How to Make Yoga Part of your Routine
You know the drill. Wake up. Get the kids up. Make them breakfast. Get them ready for day. Whether you’re sending them off to school or preparing for play dates, it’s hard to find a moment for yourself. If you can barely squeeze in a shower during the week, how can you find time for a personal yoga practice?
More and more busy moms are flocking to yoga studios or gyms for fitness, stress relief, and time to connect with themselves. Luckily, many of these places offer on-site childcare that allows moms to indulge in a class or two. But to take your practice to the next level and create optimal health and wellness, it is essential to also have a home practice. As author and yogi Rodney Yee states, “Home practice is vital if you want to deepen your practice. It sets the stage for the deep insights and profound transformation of mind and body that are the real benefits of yoga.” Finding the time for a personal yoga practice can be a struggle, so here are a few tips to get you started.
Clear a Space
To mindfully set yourself on this path of a home practice, it is important to first clear a space. Clearing out the clutter not only gives you a physical location to practice, but it also mentally clears away some of the obstacles we perceive as holding us back. As you pick up the toys and sweep out the dust bunnies from a corner of a room, imagine that you are also clearing out the idea that you don’t have the time, that you don’t have the focus, and that you don’t have the confidence to practice yoga daily.
Beautify this corner, hallway, or room. Make the space your own to remind you to come back to practice, and keep it clean. According to international yoga teacher Mark Holzman, “the area that you carve out will start building a certain Shakti (energy) that will support you.” Place a vase with flowers, pictures, or other objects of meaning there. You can set up a small alter with these treasures or even hang a picture above your practice space. These physical objects will serve as a reminder to practice. You want the space to feel tranquil and inviting so that every time you step onto your mat, you feel like you’re coming home.
Create the Time
It’s inevitable that you will run into the perceived lack of time holding you back from practice. One way to get around this obstacle is to make it a part of your daily routine. Perhaps yoga is the first thing you do in the morning before the kids wake up, or the last thing you do at night. It could even be during naptime. Dedicating a certain time of day to your practice means that you are making your health and wellness a priority.
This might mean that your laundry doesn’t get folded right after it’s done drying. It might mean that you leave the dishes to wash until later, or you send that email in an hour. That’s OK! As Kripalu teacher Evelyn Gonzales states, “You want your practice to get to the point at which not doing yoga would be like not brushing your teeth.” Make your practice a part of your daily rhythm.
Make a Commitment
Your daily rhythms will change from time to time. Although you may want to dedicate an hour to practice every day, 10 to 15 minutes may be more realistic at first. Start small and slowly increase the time as you feel the pull to practice.
On truly hectic days, instead of feeling guilty or stressed out about not making it to your mat, get creative. Break up your practice throughout the day. Focus on pranayama while waiting in line at the grocery store; do shoulder rolls during rush hour traffic, or sun salutations while making pancakes for the kids; work on your standing postures as you wait for water to boil and balance postures while brushing teeth. While you may not have an uninterrupted hour to practice, you will feel the benefits of the culmination of all the poses you’ve worked with throughout the day. Making the physical asanas part of your daily life will have the added benefit of making you more mindful of all your interactions within the day.
Be Your Own Best Teacher
Just because you may not be trained as a yoga teacher doesn’t mean that you aren’t qualified to develop a home practice that speaks to you. In fact, you are, hands down, the most qualified person to do so. As you step onto the mat, ask yourself, “What do I truly need from my practice today?” Maybe you’ve been up soothing a little one all night, so you crave some restorative postures. Or perhaps it’s a rainy day and you need to burn some energy, so you go for those more challenging vinyasas and core building work. As American yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater suggests, “Regardless of what you actually do, if your practice is an expression of what is alive in you now, that practice will help you stay present during your time on the mat.”
This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a go-to sequence. Most of us are drawn to certain poses and have resistance toward others. Write down a few of your favorite poses or sequences, and feel free to mix it up. It’s usually the poses that strike resistance that we need the most.
