Home Yoga Practice

Do you have a home yoga practice? Have you developed a regular yoga practice for yourself? Maybe your regular practice is to go to your favorite yoga classes every week as consistently as possible. And your home yoga practice might be to take a few minutes to move and stretch each day.

I started thinking about home yoga practices for my students. Sometimes I have to cancel a class. When I’m away from our classes together, I hope my continued encouragement to do yoga at home gains traction. As a yoga teacher, I want students to learn yoga and eventually develop their own home yoga practice. A person makes the most progress when yoga becomes a part of their everyday lives. So, let’s consider the merits of both a yoga studio practice and a home yoga practice.

Home Yoga Practice vs Yoga Studio Practice

Most of us would agree that practicing yoga with others helps to keep us in class, and on the mat from start to finish. It may make us more motivated to put in a strong yoga practice. We stay with each pose, attempt each move, and participate more actively. Yoga is not a competitive sport but it can feel like a team sport. A “team of yogis” moving through asanas and breathing together in pranayama can inspire you go that extra mile. It is uplifting to watch as others move together with you in a yoga studio class.

The home yoga practice can make yoga easy. For starters, you’re at home! You don’t have to find a class, get dressed, comb your hair, drive your car, or go online to schedule or pay for class. The downside is you don’t have to commit to… well, anything. The home yoga practice can make yoga hard, because it is easy to get distracted with home tasks. Like some many areas of our life, we bemoan: “The mind is wonderful servant but a terrible master.” But let’s decide that your heart is in it. You know it will be a good and positive habit to develop. Even the servants of your logical mind must yield to the obvious pros and cons.

Merits of a Home Yoga Practice

  • Developing intentional awareness – many yoga studio teachers (like me!) will give the queue to become more aware, to notice sensation, to scan the body, to go inside and check in with how you are feeling. The teacher may be talking through this at just the moment when you need quiet and stillness! In a home yoga practice, develop a keener awareness by suggesting these queues to yourself by yourself. You set the intention when you say to yourself, “now, go deep inside and feel your body from the inside out.” 
  • Giving your body exactly what it needs – you’re the expert on your own body! You know the difference between a twist that feels oh-so-good versus one that is unpleasant and is moving in the direction of painfulness. Ask your body what it needs. Offer yourself movement suggestions, “how does this feel? oh, well, how about this, then?” Move in ways that help you release and relax, and strengthen and balance.
  • Working on advanced poses – So you want to do headstands? Gear your home yoga practice to poses that prepare your body for headstands. For example, warm up and spend the rest of your time going up and coming down (gracefully! and against a wall!) from headstand and child’s pose with strength and control.
  • Choosing more meditation or more pranayama – Have you ever been in a studio yoga class doing alternate nostril breathing and reluctantly had to stop before you were ready? I have! Several more rounds would have been oh-so delicious. A few minutes more (or less!) of mindfulness meditation or savasana would have been just right. Experiment with yourself. You choose!
  • Working with personal preferences – In a home yoga practice you may find yourself doing the same poses and sequences every session. What’s up with that? A home yoga practice gives you the opportunity, indeed the intention to examine your own choices. Like eating habits, what we most avoid doing in yoga class may be exactly the thing we need most! Working with personal preferences help us to notice and choose a practice (a habit, a meal, a pose) that creates more balance in our lives.
  • Going long or going short – What’s the ideal yoga practice time. An hour? An hour and 15 minutes? Ninety minutes? Two hours? With a home yoga practice you decide. Some days it may be exactly 23 minutes using your phone timer. Other days it may be outside, in the park, in between walking, skipping or running. Go long or go short. Just go and do it!

Planning a Home Yoga Practice

Deciding to develop a home yoga practice is the first step. Once you set the intention to begin, you’ve already started! Yoga Journal offers a few keys to a successful home practice:

  • Make a date with your mat – use the time you have, even if that means 15 minutes
  • Find inspiration – books, videos, or using your favorite sequence from your studio class
  • Choose a focus – standing poses, inversions, twists, forward folds
  • Beginning and ending – develop quiet and calm for the start and the finish
  • Just do it – get past your mind stuff and “experience yourself more clearly”

Beginning a Home Yoga Practice

There are all sorts of videos online for yoga, pranayama, meditation, mudras, chanting, and yoga philosophy. The following are links that give me inspiration in teaching yoga and in doing my own home yoga practice. You may recognize some of the postures, queues, and language that I use when I teach classes at Take Me To The River Yoga studio. You can always come to Take Me To The River yoga studio to practice these same styles in a studio yoga class with me. I encourage you to also try a few of these online classes, get inspired and develop your own most meaningful home yoga practice. 

