Transform Your Body and Mind by Starting an At-Home Yoga Practice
Ellen White, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, IIN Guest Editorial Contributor
How your home can become the perfect yoga studio
The last few months have seen a tremendous shift in the way we live. Most notable is how we have had to transform our home into a multipurpose arena – it’s become our office, children’s school, therapist’s office, and exercise studio. We’ve gotten creative with how we arrange our space, trying to compartmentalize our home so we can mimic the mind-set that goes along with it – our desk is only for work, living room only for play, bed only for sleep, etc.
Just as we’ve become more flexible in how we move about and live in our space, we’ve expanded what exercise means to us. Turns out, it takes on new meaning when you’re restricted to your home. Some people go running just to get outside for fresh air. Others have opened their mind about trying new forms of exercise, especially now that in the privacy of our own homes, we can try things we wouldn’t have ventured out to a studio to do.
One such form of exercise that many people have taken up at home is yoga. It has always attracted a widespread curiosity, but it has also suffered some misconceptions that have prevented people from joining. For example, men haven’t practiced yoga as much as women because they’ve “learned” from media and fitness outlets that they should seek out more aesthetically driven exercise that’s often high intensity, whether weight lifting or boxing. Furthermore, men and women alike may have felt intimidated going to a brick-and-mortar yoga studio because they’re fearful of being judged by their looks or experience level.
An at-home yoga practice can serve many purposes beyond physical activity. It can become one of the most well-rounded forms of exercise a person can do and even become an important agent for profound change in the world today. When approached with true intentions, a regular yoga practice not only provides cardio activity through asana movement but offers a transformational connection between mind and body, helping you combat excessive thought, experience newfound presence, and find healing throughout your entire body and mind.
The benefits of a yoga practice, as told by yoga industry leaders Bryan Kest, Faith Hunter, and Shiva Rea
For leaders in the yoga space, the opportunity to increase one’s practice, especially during COVID-19, offers extraordinary potential for actually keeping the practice consistent. With minimal time constraints and no pressure to make it to a studio in person, an opening exists to attract a wider, more captive audience.
Bryan Kest, an industry leader for over 35 years and the founder of Power Yoga in Los Angeles, says that an at-home yoga practice is a beautiful thing and will continue to grow as long as people check in with themselves more often and “choose wisdom over vanity.” He says, “Our mass media culture has led us down a misguided direction regarding fitness, bombarding us with illusory images of physically induced muscular males and unrealistic females that brainwash the public into thinking they have to be something else and look different to be worthy. Yoga contradicts this and should never be approached as a goal to change who you are but rather to take care of who you are.”
Additionally, he encourages a home practice because it can allow for a truly personalized experience since it uniquely addresses what the individual needs versus a studio experience that serves the generalized needs of the class and instructor.
One of the most important teachings that Bryan offers is recognizing aggression. “A person will only get hurt in yoga if they practice aggressively. But to engage in yoga gently, one can slowly eradicate the addictive and aggressive forces of the mind, become totally conscious with their body, and avoid injury. It is one of the safest and most profound ways to experience a beneficial and unique practice. A person will never get hurt if they go gently and focus consciously on what the body is saying. Triangle pose, for example, exposes and helps every part of the body if done gently; yet if done aggressively, it can be irritating and harmful.” Bryan understands the need to choose a logical form of exercise, and he considers yoga the ultimate logical solution. “It’s the most well-rounded physical maintenance program, exposing every nook, cranny, and organ in the body. Every area is stretched, oxygenated, and addressed,” he says. “There is nothing more logical than that.”
When asked what pose is a must-do every day, Bryan likes shoulder stand because it reverses the effects of gravity.
Faith Hunter, a D.C.–based industry leader for over 20 years and a contributor to the Sacred Space Miami, says an at-home yoga practice is the ultimate choice to counteract the stress of COVID-19. “As a human race, we have taxed our physical bodies through non-nurturing behavior. We have been living in a very patriarchal energy of overdoing and over-consuming and as a result have destroyed the earth. Now is the time to connect to each other in a kinder way and yoke together mind, body, and spirit through yoga.” She says that yoga gives us the opportunity to show up to our designated home space authentically, from the heart, and face who we are as humans.
