...
You hold a gentle constriction in the back of your throat as you slowly inhale and exhale from your nose. It makes a gentle “oceanic” sound. Or for you Star Wars nerds, I’ve also heard it called the “Darth Vader” breath - but this is a bit of an exaggeration.
However, there are two other breathing techniques you may want to try and/or learn more about…
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
This technique (as may be obvious) focuses on alternating the breath from inhales and exhales between one nostril and the other. Its purpose is to bring calm and balance to the mind.
Breath of Fire (Kapalabahti)
Also known as “Skull Shining” this breath technique is performed by first taking an inhale to fill your lungs. Then, the practitioner quickly contracts his or her belly forcing that air out. Your lungs will passively fill back up with a small bit of air as you relax your belly.Then, you repeat this process in rapid succession.
It’s much easier to simply watch a video on this technique rather than reading about it. This video by Ekhart Yoga provides a well thought out demonstration.
Treat Yourself With an Extra Long Shavasana
Who’s to say that your practice needs to end after just a few minutes of Shavasana?
Feel free to take as long of a Shavasana as you please! We work so hard all class for what? Only 5 minutes of peace and total relaxation?
This seems almost backwards…
PRO TIP: Set a timer. Your 20 minute “bonus Shavasana” may turn into a 40 minute nap if you’re not careful.
It May be Time to Vary Instructors
Don’t leave your favorite instructor you’ve found online or at your local studio. They are important to your yoga practice. Creating that affinity is something special and keeps your practice consistent.
Yet, unless that teacher is capable enough of teaching vastly different styles of yoga, it may behoove you to mix things up a bit.
And here’s the reason why…
If you’re beginning to practice yoga five, six, or even 7 times a week, it’ll be better on your body to mix things up - rather than doing the same “Vinyasa” or “Restorative” style class every day.
You probably have your favorite “bread n’ butter” yoga teacher. That’s wonderful! Stick with them 80% to 90% of the time if you feel you’re making progress in your yoga practice.
For the remainder however, it could to be nice to try something TOTALLY different. You may find that a super relaxing “Yin” style of yoga is lovely way to counterbalance the 5 “Ashtanga” classes you do every week.
Some people absolutely love geeking out on alignment. If this is you, then I urge you to explore two specific styles of yoga.
Teachers of Iyengar Yoga must complete a 2 year program before they become certified. As you can imagine, these teachers are vastly more knowledgeable in alignment than teachers who’ve recently graduated from a basic 200-hour Yoga Alliance certification.
Teachers of Anusura Yoga must also complete a 2 year program to become certified. People who enjoy a slightly more laid back and “flowy” style of yoga will prefer Anusura over Iyengar. Those who take an Anusura class will undoubtedly notice a strong influence on alignment as its founder, John Friend, studied under B.K.S. Iyengar.
Is There a Difference Between Lunge and Warrior One?
I’ll try not to make everyone in the yoga community hate me by explaining this…
In my opinion, yes - there is a difference.
I was taught that Lunge (also called High Lunge or Runner’s Lunge) should look something like this... Your front knee stacked on top of your ankle, hips are square with the front, and you’re high on the ball of your back foot.
In Warrior One you have your back heel grounded down, yet all the while still keeping your hips square with the front.
Part of the issue here is that some disciplines of yoga teach things opposite. Therefore it becomes an issue of semantics. Warrior One IS Lunge in some traditions and vise versa.
PRO TIP: If you’re not sure what to do, just pay attention to the teacher… He or she will hopefully demonstrate the pose so you can follow along.
PRO TIP: Are you wobbling in Lunge when you come high on that back heel? That’s okay! You can simply modify by substituting for Warrior One. This way you have both feet firmly on the ground for more stability.
Know the Difference Between Cobra and Up Dog
These poses are often confused with one another for two big reasons.
- When moving through Plank, Chaturanga, Up Dog and back into Down Dog we rush through the “Up Dog” portion, ignoring proper form.
- They look very similar.
Upward Facing Dog
Up Dog LOOKS like a back bend, but that’s not the main purpose of this pose. Yes, there is a backbending element to this pose but that should never be the main focus.
Upward facing dog is all about creating length in your spine with a gentle upward trajectory…
Think about how an actual dog looks in this pose.
