By Lauren Etter
It’s a really, really good time to practice yoga. Carving out even a few minutes to turn our attention inward and tend to our physical, mental, and emotional state can do wonders to help us through this time. If yoga is new to you, there is an abundance of accessible online resources which can guide you through the beginning of your yoga practice. For those of us for whom a brick and mortar studio and community has been a source of support, this can be an opportunity to ripen our understanding of ourselves and of yoga.
Practicing at home can be both challenging and liberating. On a practical level, many of us will miss the heated room, the wide-open space and props the studio provides, as well as the physical presence of a group and a guide as inspiration and motivation, but this can also be an opportunity for self-inquiry, innovation, and renewed commitment to being a student of yoga beyond asana (physical postures). Here are some suggestions for addressing practical limitations, as well as some ways to help make your practice as beneficial as possible for you and our communities.
The Set Up
Limit distractions. If possible, try to find a space that will be relatively quiet. A clutter-free space can help calm our minds. Do your best to limit distractions and commit your focus to your practice for whatever amount of time you can dedicate. Turn off alerts and silence devices. If you’re using a phone or computer to view a guided class, make sure it’s set up somewhere easily visible and turn off notifications from other apps that might appear on the screen, like email or news alerts. Communicate lovingly with housemates or family that you hope to be undisturbed, but try to view disruptions as opportunities to practice patience and compassion.
Improvise for props. Essentially, all you need to practice is yourself, and historically, this was the case, but props can help make some shapes more comfortable or accessible. If you don’t have props, no problem! Experimenting with things around the house that can support your physical practice can be an opportunity to learn what you really need in each shape and to better understand your unique body.
• Mat: a carpeted space or even a towel or two as cushion on a hard floor can work.
• Blocks: The purpose of blocks varies from shape to shape. Items like books, jars, blankets, cushions and pillows, or even furniture can substitute well.
• Strap: A belt, bathrobe tie, scarf, or towel will do the trick.
SEATED AND FLOOR POSTURES
A folded blanket, cushion, or large book placed underneath your bum can help to elevate the pelvis and alleviate strain in hips or low back. Sitting on a stool or chair is always an option too! These items can also serve for support anywhere you feel like tension prohibits relaxation, like under your calves in savasana (corpse pose), under your head or hips in balasana (child’s pose), or under your knees in supta baddha konasana (reclined cobbler’s/butterfly pose).
Anything high and sturdy enough to place under hands or feet when the floor feels a little far away can work: a jar, stacked books, a sturdy box.
Practicing Yoga at Home
Listen to your body.
Especially if you’re used to practicing in a hot room, stay attuned to how you feel. There is no such thing as a perfect posture- the best practice is one that tends to our current reality, rather than forcing ourselves to be how we think we should. This applies not just to the physical shapes, but to whatever mental or emotional occurrences arise. Your practice can be a means to honor all parts of yourself. Wherever and however you are is OK! (I recognize this statement assumes the privilege of being in a safe environment where basic human needs are met, at the least. If that’s true for you, as it is for me, try to practice gratitude for the privilege of the safeties you benefit from.)
To music or not to music?
Historically, seated meditation and asana were practiced in silence, often outdoors, with nature and breath serving as the soundtrack. (If you can practice outdoors and listen to birds and the wind, go for it!) Practicing asana or meditation in silence can be a powerful way to bring our attention to the reality of our being. Sometimes, well-chosen music can be a helpful tool to inspire our practice, often enabling us to be more tuned into the present moment. Music also has the potential to be a distraction, perhaps serving as an escape from facing challenging aspects of our experience or ourselves. If you always practice with music, give practicing in silence a chance, and if you always practice in silence, find or create a purposely designed playlist and give it a try. As with much of yoga’s teachings, one way isn’t right or wrong, but choosing to listen to music or not when you practice can be an opportunity to nurture open mindedness and try something new! Here’s my Spotify profile, where you can find lots of playlists for different styles and lengths of classes.
Commit to savasana.
It can be nice to have a blanket or sweater nearby to stay comfortable during the last, and perhaps most important posture. In Sanskrit, savasana means corpse pose. It is a practice of shedding your responsibilities, your identification with the societal and material world, to explore your connection to something bigger- life itself, in its universal form. From a physiological perspective, it’s also where, after an asana practice of strength and stretch, our bodily systems get a chance to absorb the benefits of movement. In a world of increased stimulation for our minds, and in this time of stress and uncertainty, choosing to be consciously, openly still is a radical act of love for you and our collective as beings on Earth.
Don’t take it too seriously.
Playfulness is encouraged in your practice of yoga. Really! It’s in ancient yogic texts. Try the shapes you haven’t tried before (but be smart and safe! If it pinches or hurts beyond sustainable, healthy discomfort, explore an adjustment to make the shape suit you or don’t do it!). Try suggested variations, seek out different teachers, and give yourself permission to laugh. If you fall or fart, or your neighbor decides to embark on a noisy home improvement project right in the middle of your meditation, a smile goes a long way.
If you have questions, feedback or requests, reach out to your teachers! As teachers, we are students first, and our students are some of our best teachers. Tell us what you need more of and ask us to clarify what confuses you. Invite your friends and family to join you virtually or practice together if you’re isolating together. Even when we can’t be in the same room, we can come together to sustain and develop supportive practices. Perhaps we can meet on the other side of this with a renewed commitment to take care of ourselves and each other.
Thanks for joining me and take care!
Lauren Etter, RYT-500, teaches at Modo Yoga San Diego and has taught at Modo studios in LA and NYC. She has a MFA in Dance, and lately, spends a lot of time baking, puzzling and talking to her plants.