It’s 5.30am and I’m awake. Well, I’m “awake”. I hear cars drive by my bedroom window and discern vague shapes in the dark (is that a scarf or evil spirit on my desk chair?), but I’m struggling to process this information.
The only thing I’m entirely conscious of is my mobile phone alarm, ringing from somewhere in the bed. It’s playing a generic, mellow wake-up track, which is supposed to be calming but feels like ice-cold water poured over my head.
After several minutes wrestling with the duvet, I find my phone by my feet and turn off the alarm. Right, it’s time to get up.
Well, I don’t “get up”. What I actually do is roll off the bed, with an almighty thud, and land on the floor in a heap. Good enough. A few metres away, propped up against a wall, is my rolled-up yoga mat. You see, I’m trying to start a daily morning yoga practice, which is the reason I’m up at this ungodly hour.
“I’m cultivating discipline. This… is… tapas…” I mutter as I crawl towards my mat.
But it’s warm, dark and the carpet is plushy – so I fall asleep right there on the floor. The next thing I know, it’s nearly 7am. The morning sun has crept through my window (it was just a scarf – phew) and my arm’s dead from using it as a pillow. The icing on the cake? I’m going to be late for work.
Sound familiar? If you’re reading this blog, I bet it does. The truth is, starting a home yoga practice is hard. Despite what many teachers say, it’s rarely as easy as just “rolling out your mat”. It requires time, mental commitment, basic postural knowledge and physical space.
It also demands a shift in perspective. A yoga class tends to be an additional part of your day, something you may or may not be able to attend, depending on traffic, childcare, work or any number of variables.
In contrast, a successful (by this I mean consistent) home practice must become a fundamental part of your routine. Regardless of what crops up (excluding sickness or broken bones), you don’t postpone or reschedule.
It’s so hard, it took me many months of snoozed alarms and impromptu floor naps before I devised a programme that worked. But, before I share my advice on HOW to start a home practice, let me very briefly run through WHY you should.
Reasons to start a home yoga practice
You’re not limited by studio timetables or traffic – you can practise morning, afternoon or night (I know dedicated ashtangis who wake up at 3.30am to flow).
You save money
Classes can be expensive (a certain go-to London studio charges £17 per drop-in). Practising at home is a cheaper alternative, even after purchasing any props you might need.
Develops body awareness
A home practice tends to be more intuitive because you’re able to incorporate postures that feel good to your body on each specific day. You’re able to tune into what parts of the body need stretching or strengthening.
Without a teacher to guide you, you have to get imaginative with sequencing. It spurs you on to research new postures, techniques and styles.
Cultivates discipline or tapas
Stepping on your mat consistently requires discipline, especially when the sofa is only a stone’s throw away. This is one of the most beautiful results of a home practice – it teaches you how to prioritise and follow through with a commitment.
It’s a form of continued learning
A home practice discourages spoon-feeding. Sure, it’s great to have a teacher to learn from, but when you practise alone, you’re forced to do the hard work.
You take the initiative to study alignment, sequencing, breathing techniques, chants and more. It becomes a form of svadhyaya, the fourth niyama, which translates into “self-study”. It’s essential for teachers to keep up with their personal practice, so they can continue to advance and serve their students.
How to begin a home yoga practice
So, how do you motivate yourself to begin? Truthfully, a lot of it is down to resilience and grit. BUT there are ways to make the process easier. Simply implement the below advice until your home practice becomes second nature.
Pre-arrange your mat and props
Don’t make my mistake, leaving your mat tucked away and rolled up tightly (especially if you decide to practise in the morning).
Instead proudly unravel it, preferably somewhere visible, as a constant reminder of your daily promise to yourself.
My mat is glued to my bedroom floor (unless I need it for a class), which means I have to walk over it several times a day. Yes, it’s a bit inconvenient, but I need the prompt. On days I feel low-energy, having everything already set-up is a life-saver.
The same applies to props. The mind likes an easy life, so it’ll find any excuse to cancel or postpone your session. If you have straps, blocks and bolsters hidden away in a hard-to-reach place, it’s just another barrier to stepping on your mat.
Choose a time that suits you
Some hardcore yogis believe the best time to practise is in the morning, before food and coffee no fucking way.
I call bullshit.
The demands of modern life are overwhelming – we have full-time jobs, children to feed, chores to do and friends to see. Plus, sleep, in this technology-drenched era, is more important than ever. For most of us, a morning yoga practice just isn’t viable.
