Keeping Up with A Home Practice
Guest Blog Post by Morgan
In January 2020, I set off to Guatemala with the intention to go deep into the study and practice of yoga, not as much to earn the 200-hr Yoga Teacher certification, but to learn how to get more of that delicious feeling of satisfaction I have whenever I finish a great yoga class. I woke up six days a week before the sunrise to practice the centuries old teachings from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Happily, I enjoyed many rounds of that post-class bliss. I spent many days awash in contentment while living mindfully in an ashram on a mountainside overlooking the awe-inspiring Lake Atitlan. In retrospect, working for the teaching credential was the easy part. Practicing what we preach is proving to be much harder. I knew when I left the peace and tranquility of the lake to return home to Brooklyn, New York, the real test would start: How to maintain that head and heart space, open and flexible, when you’re taking care of the daily grind. Add to that a global pandemic where most of my go-to resources for self-care have been turned upside down, and keeping up with my practice at home is harder than I could have imagined it to be.
As with any good habit that someone will try to incorporate into their daily routine, the generic suggestions apply to yoga, too – “schedule it into your day”, “consistency is key”, and “the hardest part is showing up.” I have applied all of those approaches and fallen off the wagon just as many times. I literally added it to the my Gmail calendar (it’s blue, a color I associate with calm strength, in hopes that would be a helpful nudge whenever I see it), and I told myself I’d do the Primary Series (a set series of poses from the Ashtanga yoga tradition) 6 days a week, so that I didn’t have to think about what I’d actually practice when I got on the mat, but it didn’t stick. There have even been times I unrolled my mat just to find myself sitting on it and staring out the window, only to convince myself I was “listening to my body” when I told myself I’d “try again tomorrow” (which was really just me using self-care as an excuse for laziness).
Two months after returning from the yoga paradise in Guatemala, I consider myself back on the wagon, but it looks very different that I’d expected. I went back to the teachings and remembered that there’s three definitions of “vinyasa” and a variety of applications within each; understanding this has helped me keep up with a yoga practice at-home. Allow me to share this with you here:
Vinyasa Flow Yoga is a popular practice in the Western world that focuses on the connection between breath and movement, and classes often pay special attention to transitions between the poses.
Since this style of yoga is so popular, there are tons of free, online resources to help you get moving on the mat. I’ve found that I can keep my at-home practice interesting by using a variety of videos. I will switch it up day to day based on how I’m feeling, the teachers I like, the length of time I can commit to, or the theme of a class that’s resonating with me on a given day. Sometimes I know this isn’t going to be enough, and on those days I’ll sign up with a local studio offering a live Zoom class. Not just because I have a personal connection to the studio, but when I know I’m expected in the class, I will mentally prepare and show up at the designated time to complete the practice. The most expensive, but very rewarding route I’ve taken is private lessons. Even through a laptop screen, the teacher was surprisingly helpful in giving specific adjustments, tips and suggestions. One-on-ones are typically more effective than classes, but I probably wouldn’t have ever given them a try if it weren’t for the pandemic closing the studios. If you can afford this option, I think they’re great because it encouraged me to keep up with my at-home practice to apply what I learned, and it doubles as a friendly event in these trying times of social distancing.
Vinyasa [i.e. “Take a Vinyasa”]
In this use case, a vinyasa refers to the short sequence composed of: chaturanga – urdhva mukha svanasana – adho mukha svanasana (low plank – upward facing dog – downward facing dog). This vinyasa looks and feels like a flowing movement of the body, and when repeated in a vinyasa flow class, helps raise and maintain the heart rate. Depending on the day, my mood, or my energy level, I’ll take a variation of this sequence. Even when I haven’t slept well and I’m feeling sluggish, or when I have a big day and I’m feeling anxious, there’s a yoga practice suitable for me that day using variations and modifications (like knees on the mat in low plank or cobra pose instead of upward facing dog). One of the most important and easily overlooked aspects of an at-home practice is the body-scan to understand where you are on a given day. Just a few weeks ago, when that blue box on my calendar told me to practice the Primary Series of Ashtanga every day, I was getting super frustrated on days that I wasn’t as flexible as the day prior. Even worse, I’d beat myself up that I wasn’t progressing and it took a lot of the joy of simply exercising my mind-body connection. When I gave myself permission to take it slow on days that I don’t feel my best, I was able to relax and show up to the mat excited to practice because I would practice what I needed. And my body thanks me by loosening up faster and feeling safer in the poses.
Vinyasa [The Sanskrit word]
Vinyasa translates from Sanskrit as “to place something in a sacred and special way.” In the Ashtanga tradition, this is broken down into two pillars that make up the foundation of the practice. Vinyasa in this instance refers to a movement and a count. For example, inhale as hands come over the head for the count of one. The other pillar refers to specific breath (Ujjayi), gaze (Drsti) and muscle engagement (Bandhas). These foundations are important for all levels of yoga practitioners when a vinyasa can be as challenging as an inversion or as simple as mountain pose (standing tall with the big toes and ankles touching). The simple application is what I want to focus on in terms of keeping up with practice at home. There are an infinite number of variations when it comes to being specific and intentional with yourself. Being mindful of the rhythm of your breath, where your mind is and what your body is doing is practicing yoga. That means, you can practice yoga when you’re brushing your teeth, making your bed, making a cup of tea, walking the dog, etc. Don’t think of this as a shortcut, but as a critical component of your yoga practice, If you can’t maintain awareness of the vinyasa in daily activities, it’s less likely to happen during a more physically challenging flow on your mat. So think of it as a building block and practice often throughout your day!
In summary, don’t overthink it, don’t overcomplicate it and mix it up. When you feel good, practice a challenging sequence, or flow through a bunch of vinyasas. When you don’t feel good, practice a nourishing sequence, or flow through a few modified vinyasas. When you really don’t feel like practicing yoga, practice yoga when you walk from your couch to your kitchen. Notice your breath with each step and move slowly when you reach your hand out for that snack followed by your mindful gaze. Then, consider your practice done for the day! Leave me a comment if you found those tips helpful or what supports you in your at-home practice.
Who is Morgan
Julia from Warrior Princess Yoga met Morgan in Guatemala. Morgan was doing her 200h yoga teacher training. She is an inspiring soul and beautiful human, hence Julia asked her to share some yoga inspiration with you. For more inspiration and yoga motivation follow her Instagram.