Seasoned yogis with more awareness, she says, have the opportunity to take their practice into deeper breathing and deeper self-knowledge; beginners can explore poses from a wide array of online offerings until they find what works for them. Faith says we are in the perfect time for at-home practice because many people are working from home and sitting at the computer. Stepping away to do spinal flexion poses, such as in cat/cow, will counteract the stress from sitting at a computer all day. Additionally, Faith encourages a nerve-calming pose like Legs Up the Wall to restore and manage stress and take pressure off the ankles.
During these times of stress, Faith feels that a yoga practice can help manage high blood pressure, strengthen lung capacity through breath, heal and manage stress, navigate emotions, and open constricted areas in the body that hold toxins.
When asked what pose is a must-do every day, Faith never misses out on breath of fire, which creates heat in the body while forcefully inhaling and exhaling breath.
Shiva Rea, a landmark figure in meditative yoga movement and advocate of a home practice since 1997, says our bodies want to do yoga from the moment we awaken to the moment we lie down to sleep. “It’s not just one practice; it’s a continuum of movement, freedom, breath, and expression.” People need to stretch organically throughout the day and can use any furniture in the house for support. She suggests home practitioners engage in 5–10 breaths of downward-facing dog and add a sun salutation sequence as important foundations for an at-home practice. “If you’re able to, 20 minutes a day is fine.” She suggests practicing to either a solar or lunar energetic source: “A solar practice is activating and rhythmic while a lunar practice doesn’t require asana and is restorative and stress reducing.”
When asked what pose is a must-do every day, Shiva likes a back bend out of pigeon, which represents a sacred arc opening the heart.
These experts all agree that there is so much to learn and gain from a consistent home yoga practice, such as:
- Examining the roles aggression and anger have in our life – are we keeping anything stored inside that we need to release?
- Exploring the rhythmic and meditative expression and movement we have with our world
- Discovering our authentic self and who we want that to ultimately be
- Physically providing us with strength, stamina, balance, and flexibility – all things we can use a bit more of these days as we are more sedentary
How to start an at-home yoga practice (safely)
Yoga, which literally means to yoke together, offers a tridimensional approach to wellness: physical, mental, and spiritual. There is an added value because nobody is watching (especially now that we’re at home!). But the foundation of yoga is rooted in the concept that there is no one to compete with and no one to impress. Creating a home practice that fits your body and needs is bio-individuality in action! It’s your opportunity to experience freedom and discover a more authentic connection to self.
Here are six ways to get started* with your home practice:
- Select a designated area in the home, free of clutter and inclusive of a sacred quality. Do your best to adjust your mind-set from high-impact stress and trauma on the body to a nurturing and expansive vision of meditative movement for mind, body, and spirit. Breathe deeply. Stand tall and stare truthfully into the universe.
- Set a schedule for your at-home yoga practice. It’s important to be consistent and committed to your at-home yoga schedule.
- Roll out the mat and have your props ready. Props can include blocks, bolsters, a strap, and a blanket. These props help make the poses more comfortable and can help you avoid injury. If you don’t have a specific prop, you can use books instead of blocks, a pillow instead of a bolster, a belt or jump rope instead of a strap, and a towel instead of a blanket. Whatever you have on hand is okay!
- Choose a yoga style and be mindful of breathing through the nose during the practice. Ashtanga is a more rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures, similar to vinyasa. It links every movement with breath. Hatha yoga is also posture-based but can be gentler and a more introductory way to get comfortable with learning the poses and holding them. Restorative yoga is a great way to relax the mind and body and soothe the nervous system through passive poses.
- Listen to your body. If your body signals pain, stop and modify the pose. Child’s pose is always a great option if you need to take a break from the flow.
- See it through. It’s natural to fidget and potentially interfere with your practice. The benefits of yoga unfold throughout the entire practice, from the physical challenges of asana to the meditative realms of breath and meditation.
*If you’re feeling unwell, do not engage in physical activity; always check with your healthcare provider if exercise causes physical discomfort.
Ellen White is a 2015 IIN grad, freelance writer, and previous co-owner of a yogi dating site called Om Singles. She has written for several yoga and health-related publications, such as Yoga International, Rebelle Society, Elephant Journal, and Yogi Times, where she was an editor. Her interest in yoga, juicing, spirit strength, and creativity motivates her to stay inspired in today’s challenging world. Her hope is to share her emotions, passion, and struggle with others. She lives in Fort Lauderdale and loves the beach! She can be reached via email.