Over time, you may feel that your practice is stuck in a rut. There are numerous ways to find new inspiration for your home practice. The first may be in those weekly classes you treat yourself to. If you love a sequence that your instructor has taught, write it down after class. Explore it, and add to it. Adapt it to what your body needs in the moment, and make it your own. If you still feel uninspired, check out a DVD or online class from your favorite teacher. Go to a new class you’ve never tried before and see how it fits. Buy a new yoga book to see the details of alignment for each pose. Some good ones to try are Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff or 30 Essential Yoga Poses by Judith Hanson Lasater. Mark Stephen’s recent book, Yoga Sequencing, has detailed sequences for a variety of needs.
To start on your path of personal practice, try this grounding sequence that will leave you ready to face all the joys and challenges of the busy day ahead.
RECLINED TWIST POSE
Start by lying down on your back. Slowly inhale and extend both arms over your head. As you exhale, curl into both knees, hugging them into you.
Let your head and shoulder rest on the ground, arms wide out to the side, palms facing up. Take a nice deep breath in and as you exhale slowly lower your bent knees over to the right toward the ground. Hold for two to three breaths, and repeat on the other side. Do this three to five times. Spinal twists strengthen your nervous system and begin to activate the core muscles.
(Setu Bandha Sarvangasana):
Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet about hip distance apart, fingertips just grazing your heels. As you exhale, push down and away through your feet to lift your hips off the ground. Clasp your hands underneath you or press the arms into the floor, creating a stable foundation with the tops of your shoulders.
Breathe here for three to five breaths as you lengthen the core muscles and increase blood flow to promote circulation. Slowly lower your hips back to the ground.
CAT / COW POSE
From Bridge, cross your ankles and clasp your hands under your knees as you rock up and back a few times, stimulating your nervous system to reduce anxiety. Roll over to hands and knees.
Place your hands underneath your shoulders, knees underneath your hips. Inhale as you arch your back, drawing your chest slightly forward and lifting your tailbone toward the sky (Cow). Exhale and push deeply into the earth as you round your spine and release your head toward the earth (Cat). Repeat three to five times, stimulating your nervous system and lymphatic system.
DOWNWARD.FACING DOG POSE
(Adho Mukha Svanasana):
Place your hands shoulder width apart, and spread your fingers wide. Inhale as you tuck your toes. As you exhale, push deeply down and away through your hands as you lift your pelvis up and back. Keep your knees softly bent as you draw your hips toward the sky, descending through the heels only if it feels comfortable.
Hold here for three to five breaths, strengthening the circulatory system and blood flow. For a more heat-building practice, follow with three to five sun salutations.
REVOLVED SIDE ANGLE POSE
From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Spin your left heel down, grounding the outer edge of your foot into the earth. To come into a high lunge, inhale and push into the earth as you reach for the sky. Keep that lift of the ribs as you twist your torso to the right and reach your left hand toward the floor. Let your right arm swing toward the front of the mat over your head. This deep twist will ground you into the present and build strength. Hold for three breaths and repeat on the other side.
Slowly lower yourself down onto your belly, turning your head to the side to rest on the floor. As you exhale, bend both knees and reach back to clasp your heels or outer edges of your feet. Inhale, and push your feet strongly into your hands to begin to lift your head and chest off the floor. You can gently rock here up to five times to massage your internal organs and increase assimilation. Slowly lower down and then turn your head to the other side to rest the neck. Wiggle your hips from side to side to dissipate any tension that may have built.
From your belly, push deep into the earth to come up onto your knees. Slowly widen your knees to about the width of your mat, and then bring your hips toward your heels. Keep your arms outstretched and let your forehead rest on the mat. Breathe here for 10 breaths. Forward folds allow you to go inside for a moment and process the hard work you have done in your practice.
Slowly walk your hands toward your center to push yourself into a seated position. End with a few light twists, and then settle yourself into this resting posture. Although it may be tempting to skip this last pose, it is the most important. Lie down on your back, making yourself as comfortable as possible. Feel free to place a bolster under your knees, or a blanket under your head. Let your feet roll out to the sides as you stretch long on your mat. Let your palms face the sky, and close your eyes. Starting at the crown of the head, slowly allow yourself to relax all the way down to your toes. Stay here as long as you can, transitioning slowly when you feel ready to move on with the rest of your day.
Enjoy the benefits of your practice today, and let it inspire you to practice tomorrow.
Kristin Henningsen, MS, RYT, is an adjunct professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and the owner of Banyan Moon Botanicals, a company that makes herbal body care products. You can visit her online at banyanmoonbotanicals.com.