How to develop a personal yoga practice

Have you ever wondered how some people manage to get up before dawn and go through their personal yoga practice at home, even before drinking their first cup of tea or coffee and then manage to arrive at work at, let’s say, 9am? Ha, well I have! How to develop a personal yoga practice is probably one of the most written about topics at various yoga blogs and websites. And that has to be for a reason. Before establishing a personal practice there are several hurdles that have to be overcome, such as, finding the time, finding the space, actually knowing what to do, how to do it and in which order. This can all be very overwhelming.

Finding the time – or better – finding your time
For a long time I’ve been telling myself that I need to practice at least one hour of yoga before starting my day. And preferably as early as possible because that leaves a lot of time for other things. The truth is, however, that I’m more of an evening person. Hence, I’m more drawn to sunsets than to sunrises, just to name something.  And getting up before dawn unfortunately doesn’t come easy to me. So do you necessarily have to be an early riser in order to be able to have a steady home practice? Of course not! There is plenty of time during the day that provides opportunities for doing yoga. I’ve gradually learned to accept that I’m not going to rise at 6am every day in order to get on my mat. Though on some occasions I might. Letting go of this ideal that I forced onto myself was very liberating. These days I just find a time that suits me best and have more realistic expectations. So if it’s not more than one hour? That’s fine, even 10 minutes can work magic (calming the breath, doing some downward facing dogs to stretch the spine).

Finding the space
Do you find it difficult to find an appropriate spot in your house, where you can withdraw for some time without being interrupted? This seems to be a common problem. Doing yoga in your tiny computer room that has just enough space for a desk and a yoga mat is probably not as appealing as this…

Yoga studio CR2 Yoga studio CR1

But reality for most people might be that tiny computer room. I personally do not have a spare room that I can use for yoga purposes only. So I have to make do with my bedroom and practice in between all the furniture. What definitely helps is to keep the room tidy so that I cannot be distracted by it being messy. Another aspect is to choose a focal point that is nice to watch. So in my bedroom I prefer facing the garden rather than facing the wall. Maybe for you it would be something completely different, like your favorite picture on the wall or a little shrine that you’ve created. And whenever the weather is good, there is a great opportunity to go outside and enjoy doing yoga in the garden or a park!

While researching this topic I found an article on Yogi Times with tips for a daily yoga practice. The author stressed the point that every time of the day and every place offers an opportunity to do yoga: yoga on the beach, yoga while cooking, yoga at work, etc.  So if you cannot fit your daily asana (physical yoga posture) practice into your schedule for whatever reason, there’s no need to feel discouraged. Maybe you can do a walking meditation while getting from  your desk to the printer. I sometimes do yoga exercises at the gym, which often results in strange looks (but I don’t care). Recently I even had a guy coming up to me, asking: “do you maybe have an injury, or uhhh handicap…? Because I see you move so mindfully and precise, really taking your time to get each pose right?” I found that rather amusing.

What to do, how to do it and in which order
Before I did a yoga teacher training last summer I had no idea how to develop a personal yoga practice. Next to the yoga classes I followed, I wanted to do yoga at home but I always ended up watching the same dvd over and over again, until I grew completely bored with it. Now I do know that there are quite some free videos on YouTube but somehow I just never found a really good one. Another “problem” was that my laptop had to be in such a position that I could still see the screen while lying down on the floor instead of standing up straight. Now this is definitely something that can be overcome, but all in all it much easier to have your own personal practice.

So where do you start? The sun salutations are definitely a good basis. From there you can start adding more and more postures. You could try to bring a notebook to your yoga class next time and write down some of the poses that your teacher is using in his or her sequence after the class is done, along with the points of alignment that are being offered because it is important to practice in a safe way. You can then incorporate these poses into your personal practice. And as you do this more often, you’ll find that your repertoire starts to grow. Besides, there is a basic setup that you could follow to structure your sequence in a logical way:

  • Exercises to warm you up, lying on your back or sitting up straight
  • Exercises on hands and knees
  • Sun salutations (with or without lunges)
  • Standing sequences
  • Balancing sequences
  • Back bends/ inversions/ twists/ hip openers
  • Cooling down sequence incorporating forward bends

Take into account that once you come down to the mat again after standing up, it is usually nice to stay down. I personally don’t like to switch between lying/ sitting down and standing the entire time. Downward facing dog and child’s pose, however, are great to do in between and to transition from one pose to the next. You could also do a vinyasa (from tadasana – to high plank – to low plank – to upward facing dog – to downward facing dog) when transitioning, thereby turning your practice into a vinyasa flow sequence. Thinking about your personal practice in terms of sequencing may help. For me it certainly did!