My advice is to find a time that fits your lifestyle. If you leave the house early for work, flow in the evening. If the only spare-time you have is while your kids are at school, the afternoon may work best.
You also need to consider your energy levels. If you work all day, you might be exhausted by the time you get home. So, even if you have an early start, a morning practice might be preferable and feasible if you shuffle a few things around. Some people find themselves springing to life in the PM – there’s nothing wrong with practising at midnight if that’s how you roll.
Start with small, achievable sessions
Avoid setting unrealistic goals – it will end with disillusionment.
On paper, an hour’s practice sounds fantastic. Perhaps one day, it’ll become your norm. However, it’s not a great idea if you’re already juggling an overflowing to-do list or are new to yoga.
Consistency is at the heart of a home yoga practice, so focus on short, high-quality sessions. Commit to ten minutes a day and, once you’ve settled into this routine, increase the length by five minutes.
Some days are busier than others – so don’t beat yourself up if you need to shorten the session. Remember – regularity over length.
Once you’ve scheduled a session, stick with it
Don’t re-arrange or cancel – this time is now sacred.
How many times has your brain tried to bargain with you?
“If you let me go out, I promise I’ll write that blog tomorrow”.
“I’m exhausted tonight – let’s unwind with Netflix and I’ll call my mum later”.
“Can we skip the gym? It’s always busy at this time. I’ll run around the block instead”.
“You practised yoga yesterday, just take a break today”.
It happens to me all the time – my whimsical, half-hearted self is at war with the parts of me that crave self-improvement, self-control and self-realisation.
The most efficient way to counteract this way of thinking is to give it no leeway. Don’t even entertain the idea of moving your practice – if you do, it’s likely to be permanently postponed. Make every effort to treat your yoga session as a non-negotiable.
I do understand plans change – I’m not puritanical. BUT begin with this non-negotiable line of thinking. It sets the bar high, so if you fall short, you know there was a good reason (Friends reruns and pizza don’t count).
Attend a few classes to pick up the moves
If you’re new to the practice or unsure about correct alignment, invest in a few classes to crystalise your knowledge.
In my opinion, supplementing your home yoga practice with a regular class (or classes) is the key to progress, but I’m aware this isn’t an option for many. But just a handful of sessions under the guidance of an experienced teacher will give you foundational knowledge to take home and expand upon.
Ask if the teacher can show you a few ways to self-adjust popular postures (downward dog, trikonasana, wide legged forward folds etc.) and make an effort to remember their cues.
Make the sequence fun
A well-rounded practice must include postures you dislike – that means chair pose too (I’m sorry).
Usually, we avoid tough poses because they’re uncomfortable – they make us sweat, shake or stretch in superhuman ways. But we really start to see both physical and emotional improvements when we “play with our edge” like this (a yoga way of saying “work to our maximum capacity”).
That being said, if you’re feeling tired or uninspired, a miserable sequence isn’t going to make you joyfully hop on your mat. In this case, it makes sense to pack your session with fun, creative movement and the stuff you enjoy.
One of the best things about a home yoga practice is the freedom to explore new ideas – so, take advantage of being your own teacher and experiment.
Watch YouTube videos
I thank the yoga Gods every night for YouTube and its myriad content creators who share their classes for free.
Going back to the previous point and practising postures you dislike – YouTube helps you to do this by providing virtual teachers/arse whoppers. It’s much easier to follow instructions than to self-flagellate.
There’s a treasure chest of classes available, for FREE, that cater to beginners right through to veteran practitioners. You can choose short or long sessions, Ashtanga or Yin, hips, butt or core classes and videos with a teacher who really resonates with you. What more could you want?
While there’s nothing like a hands-on adjustment, these videos provide valuable self-adjustments and tips that will deepen your understanding of alignment and anatomy.
Here are a few of my favourite channels and videos:
- Yoga With Adriene
- Conscious Life, in particular, Ryan Spielman’s Ashtanga standing sequence
- Pranidhi Varshney’s channel – I love her half primary series
- Purple Valley Ashtanga Yoga
- Floating Yoga School
To summarise, you need to put in equal parts compassion and discipline. Don’t berate yourself if you skip sessions, and don’t let it become a habit. Understand how your brain works, and work with the resistance. Listen to your body, and push it to its limits.
Have you found any of the above advice helpful? Have you got any tips to add? I’d love to hear from you if so – leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you want more advice, read “Want to deepen your yoga practice?“.