How to Practice Yoga Alone at Home

Regardless of how long you may have been practicing yoga before studios closed their doors for the greater good, finding yourself suddenly home alone on your mat may leave you thinking, Okay, now what?

When I lived in New York City, I belonged to a cycling club, and every weekend we would go on 50- to 90-mile rides. Because I was always one of the pack, not a leader, I didn’t have to plot a route or pay attention to a map—just make sure I didn’t get dropped. So, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have been able to get myself from Central Park (our usual meeting place) to any of the quaint New Jersey and Westchester towns we screamed through. Maybe that’s how you feel right now—unable to get your bearings or navigate a course without a teacher to guide you. 

Well, fear not, you don’t have to do this on your own—unless you really want to.

As you may have already discovered, many yoga studios have been stepping up their game to hold virtual space for their communities and offer online classes. So you can probably still study with your favorite teachers without having to worry about rush-hour traffic or finding a parking space (though for the sake of ritual, you may want to change out of your pajamas). And continuing to support your local studio during these pinched financial times is a great way to ensure that it’ll still be there when you’re able to practice en masse again.

If, say, you’ve got kiddos at home shaking up your yoga schedule, or you’re making grocery runs for self-quarantined neighbors and need an on-demand practice when you can grab one, there are myriad options. These include Yoga International’s suite of classes [editor’s note: And with our new teacher/studio partnership program, you may even be able to find classes with your favorite local teachers now]. Whether you want a wee practice or an extensive one, whether you want your butt kicked or restored, whether you want to dig in to yoga fundamentals, hone your inversions or arm balances, or finally (what better time than now?) develop a meditation practice—all is just a few keystrokes away. 

I’m a teacher and I have been practicing yoga for a gazillion (well, close to) years, so I know what to do. But, as a homebody who already spends most of her time alone, spending time alone on my mat as well is still a challenge. Practicing in community is how I practice, maintain some semblance of sociability, and stay accountable. 

My daily practice for many years has been Mysore-style—which, because it is basically a self-practice in a room full of self-practitioners, doesn’t lend itself to Zoom. So between that and the fact that we are being asked to shelter at home, the message seems clear to me that I’m to treat this as a time to self-retreat, and to meet the challenge of enforced solitude by resourcing from within rather than from without. And you can too! 

I am grateful for the abundance of streaming options, and I will probably take advantage of some of them (I mean, how amazing that I can take class with one of my favorite teachers, who lives 1,800 miles away in NYC!), but what I think we are all being called to do right now is to go deeper within, which for me looks like not spending more time in front of a screen, looking “out there” for sustenance.

Cultivating a home practice is one way of wresting some control over our lives at a time when soooooo much is out of our control. (Of course, most things usually are, but that’s another topic.) It doesn’t have to be complicated; it just has to be. And our goals have to be realistic. For each of us, it’s about inviting ourselves to stretch a bit while being self-compassionate—accepting that, just as we’re probably not going to lift as heavy on our own as we would with a trainer standing over us, for most of us our practice is not going to look the same at home as it does in the studio. So we have to cut ourselves some slack, but not so much that we don’t make it onto our mats.

For some people, just rolling out their mat and doing a few sun salute A’s and B’s followed by legs up the wall is enough of a self-challenge and enough of a commitment to practice (after all, it’s about the commitment as much as it is about the practice itself). For reasons too boring to go into here, my inversion practice has suffered for too many months, so I am making sure I do handstand, shoulderstand, and headstand with each vinyasa session—that’s my own personal ask of myself. Also, because I tend to give savasana short shrift at home, I am making sure to give myself a full 10-minute savasana at the end of each practice, just as I would get at the studio. And guess what? That makes the segue into the rest of my day so much sweeter, just as it would at the studio! 

What’s your challenge? Where can you ask a bit more of yourself? How can you tap into your own wisdom, your own knowing, to support your home practice?

Here are a few suggestions for anyone interested in establishing a home practice:

• Dedicate a space for your practice. It doesn’t have to be a whole room—just somewhere you can lay your mat. And keep it tidy.

• Treat yourself to some props or go on a treasure hunt around the house to find items that can be repurposed: tomato cans for blocks, anyone?

• Set the mood by reading a poem or piece of scripture or by placing a picture of a beloved figure in front of your mat.

• Get an accountability buddy—someone you can check in with to say, “Yes, I did my practice today.” It will mean having someone with whom you can celebrate your successes and share your frustrations.

• Light some candles.

• Set an intention for your practice. This could be anything from offering your practice up to the health of the whole planet to not getting off your mat for your entire session (so easy to succumb to distractions at home!).

• Rock some inspiring music. (Hey, don’t tell my Mysore-mates, but I have been tuning in the tunes during my home practice lately.)

• Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb and close your laptop.

• If you’ve got only 10 minutes, check out the Magic 10, which is designed to be a complete practice, a warm-up for meditation, or a longer asana practice. 

• Aim for consistency as much as possible in these very inconsistent times, because routine is grounding. See if you can practice at the same time on whichever days you practice—establish a schedule, whether it’s 9–10 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or 1–1:30 five days a week.

• Use this self-time to explore your practice. Maybe focus on a pose that’s been eluding you and mini-workshop it.

• Allow freedom even as you aim for consistency. For example, get with some myofascial release or do some yin on days when you’re just not feeling very vinyasa-y. 

• If you’re not streaming classes but want some guidance, ask your favorite teacher to customize a practice for you, or seek a Zoom private from them. (This is also a great way to show them some financial love when they probably need that support.)

A home practice is an opportunity for us to step more fully into all that we can be, and to not beat ourselves up for all that we think we are not. The practice is the practice—showing up authentically on our mats or meditation cushions. It is both the means and the end. It is not so much what we do as the fact that we do it. So let’s do it!

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About the teacher

Jaimie Epstein is an 800-hour Advanced Certified Jivamukti Yoga teacher, writer, vegan food foodie, Sanskrit... Read more

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