Somatics and Yoga – James Knight’s youtube channel “Gentle Somatic Yoga” lays out several different somatic practices by topic. For variety and for addressing specific issues, this is a good primer on the topic of Somatics and Yoga.

Mindful Hatha Yoga – Mindful Hatha Yoga tends to be a more gentle practice with focus on slow movement and concentration on the breath. Yoga with Adrienne is a popular yoga channel with different styles. I like Adrienne because she’s approachable, has a sense of humor, and gives great direction and options. This is her Gentle Yoga – 25 Minute Gentle Yoga Sequence

Chair Yoga – The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa has posted several chair yoga videos. This “Gentle Yoga in the Chair” is one of the best I have found.

Kripalu Vinyasa Flow – One of my teachers at Kripalu, Coby Kozlowski teaches this Moderate Kripalu Vinyasa Flow class. 

Mindfulness Meditation – Tara Brach is my go-to meditation teacher. Her videos and podcasts are so inspiring! Here’s her youtube channel. Most all her talks begin with a discussion and end with a short, guided meditation. She is easy to relate to, offering poignant, compassionate quotes from Rumi, Rilke, and telling stories to give texture and deep meaning.

Kirtan Kriya – The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation explains the steps, benefits and results they’ve seen with the practice of Kirtan Kriya. Read up on the technique using the fingers, then go to this link to practice with music and timing. The youtube video has are no words or instruction but just provides the framework of music, chanting and timing for this practice. I’ve written on Mudras and Homunculus Man to explore the physiology behind the effectiveness of hand gesture practices.

 

Mudra and Homunculus Man

Hand positions used in the practice of yoga are called mudras. Like the breathing practices of pranayama, there are many different mudras for evoking certain physiological responses. The mudras have wide ranging effects on the sensory functions within the body. What is behind this experience?

Homunculus Sculpture by Sharon Price-Jame
Homunculus Sculpture by Sharon Price-James

 

Enter Homunculus man! Images of the “little man” or homunculus show body parts scaled to their relative sensory function in the brain. The sculpture pictured above is a graphic representation by Sharon Price-James. It is one of three of her Homunculus man sculptures (the other two are motor and sexual versions). This is the sensory version showing those parts that make the greatest contribution in our cortical functioning. Look at those hands! Hmm… could this be a scientific basis for mudra effectiveness?

Let’s continue. The fastest and most detailed information we can gather for our nervous system is through the rate of our breathing and our sense of touch with the hands. In yoga our controlled connection to that nervous system is through the breath in pranayama and with the hands in mudra. These two yogic practices are our direct connection between the relationship between the body and the mind, in their combined relationship to our environment.

The concept of mudras has its detractors and its supporters. Some discount mudras as simply ritualistic or symbolic. The experiential evidence (that’s real people doing real activity) shows a number of related techniques using the hands and fingers as having similar effectiveness. Think tapping, Super Brain Yoga, Kirtan kriya yoga advocated by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation using SA-TA- NA-MA mantra with finger movements. Other yogic techniques such as meditation and mediation of the body have been studied using technology to measure and evaluate the mystery of the practice. Don’t get me started.

So back to Homunculus man and mudra. How does a topographical map of the body’s sensory areas inform our practice? Would that we could ask Dr. Wilder Graves Penefield, a pioneer in mapping the regions of the brain. Not a guy satisfied with the amazing feat of describing the cortical homunculus, he really was interested in the science behind consciousness and the soul. Wow. His early work on brain stimulation gives us many threads to follow. After all, he branched out into the study of hallucination, out-of-body-experience, deja vu – seamlessly and without hesitation. We should be such doubters.

Bottomline. Hands are innervated in a way that has huge significance to dedicated brain activity (can we call that activation?). Hand gestures and mudras communicate outwardly and inwardly. The brain and body has developed in a way to collect loads of data from the hands. Find a mudra that works for you.

Now, how about the lips and tongue on Homunculus man? Kiss someone today and let me know if its love or pseudoscience!