You DON’T see your sweet, adorable Mimsy just collapsing into her lower back. What you DO see however, are their back paws flipped over - briefly dragging on the ground. Dogs actively create length through their spine in the pose, and humans should seek to do the same.
This doesn’t mean your feet should be dragging on the ground as you slide forward off your mat, but that is the SENSATION you want.
Your hips leave the mat as you gently engage your legs. This creates an “anchor” of sorts so your arms can be the opposite force pushing upward - creating length through your spine.
Cobra is most definitely a backbend…
In this posture your pubic bone should never leave the mat. You gently engage your glutes to create a small bit of downward pressure on your pubic bone. This is your anchor point for Cobra.
Now, as your arms press against the earth you create the backbend.
As with ALL backbends you NEVER want to collapse into your back. Always seek to create an equal extension between each vertebrae through the entirety of your back.
Consider Gentle Inversions
Inversions are another set of yoga poses you may have avoided but it could be time to give it a go.
Most instructors will classify an “inversion” as posture when your heart is above your head. This naturally brings to mind poses like Handstand and Forearm Stand.
However, there are plenty of other gentle inversions you can do that aren’t quite as physically demanding. Furthermore, inversions can actually have a calming effect on your nervous system and help to circulate more blood-flow through your brain.
Here are 3 gentle inversions to consider:
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Down Dog is a pose we do frequently in our classes but how often do we actually HOLD this posture for? We spend plenty of time in poses like Warrior 2 and Pigeon but rarely do we stay in downward facing dog for very long. This pose is one of the most misunderstood in yoga. Take a moment to really explore and understand this posture fully.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
This pose is a personal favorite of mine to as the “final pose” before Shavasana in my classes. It really allows us to focus on that breath. A common queue I tell students is, “Envision your belly button is the highest point on your body as you breathe.” It calms us and allows us to reconnect with our breath before heading into Shavasana.
(image courtesy of mahatma.org.in)
It’s always a good idea to use props for this pose so you don’t injure your neck. Try placing a blanket underneath you to give your neck a little extra room. But once you’re finally in this pose it can be on the most calming and relaxing postures of all. This pose was even recommended to Gandhi to help deal with the stresses he faced during India’s war for independence from Britain.* Source: The Science of Yoga - William Broad
Explore Sun Salutations
We tend to stereotype yoga postures as being thousands of years old. Each pose being carefully handed down and taught to the next generation in the EXACT same way as the generation before.
This isn’t exactly true…
In the 1920s and 1930s there was a massive purification/revitalization of the physical practice of yoga (asana).
It was during this time, Sun Salutations became much more popular and loosely formalized. Yet, depending on the specific discipline of yoga you adhere to, there are vastly different ways to perform Sun Salutations.
Some include Lunges, some don’t… Some include Upward Salute, some don’t. You’ll find an equal number of Sun Salutations as there are branches of yoga asana.
Rather than debating which one is “right," it’s more important to find one that is right for you.
Using the Wall to Help You Deepen
Using the wall as a prop might not be anything new for you…
Yet, there are a handful of poses where the wall comes in very handy for helping you to deepen in your yoga poses. Let’s look at 2 totally different postures and how a wall can help.
Hands To Feet Pose (padhastasana)
This pose can be a bit scary…
You’re literally standing on your palms and if you’re not careful, then you may just tumble forward. However, there’s a catch-22. In this pose you DO need to transfer that weight forward but NOT so much that you end up flipping over.
Enter your hero - the wall!
In this video, I go into the basic alignment queues for Hands-to-Feet pose and how the wall can help.
This is a pose we don’t see too often in our yoga practice but it can be a wonderful hamstring and hip opener.
Most of the time, to keep balanced, we place our bodies in a gentle “C” shape. This gives us better leverage from our elbow and down through our leg so we don’t fall backwards. Yet, balance is a big part of this pose.
Bringing your body in a straight line helps to open up our hips even more. Try this pose lined up against a wall and watch how it can help you deepen.
Your hips are much more “square” AND you can now rest your arm on the wall as an anchor point as you pull your leg up farther.
Try a Personal Challenge
No need to “sign up” for a challenge, just make your own!
If you’ve been doing yoga for a while now it may be time to see if you can complete a simple challenge under your own free-will.
