I am a Feldenkrais teacher who also practices and teaches yoga. A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a short piece on maintaining a home yoga practice. I didn’t realise then how relevant this would become! I’ve copied the article here below. Grab a cuppa and have a read.
AT HOME ON THE MAT
What Brought me to Yoga
Yoga is a journey and we are all beginners: my journey has now been nearly 30 years since I discovered yoga when working as a young actor. Someone taught me a Sun Salutation as an effective and quick way to warm up the body before performing. I quickly found that this simple repetitive sequence also calmed the mind and I adopted this as a ritual before auditions, performances and even interviews when I often found myself grabbing a little bit of floor space on a landing, a stairwell and even in a toilet. 10 years later, I had a busy and stressful job as a theatre director and desperately needed some activity that wasn’t work related that I could do in my own time. I found a wonderful Iyengar yoga teacher called Arlette McKenzie in Bishops Stortford and became a regular at her weekly classes. Several jobs and several different yoga teachers later, I returned to Sheffield and signed up for Frances Homewood’s Wednesday class at the Sheffield Yoga Centre. I didn’t have a regular home practice at that point, but I found stretching through Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) and into Balasana (Child’s Pose) extremely beneficial as a way to unwind the body and mind.
Committing to Home Practice
What prompted me to start practising at home? I wanted to get better at yoga and I was finding the benefits of a stronger body and calmer mind quite addictive. It was very difficult to attend more than one class a week, so home practice was a logical progression. The first sign of commitment was buying a yoga mat from Yoga Studio, complete with handy carry bag – I still have it and it has proved very good value. The second thing was – what to do on the mat? I bought BKS Iyengar’s Yoga – The Path To Holistic Health and tried to follow some of the recommended sequences in this valuable if very weighty book. Later I bought Geeta Iyengar’s Yoga in Action: Preliminary Course. In her preface, Geeta says “Often when beginners attempt to practice on their own they have forgotten what they learnt in the class…this book will give guidance to them in their home practice, after they have first studied with the teacher in the class” (my underlining).
I don’t think that there is any real substitute for a teacher in class who can see what is happening in my alignment, but the advantage of practicing at home is that I can take my time and try out different approaches to the poses, remembering the advice that I have been given in class. I am a trained Feldenkrais teacher which means that I believe that all bodywork is an individual learning process. There can be a sense of freedom and playfulness about spending your own time on the mat, wriggling in Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) and wobbling in Vrksana (Tree Pose) . As BKS Iyengar says: “Do not stop trying just because perfection eludes you”
Away from home, I have improvised yoga equipment using telephone directories and Gideon’s bible and discovered that bath mats really aren’t safe substitute for a yoga mat! I’ve discovered how to do Setubandha Sarvangasana ( Supported Bridge Pose) from a coffee table and that it’s always possible to find a chair to do seated twists on. I’ve found that a full-size mat and carry bag can be quite bulky to take on any journeys and so my latest purchase has been a travel yoga mat which is quite a revelation – it folds up into a neat square and weights a mere 800g. One warning – a potential hazard to doing mat work in your own home or in a hotel room is the close contact with a mucky carpet and a view of what’s hiding underneath the sofa.
Rules for practice:
- Yoga is best done on an empty stomach and it is always easier to practice in the morning, even though I may be stiffer than later in the day.
- I will always feel better after practice than I did before
- A practice doesn’t have to be very long. It is better to do 10-15 minutes than put off doing anything because I haven’t got a spare hour.
- It’s all right to be playful and just wriggle about on the mat, letting my body fall into poses and balances
- Try to vary the poses in the practice and not just do the “easy” or familiar ones
- Don’t let the cat into the room while you practising. It’s incredibly difficult to breathe in shoulder stand when a friendly feline is sitting on your face
- Having a “beginner’s mind” is something that only comes with experience
ENJOY THE JOURNEY – NAMASTE!