International Day of Yoga – Wednesday, June 21

June 21
International Day of Yoga, June 21

What will you be doing on Wednesday, June 21, 2017?
Since June 21 is the International Day of Yoga, take a yoga class. Or participate in a yoga-inspired event. It seems like the best idea is to check out the local yoga studios in Tampa. So that definitely includes yoga classes at Take Me To The River Yoga Studio! Celebrate International Day of Yoga with us. We will have our regular Wednesday classes (10:00-11:15 am and 7:00-8:15 pm).

Which Mudra for this day?
On International Yoga Day we will be practicing Prithivi Mudra, gesture of the Earth. There are several reasons for the choice for this mudra, aside from the obvious! Prithivi means “Earth.” This mudra directs our breath and awareness down through the body for a feeling of being more grounded. Grounding to our Earth in yoga and mudra practice helps us feel stable, secure and safe. It sends the message to our body that we are grounded.

When we are grounded we are better able to inhabit our bodies and connect with our natural world. It is important to love, honor and ground into the Earth right now. It is important to remember how our beautiful Earth supports us. We thrive because our Earth creates a most awesome experience for all Earthlings. We must protect our Earth and tie ourselves closer to its power. We must share in protecting our planet to preserve our own existence. It’s that important!

More about I Day of Yoga
The UN General Assembly declared June 21st as the International Day of Yoga in 2014. The idea began at the suggestion of the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi. He addressed the assembly saying, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

 

Prithivi mudra – Gesture of the Earth

Prithivi MudraThe word Prithivi (or Prithvi) means “Earth.” And Prithivi mudra is related to the Earth elements. When we work with the Earth elements it helps us to reduce the influence of Agni, the Fire elements. More balanced energies restore equilibrium to the physical body. Prithivi mudra supports this balance and promotes a sense of being more grounded.

When we are grounded we calm down and can begin to feel more in touch with our bodies. Being grounded allows us to feel safe, secure, and stable. The Prithivi mudra is practiced to bring us into a greater connection with our physical bodies. So, in seated postures for Prithivi Mudra we send attention to our breath and to our seat. Grounding into the Earth, sending attention to our breath and root chakra, gives us the experience of greater harmony. With this harmony comes strong support to the physical structure of the body.

There are many claims made about the benefits of Prithivi mudra. Probably the best way to prove this out is to DO Prithivi mudra. Suggestions vary as to how long and how frequently one should practice a mudra. Like most things, it depends! And it depends on you. When practiced regularly, this mudra can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve eliminatory health.

Here’s how

Like meditation, mudras are best practiced for several minutes every day in a comfortable seated position. In fact, mudras and meditation go together like a hand in a glove! Find a comfortable seated position. Position your hands in Prithivi mudra. Sit up tall. Roll your shoulders back and down. Begin to focus on your breath, inhaling deeply, exhaling slowly. Bring your attention to the base of your spine. Visual rooting yourself into the Earth. If your mind wanders bring its attention back to how your body is breathing. Quiet down. Go inside.

Practice in class and at home

In yoga class at Take Me To The River Yoga Studio we practice different types of mudras. Unfortunately most yoga classes are not long enough to give special attention to any one mudra. So the best approach is to come to class and learn different mudras. Then, go home and try them out!

 

June 21 – International Day of Yoga

InternationalDayOfYogaLogoIn 2014 the prime minster of India, Shri Narendra Modi spoke before the United Nations and called for setting aside a day as “International Day of Yoga.” The date is June 21 and is celebrated all over the world with inspired yoga studios and yoga teachers everywhere celebrating the practice of yoga. Many studios offer free yoga classes and other special events to mark the importance of the practice of yoga in their communities.

Resources to learn more about yoga and International Day of Yoga can be found on the government of India’s page on International Day of Yoga. Particularly helpful is the 44 page pdf document “Common Yoga Protocol” that can also be viewed online as an interactive “flip book.”  The document gives extensive explanations on what yoga is, several pages on asanas, details on pranayama, references to the eight limbs of yoga, health benefits and more.

“Yoga is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with ourselves, the world and Nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help us to deal with climate change. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.” – Shri Narendra Modi

InternationalDayOfYogaAsanaRead through the Common Yoga Protocol document and check out the section on asanas. Each asana is clickable to a window that pops us listing the steps of the posture and a  link to a video on how to practice the posture. It is interesting that each asana video comes from a different source. The different videos truly represent yoga in the modern world where we experience a wide range of yoga styles and many different teachers that use both traditional and unique approaches to the postures and to the sharing the practice in a yoga class.