Try something like, “Yoga 30 minutes every day for 30 days,” or perhaps, “Practice handstand for 10 minutes each day for 10 days.”
Is there a pose you’ve wanted to “conquer” that’s been eating away at you? Try making a challenge out of that! Just use caution and be realistic. If you have trouble holding a Forearm Stand don’t expect to magically come into a full Scorpion in less than a week.
A personal challenge can be VERY rewarding and empowering. Don’t even tell someone you’re doing one. Just keep it to yourself. Once you complete the challenge, you’ll have a sense of pride and accomplishment that will only foster more confidence.
Practice With a Timer
Even the most focused of students get restless from time to time…
You relax into Pigeon for about 30 seconds, but then you turn over and do Shoulder Stand for 2 minutes… After that you do Happy Baby for 20 seconds but decide to flop over into a Spinal Twist instead.
If you are at the point of being able to hold poses for at least 5 minutes then you may want to consider practicing with a timer.
Nothing fancy - just set about seven or eight 5-minute timers on your cell phone as you practice on your mat. You’d be surprised at how pleasantly lost you can get in a pose when you don’t have worry about time.
Craft a basic 30 minute Yin or Restorative practice that looks something like this:
- Bound Angle - 5 minutes
- Seated Forehead-to-Knee - 10 minutes (5 minutes each side)
- Hero Pose - 5 minutes
- Pigeon Pose 10 minutes (5 minutes each side)
That’s only 4 postures in 30 minutes! You could also try setting progressive 3-minute timers to add in more postures. However you like, just make it your own!
Learn Mountain Pose
You mean Mountain Pose - like tadasana? The one where you're just standing there?
If you’re not going to take a teacher training where you clinic dozens of postures, it’s a good idea to have an advanced teacher detail the complexities of Mountain Pose for you.
The reason this pose is so important is because it translates to so many OTHER postures in yoga.
- The way you stand (4-part equal standing)
- How you engage your legs
- What a having a “neutral” pelvis means
- How to create length through your spine
- How to place your shoulders in a proper position
Each of the above points will translate to many other postures in yoga. Mastering this illusively complex pose will vastly improve dozens of minor alignment errors you could be making in dozens of other yoga postures.
Learn More About Anatomy
Learning more about the human body will only benefit you more and more as your practice grows.
Be it watching YouTube videos, taking a workshop on the muscles of the pelvic floor, or even dusting off your old A & P college textbook, you’re sure to learn something beneficial.
Here are a couple of cool things about the human body that help your body during an average yoga practice.
Agonist and Antagonist Muscle Pairings
Your bicep contracts, and your tricep relaxes. Your quadriceps contract and your hamstring muscles relax. These are agonist and antagonist muscle pairings.
But how do they help us in yoga?
Whether or not your yoga teacher realizes it, when he or she says, “Here in your forward fold, gently engage your core.” this actually helps the muscles in your lower back to release. This helps you deepen in your forward fold because when your abdominal muscles contract, the muscles in your lower back relax, allowing you to fold forward a bit more.
"My Knees Don't Bend That Way in Hero Pose"
Ever wonder why some people have such trouble in Hero Pose (virasana) and others can bring their butt down to the mat with no issue at all?
It may look and/or feel like there’s an issue with the student’s knees. And while the knee joint and/or the muscles around it may play a small role, there’s actually a bigger element at play here.
You see, you’re right to think that our knees don’t bend out to the side....
Knees are simple “hinge joints." To sit properly in Hero Pose you need to focus on an internal rotation of your femur head, which comes from the “ball and socket” joint of your hip.
As this internal rotation happens, it will position the knee joint in a better place so your tibia can hinge out to the “side," even though it’s only hinging straight back.
Chatarungas Can be Dangerous
This tip should probably be called, “Chaturangas and Your Ego.”
Advanced yoga practitioners and even long-time instructors absolutely LOVE chaturangas. They build strength, they look cool, and they are the foundation for other cool challenging yoga poses.
Now that modern medicine has had the chance to examine 4-Limb Staff Pose (chaturanga dandasana) it’s becoming more and more apparent that this posture, unless done with extreme care, can put lots of unnecessary strain on your rotator cuff muscles.
