learning yoga at home

How To: Overcome the Obstacles to Home Practice

This article was inspired by the many beautiful responses and interesting questions about the last email and blog post documenting my travel practice (click here to see that post

Did you know that almost 7 years ago I created an online course about developing a home yoga practice? This has always been an important offering for me as a practitioner and a teacher.

The online platform was too expensive to maintain, however, I’ve been digging through some of the material to share with you. Often the biggest obstacles to home practice are mental. The top four are listed below including ways through and around them! 

1. Not enough Time - You never find the time. You make it. For home practice, make it manageable - like 20 minutes. 

This is the most common obstacle, especially for students who take public classes. There is a persistent belief that your practice needs to be long, like 60-90 minutes, and then you become overwhelmed or discouraged at the prospect of filling this grand canyon of time. My average (asana) home practice is 40 minutes. Yes, there are days of 60 and 70-minute practices but these usually include 10-20 minutes of rolling, a long inversion, or just a slow pace. 

There was a time when I practiced longer; back when I lived on Maui, worked in restaurants and didn't have computer. However, as my personal life has grown richer, my solo-study time has diminished. And as my meditation practice has grown longer and sweeter, my asana practice has grown shorter. I’ve struggled with this change, however, my teacher says, “congratulations, you’ve graduated”.

It's important to remember that asana was not intended for exercise or the achievement of poses. The practice is designed to hone your inner awareness and keep your physical temple in good repair. By these standards, I accomplish what I need in 25-40 minutes. Channels open, mind clear, energy humming. Much more time than that and I feel drained or become distracted. And on that note, I’d rather have 20-minutes of focused and deliberate practice than 60-minute of half-hearted practice.

So make the time manageable. In fact, make it so manageable that you’d feel guilty NOT doing it!



2. Not enough Knowledge - Don't know what to do? This roadblock comes from having unrealistic expectations for your practice, in particular, the desire to have home practice feel like a class. It's not. Self-practice and class are very different experiences. 

Here  are a few easy solutions.

•   Do what you remember from class.

•   Do a sequence from a book, video or audio recording.

•   Consider private sessions to help you develop a customized routine. 

I actually love my home practice so much that classes are difficult for me. I go to class to learn, experience someone else’s perspective, let go and follow. When I’m on my own, my breath is my guide, I listen to my body, commune with spirit and make extraordinary discoveries.

To overcome this obstacle, find a sequence to get you started - like training wheels - and allow the home practice to be a completely different experience than classes.

Here are a few home practice MP3s: 



3. Can’t get started - Good intentions and no follow through?

Figure out what it takes to just get going.

Do you need to start lying down? About 50% of my practices start in Viparita Karani. Are you slow in the morning? When I worked late in restaurants, I would take a brisk walk around the block before practice.  Do Sun Salutation light up your energy? During my years of Astanga practice, every practice began with Sun A.  Do hamstring stretches make your heart sing? Sometimes it feels so good to start laying down stretching hips and hamstrings. A little-ego lie? Many times, I tell my mind a little lie, something like "do 5 postures" "just what feels good", "it'll only be a few minutes" - then once I've started, the yoga takes over. 

Timing is also important. What time of day is reasonable for you? When are you able to get to the mat? I have clients who only practice in the morning. I have clients who would love to practice in the morning, but it never happens. They are more consistent and satisfied with their practice when they do yoga in the evening after work.  

In order to overcome the obstacle of getting started, develop a bulletproof strategy to just get going. Figure out how yoga fits into your life and schedule. Even 5 minutes of mindful breathing and moving is better than nothing.



4.    Not feeling “good enough” - In my experience, you do yoga to feel better, not because you already feel good.... For me, yoga is just as critical as other daily practices - like sleep and brushing my teeth - it's a cleanse for my mind, a re-set for my nervous system, and exfoliating for my spirit. 

There is often another hidden mental hurdle here, and that's the idea that you have to have a “good” practice. Or feel “good enough” to really “do something”.  In my opinion, your practice should not depend on how you feel. I believe the practice is too important to be optional

I’m always delighted for my students when they tell me something came up - they were getting anxious, their back hurt from travel, or they felt really down - and then they practiced and it made a difference.This is how you access the healing power of yoga. You practice when you need it, and then you also learn how to use the practice as medicine. 

So when you're not feeling up to it, consider it a perfect time to practice. 



Lastly, to add a human element, a daily practice was relatively easy for me to develop because I had great need. Initially, I used yoga as a last resort to manage anxiety and depression. A consistent meditation practice only evolved after 10 years of asana. And I’m STILL struggling with a daily writing habit. In fact, I find myself using these same tired excuses for writing: 

  • Not enough time or overwhelming myself with an unwieldy amount of time so I dawdle and get discouraged.

  • Not knowing what to write about....

  • Not knowing where to start....

  • Not feeling “inspired”.

These obstacles are not unique. They are mental whirlpools that spin us around and around. The good news is that by confronting and overcoming these obstacle in one area, you get better in others. You exercise and strengthen the muscles of willpower, perseverance and resilience. And that is powerful. 

"I think that yoga, rather than a path leading to mastery, is an invitation to evoke mystery and channel a powerful, subtle, and ultimately unnameable energy that roams inside."

- Tias Little, from his book Yoga of the Subtle Body

Powered by Prana


Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? 
~Mary Oliver

I feel like I was a walking head before yoga.

Even though I played competitive sports and was active, I wasn't really communicating with my body. Oh, there were plenty of commands - run faster, you can do it, no pain, no gain -  but very little conversation.

When I first started yoga, it was like I had to translate everything - put your left foot forward... okay....left.... foot... where is my left foot?... now, forward... more forward... come on left foot! ..... why doesn't it get to the top of the mat? ... -  Anyone else have that in their head? Progress was slow, but progress came, and it came more quickly once I understood the role of the breath and the bandhas. 

It's like you come to yoga with a "flat tire" for a body - even if you're active, there is rarely awareness. The yoga postures and alignment start the conversation. You begin to feel -  which can be as simple as equal weight on your feet, as subtle as the stacking of your bones, or as complex as the emotions that arise when a pose is challenging, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.
And as you begin to feel, your inner awareness unfolds, reaching ever deeper, to subtle concepts like the bandhas.  As seals, the bandhas patch up "leaks" - weaknesses, sleepy deep core muscles, underutilized stabilizers - and strengthen you from the inside out. The bandhas also create more of a container inside of your body. Which is why they are a prerequisite for pranayama - breath expansion practices.

Pranayama comes from two words. Prana which is life force, vitality, eternal energy. It's like Qi in other Eastern Traditions or Mana in the Hawaiian Tradition. Ayama means to liberate or remove restraints. When you dissect the word, you see that pranayama is designed to invigorate, expand, and liberate the life force and energy inside of you. 
Once the breath has a strong container, a solid vessel, it gains momentum. Then you pump prana into the body.  Prana creates space and potential for something new to arise, for transformation to occur. It inflates and enlivens your body with awareness. 

Instead of clunking along with a flat tire, you cruise, glide, and really ride the vibrancy of being in-body. 
This is how yoga makes you more youthful and vital. This is what sustains your practice for a lifetime. This is the alignment of feeling uplifted inside and out. 

"Without full awareness of breathing, there can be no development of meditative stability and understanding."
~Thich Nhat Hanh