Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher Rachel Land shares an outside-the-box method you can use to build a consistent and rewarding home practice from scratch.
A home yoga practice is suddenly more vital than ever. This means that many people are experiencing the challenge of unrolling a yoga mat to practice without a schedule, teacher, or fellow students for motivation. And this is in the face of myriad distractions—from remote work, roommates, family, and the state of the world.
Maintaining a dedicated practice in the face of uncertainty is not easy, but there are many solutions. Here’s one you may not have thought of: breaking your home practice into small, manageable chunks that you can more readily integrate into your day, requiring smaller blocks of uninterrupted time.
The key is to identify what you most love about and miss from your studio practice—be it mindfulness, breath and body awareness, inspiration, mobility, strength, or circulation. Then get creative about accessing those benefits in short stints rather than a single long one.
Here are some suggestions to get you started. Every one of these takes less than three minutes. Once you get going, you may find that they spark ideas of your own.
Kick off your practice before you even leave your bed. Rather than reaching for coffee first thing, boost your energy and motivation from within. In just a couple of minutes you can warm your muscles and lubricate your joints, gently stir energy, and build motivation for the day.
Lying on your back, bend your knees and set your feet wide apart on your bed. Slowly windshield-wiper your knees side to side three or four times, mobilizing your hips and low back as you deepen your breath.
Bring your knees back to center and slide down in your bed, creating enough space to reach your arms overhead. Interlace your fingers and stretch the heels of your palms toward your bedhead, opening your side body, shoulders, and hands.
Draw your right knee toward your chest or shoulder and clasp your hands over your shin. Point and flex your right toes three or four times, then circle your right ankle clockwise and then counter-clockwise to warm your foot and ankle joints. Finish by lifting your head and shoulders to curl your nose toward your knee, awakening your abdominal muscles and creating healthy compression on your digestive organs.
Return your right foot to the bed and switch sides. Swap the grip of your hands to bring your opposite index finger on top before mobilizing your left foot and ankle.
Finish by reaching both arms overhead to make space for a huge breath in, and then squeeze both knees into your chest, roll to your side, and bounce out of bed into your day.
If you’re anything like me, you’re seeing lots of advice online about how you can use yoga tools and techniques to support your physical and mental health, and perhaps even boost immunity. While this could be the perfect time to establish some healthy habits, introducing new behaviors may be challenging when you may already feel overwhelmed by a new routine. Make it easy on yourself by adding just one or two new habits to existing ones.
One existing habit that is experiencing renewed (but well-deserved) popularity is hand-washing. Each of us has a 20-second opportunity to hit the reset button on our nervous system multiple times a day. Even this brief time-out from work, family activities, and online scrolling can be incredibly powerful if we utilize it mindfully. So try this: Each time you wash your hands, be quiet, enjoy the physical sensation of soap and water massaging your hands, and tune in to your breathing. Even two to three slow, deep, deliberate breaths is enough to settle and soothe your nervous system, especially if you spend an extra moment lingering in the exhalation.
Another option is to work on your balance and stability during the couple of minutes of standing time you already dedicate each morning and night to brushing your teeth. Try brushing the teeth on the left side of your mouth while standing on your left foot for tree pose, and then swap to the right. You may be surprised by the added challenge of maintaining your balance through the distraction of sound inside your head.
One of the core benefits of a longer-duration practice is the potential to boost energy, body temperature, muscle strength, heart rate, and circulation. Fortunately you can achieve the same physiological effects more quickly by increasing the pace, intensity, or regularity of your movement.
Mini practices like those outlined below can be surprisingly effective when sprinkled throughout your day—for example, while waiting for the kettle to boil or coffee to brew, as a reward for finishing a project, or during a TV commercial break.
Try one (or all) of these mini practices. Boost your motivation by setting a timer or a target number of repetitions. You could even challenge family members or roommates to join you.
• Speed sun salutations: From mountain pose (tadasana), inhale to sweep your arms overhead to urdhva hastasana. Exhale to fold forward, press your palms into the floor, and step or jump back to low plank (chaturanga dandasana). Inhale to upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana) or cobra (bhujangasana). Exhale to lift your hips up and back to downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), and then bend your knees and step or float forward to a standing forward fold (uttanasana). Inhale to hinge all the way up to urdhva hastasana to begin the cycle once again.
• Plank jacks and mountain climbers: Start in plank pose with your feet hip width apart. Exhale to jump your feet to mat width apart, then inhale to jump them back to hip width. On your next out-breath, round your back and draw your right knee to your nose, then inhale back to plank. Exhale to jump your feet mat width apart again, then inhale to jump them back to hip width. Exhale, round your back and draw your left knee to your nose, then inhale back to plank.
• Slow burn: Hold strong in plank pose, side plank (vasisthasana), goddess pose (utkata konasana), or chair/fierce pose (utkatasana). Set a timer or count your breaths to use as a baseline for next time. Aim to increase your hold time by one breath (or five to eight seconds) each time.
When I travel or go camping, I am vividly reminded of what a luxury hot running water is, and how incredible it feels to be warm and clean. Yet it’s easy to take simple pleasures for granted when we don’t pause to appreciate them. For me, that makes a shower or bath the perfect time to invest in gratitude meditation. For you the simple pleasure that prompts gratitude may be mowing the lawn, arranging flowers, preparing a meal with loving care, reading to your children, or lighting a candle at night.
Choose something simple that you do regularly and use it as a means of cultivating appreciation. You may start by feeling thankful for the warm water, your capable hands, or the comfort of your home and family. But as you build the habit you may be surprised to observe that, no matter how uncertain the future, there is much to take comfort from in the now: your heart beating, your lungs breathing, safe shelter around you, the care of people in your life, the view from your window, the sound of birds outside, a smile from a neighbor. The more you look, the more you may see all that you have to be grateful for.
Even a couple of minutes is enough to prepare your body and mind to slip into sleep. Put phones and other devices out of sight. Make your bedroom dark and quiet, and settle into your favorite restorative yoga pose. You could lie on your bed with your legs up the wall, curl into child’s pose, or roll into a twist with a pillow between your knees. Close or cover your eyes, or soften your gaze, becoming aware of the ebb and flow of your breath, slowing and softening as you prepare for a sound night’s sleep.
Remember: Challenging times call for creative solutions. While building a home practice is never easy, if you’re struggling to squeeze a studio-style practice into the realities of remote work and home schooling, the key may lie in thinking outside the box. Expecting to find an uninterrupted hour or more could leave you without any practice time at all.
Shift your perspective instead to figuring out how, when, and where you can harness free moments within your day to sprinkle in some of the yoga practices I’ve shared with you here—or come up with your own! Your body and mind will thank you.