As an instructor I’m always fearful to teach this pose to newer students. Generally I’ll ask them to modify onto their knees as they lower outward into the posture.
Lots of “advanced” practitioners of this posture have most likely picked up bad habits along the way, but don’t know it.
I highly recommend watching this video if you are concerned for the safety of your rotator cuff muscles.
Force Yourself to Use a Block
If you just rolled your eyes at the title of this tip - then keep reading, because this point is especially for you…
We know you’re related to Gumby…
We know you pride yourself on your “monkey arms” and can do every bind imaginable…
Yet, the block offers us something beyond just help in just reaching the ground. A block can help tremendously with body awareness.
For example, if you place a block on the outside of your foot in triangle pose, does it help keep your hips stacked like they should be? Perhaps it allows you to get a better stretch through your side body...
Have you tried squeezing a block between your thighs as you move from Plank Pose to Downward Facing Dog? This exercise will allow you to REALLY get in touch with what your core and pelvis are doing in both of these postures.
Blocks have a stereotype of being used for modifications. However, there are countless ways to use blocks to AMPLIFY in your yoga practice
Explore the Bandhas
Considering a whole book could be written on this topic alone, we will only explore basic definitions for each of the Bandhas.
This is the “root lock." Located between the anus and genitals. It is also the area of your root chakra as well. You engage this area by pulling upward from the perineum.
This is the “stomach lock.” Engaging this bandha requires holding your breath after exhalation. Then seek to engage your abdominal wall while drawing it upward at the same time. This will produce a hollowing at the bottom of your rib cage.
This is the “throat lock” also known as the “chin lock." This pose isn’t too often engaged in yoga asana practice - except in Bridge Pose (setu bandhasana) and Shoulder Stand (sarvangasana) as bringing your chin into your chest will naturally target this area.
This is the “ultimate lock”, or also known as the “great lock.” It is achieved by engaging all 3 of the above locks.
CAUTION: Engagement of your bandhas may be dangerous. If you are a soul that is easily influenced by metaphysical and/or energetic practices you should only work with bandhas under supervision of a trusted instructor.
Practice Next to a Mirror
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, mirrors can be a useful tool for checking your alignment.
Some of us may not have a massive standing mirror we can lay on its side near our yoga mats. If that’s the case, then you may be able to use the bathroom mirror.
No, I’m not talking about dragging your yoga mat into the bathroom…
What you CAN do however is simply stand there and observe your posture. Notice how the word “judge” was not in the last sentence… I urge you to simply TAKE NOTE of things that may be slightly off.
Is one shoulder higher than the other? Does this problem go away when you roll your shoulders down and back? How about from the side? Does it appear that your neck is a bit more rounded than it should be?
It may be troublesome but seek out a studio that has mirrors every so often. You may discover that when the teacher asks the class to, “stack your knee on top of you ankle,” your knee is far past your ankle - placing unnecessary strain on your knee joint.
Ask for Constructive Criticism
If want you want to get better with your at-home yoga practice, you’ll need to seek out a yoga teacher either on Skype or at your local studio.
The goal is to have the teacher watch you as you flow through your practice.
This may be a bit unnerving but it can benefit you tremendously.
A good instructor should notice these subtle yet important things...
What Part of Your Body "Leads" Within a Transition?
What part of your body you lead with as you flow from pose to pose is important because you may or may not be doing yourself a disservice when you end up in the next posture.
For example, do you “lead with your tailbone” when you move into Downward Facing Dog from plank pose? Or do you just shift your weight back without thinking much about it? You can feel the difference.
Which Muscles are Engaged and Which are Relaxed?
Warrior 2 (virabhadrasana 2) has a lot going on… Your legs are strong, yet not so engaged you get leg cramps. Your arms are extended outward, yet you needn’t shrug your shoulders upwards.
In my live classes, I always tell my students, “Relax the muscles in your face - you don’t need them in Warrior 2.” This inevitably gets a few laughs but it’s also to prove a point. You should be aware of the muscles you need in a pose and the ones you don’t.
How Much Do Your Thoughts Wander?
Whether by intuition or by the way your eyes are looking around the room every two minutes, a good instructor will be able to tell if your thoughts are constantly wandering.
Get a Tattoo
When’s the last time you got some ink done?
Granted this won’t be for everyone, but if you have yet to decorate your body with something that signifies your love for yoga, it may be time.
Feel free to create a new Pinterest board to start cultivating ideas. Furthermore, you may want to follow this MASSIVE Pinterest board all about yoga tattoos. With over 550 pins, it’s sure to get the ideas flowing.
Consider a Yoga Retreat
Instead of spending your hard-earned money on the beach or a mountain getaway, how about a yoga retreat?
Yoga retreats have become so popular that you can now combine yoga with your second-most-favorite activity.
There are plenty of specialty yoga retreats out there such as:
- Yoga and Wine Tasting
- Yoga and Skiing/Snowboarding
- Yoga and Surfing
- Yoga and Snorkeling
- Yoga and Stamp Collecting
While I’m not 100% sure on the last one, there are thousands more of niche yoga retreats that are sure to satisfy your wildest curiosities.
PRO TIP: Book your retreat with a friend! Often the rooms come as doubles. It may save you money if you book together and you won't have to worry about rooming with another yoga-obsessed weirdo like yourself.
On Vacation? Try a New Studio!
This will blow your mind…
If you’re in a totally different state and/or country, then try out a local studio there. You’ll be amazed at how different things are. It’s not just the pose names that could be different, or how the instructor coaches you into specific posture, but the overall culture seems different.
Vibe and etiquette are often the two biggest differences you’ll notice.
Some studios may be seen as quite “strict” if you’re accustomed to a more laid back atmosphere. This means water breaks at only certain times, no leaving class early, and/or no usage of props.
On the flipside, you could find a studio to be TOO relaxed. You may see people come in late to class without much care, people with their cell phones next to their mats, and/or students talking during shavasana.
Overall, the main benefit is being exposed to something new and different. You’ll most certainly end up doing a new pose or two. You’ll also discover different ways of getting into certain postures which may allow you to come deeper than normal.
The next time you’re in a new place check out what the city has to offer - you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Allow Yourself a Break
If yoga is a major part of your life, this may NOT sound like a good idea for you…
However, for a small group of us yoga-fanatics out there, we might find ourselves in such a routine, that we forget why we enjoy yoga in the first place.
If you’ve been doing yoga for an hour or more each day, multiple times a week, for months now - it could be time to take a week off.
Go for a few long walks. Try some basic meditation. Just get OFF the yoga mat for a while.
After the week is over you’ll have GAINED something you never would have, without the break…
This could come in the form of a restored sense of joy in your practice. It may come in a wave of new-found body awareness that wasn’t there before. You may have more balance in poses now because you’ve decided to come into your poses a bit slower than before.
Some will need a break for a mental health reset. Others will need it to allow the physical body time to reset. Chances are, if you think you’re overdoing it, then you probably are - so take a break!
Just Do a Teacher Training Already!
Listen, you don’t have to teach, but if you’ve come this far in your practice, then doing a teacher training is probably the next step for you.
What’s interesting is that the majority of students who start out in teacher training THINK that they are signing up to simply get better at yoga… And while this may be the initial intention, that’s only a fraction of what happens.
The people that you’ll meet and connect with quickly become one of the life-long gems of doing a yoga teacher training. You’ll start out in a room of 5 to 20 other strangers sitting around you. You’re curious about them but for the most part you have no idea who they are.
Time goes by and after the 10 to 12 week program you’ve shared so many exciting, heart wrenching, uplifting, and/or strange experiences that you can’t help but become best friends with each other.
The opportunities you’ll be awarded are innumerable. This goes far beyond being offered to teach a few classes at your local studio. These are more subtle, yet more profound.
It’s hard to put into words but a teacher training almost forces your growth as a human being. Shortly after the training you’ll notice you’ll choose better friends, you’ll want to eat better, you’ll just want to take better care of yourself. Because of all this, opportunities will arise due to seeing life through a more lovingly stringent lens.
Your Physical Practice
Lastly, you’ll notice your yoga asana has gotten much better. You probably won't be vastly more flexible after a 12 week program but you’ll have gotten rid of bad habits in your physical practice. This paves the way for true, healthy progression in your strength, flexibility, and balance.
"Thank you for reading the Ultimate Guide to At-Home Yoga! I hope the above tips have helped you in your journey."