Getting Creative Within My Home Yoga Practice
By: Marie Williams, Dallas Yoga Magazine Writer
When I practice at home alone, I am the only one on the mat in the room with the music, flowing through a created sequence. In the stillness, there is peace in both my mind and heart. It is through this tranquility, I can truly connect to my Higher Self and the Divine.
I enjoy practicing yoga at the studio because each teacher I take classes from brings his/her own passion, energy and level of creativity to the class. I visit with these instructors who have become my friends that help contribute to my overall experience. However, I also find pleasure in practicing at home as well. The solitude helps me to better focus on what it is I desire to work on. At the same time, I am able to go within myself and connect mentally and emotionally to all the postures, feeling the energy and peace, while surrendering to the present moment. Having a home practice is not necessarily centered around consistency, but should be more geared towards experimentation and improvement within a yogi’s asana practice.
In May of 2015, I began my yoga journey, choosing to purchase a yoga membership with SunstoneFIT. The Preston Forest Village location became my studio home where I diligently practiced four to five times a week, mostly taking hot yoga and vinyasa classes. I would learn many postures that were new to me and difficult to do in class. As a new student, everything I learned was exciting, so practicing was fun and allowed me to truly experiment with each posture.
At home, the environment was not conducive to what I was used to at the studio. The floors were carpeted, so arm balances were difficult to get into and hold without my slipping or sliding around. I did not have a standard yoga mat to practice on, so I found a makeshift carpeted square rug I retrieved from the garage to use. Carpet burn was a constant factor, so my knees, elbows and hands were always red or bruised from falling or holding the arm balances. Even though I often fell out of the arm balances, I found that I really enjoyed practicing them and was able to learn them rather quickly! Sure, I practiced the hot yoga postures I learned, but balance was not a strength that came immediately. I fell out of most all the postures that involved balancing on one leg, but balancing in an arm balance provided more effort because I had to depend on my limited core and upper body strength to support me.
The first two arm balances I learned were Crow Pose (Bakasana) and Side Crow Pose within the first six months of my practice. I was introduced to Crow Pose in an Earth class (now called a Flow Yoga class for select studios that still teach this particular class) at SunstoneFIT. The Earth class had more of a vinyasa feel to it and seemed to focus more on getting a yogi to stay grounded in the postures as he/she “flowed” in and out of each one during class. I remember trying to get into Crow Pose in class, but falling out of it multiple times while watching others nail it. I knew I could successfully master it with practice, but studying the other yogis provided a great visual.
Back home, I focused on getting into Crow Pose correctly and increasing my hold time. Eventually, I was able to successfully get into the pose every time I attempted to and solidly hold it without falling out. I did not practice to music because I was so intent on focusing on every aspect of the poses or arm balances I was doing. The only noises I got accustomed to hearing were my own whenever I fell or rolled out of an arm balance!
After mastering Crow, I had a few teachers work with me privately to help me learn Side Crow Pose, which was tough for me to get into. Making a shelf with my arms and elbows was the toughest part of learning this arm balance! Once I learned these arm balances, I was able to add both Fallen Angel and Running Man Postures. I can now get into both of them successfully from Side Crow Pose.
As I continued to take both hot yoga and vinyasa classes at the studio, I became more familiar with the actual names of each posture. I could never remember all the Sanskrit names, but I was able to somehow memorize the names of every single posture I practiced in all of my classes. Most of these postures were asanas the instructors had in their individual practices because what I discovered was that each posture was unique and added to that specific teachers’ level of creativity.
To make sure I could better familiarize myself with all the postures, I made “posture lists” from each asana cued in the yoga classes I took, which were hot yoga and Power Flow classes. There were many postures I could not do that well, mainly because my balance needed improvement. These postures posed as weaker areas in my practice, while the arm balances were a stronger area, due to practicing them at home.
I grouped all of the postures I learned into three categories: hot yoga postures, vinyasa postures and arm balances. In SunstoneFIT’s Hot Yoga class, there are 32 postures cued in 60 minutes. I practiced all of them at home to establish consistency in my practice. My favorite postures from the hot yoga class are Standing Bow Pose, Triangle Pose and Tree Pose. Eagle Pose was the hardest posture for me to learn and do properly. I had trouble with the posture because I would either lean and hunch too far forward, arching my back or fall out completely, trying to wrap one of my legs around the other one and balance. I was not able to successfully balance on either foot in the beginning. When I was not practicing arm balances, I practiced all of the hot yoga postures at home, minus the heat and intense sweating! The more I practiced them, the better my balance became over time. I also grew stronger in both my legs and core from holding so many arm balances every chance I got to practice them!
American Power Yoga (APY) classes were first introduced at SunstoneFIT in January 2016. They quickly replaced the Earth classes everyone was accustomed to taking and initially, was the first class that introduced me to the vinyasa style as I know it today. In these classes, music was always played, which gave the class a harmonic balance as yogis flowed in and out of each posture. The concept of yoga done to music was genius to me! The music was usually something relaxing I would want to listen to and soothing to the ear. It also kept me calm during class and allowed me to concentrate better on my breath in between postures.
Sometimes, I would experiment at home with various sequences the instructor cued, trying to do three or four sequenced postures they put together. I liked the concept of being able to flow to someone else’s cued sequences.
I loved all of the various posture combinations each teacher came up with for the Power Flow classes I took. There were some hot yoga postures cued in these classes, but there were a few posture sequences all the teachers consistently cued such as Dancing Shiva Pose variations, Reverse Triangle/Revolved Triangle/Extended Triangle Poses, Plank Pose and Side Plank Poses and Boat Pose, better known as Navasana. I thought the Dancing Shiva Pose was beautiful when held by other yogis. The different Triangle versions made my hips, sides and legs feel better and get stronger. The Plank Poses helped to strengthen my core, while working my transverse abdominals. The Boat Pose was near impossible for me to do, but with time, I was able to lift my legs up and hold them in a V-sit without falling.
Added to this posture were Canoe Crunches, which were much tougher to do at that time because I had to start in Boat Pose, lower down to where my shoulders and feet were hovering off the ground, hold this position and then, use my entire core to pull myself back up to the V-sit position! Doing three to five of these in a sequence really challenged my mind and body, but I loved being tested and had fun seeing where I could go in class and how my experiences were shaped from learning and practicing such tough postures!
I do not practice much at home, due to a busy work schedule, but when I do, I like to use specific props that aid me in having a delightful yoga experience and one that I can enjoy in the present moment.
I only use two props in my home practice: A Manduka block and a strap. I purchased both from an instructor and good friend who provided me private instruction in the areas of inversions and plank form. When I use a block, it is typically at the end of my practice and included in one hot yoga posture, such as Bridge Pose. I also use it in Legs Up the Wall Pose, a favorite of mine. The strap is used for stretching the muscles in my legs or adding a little bit of resistance for my arms and after practicing backbends, also known as heart openers.
I have a blue Lulu Lemmon mat that I use when practicing at home. Since my house has hardwood floors, I have a better base to land on. I also have a 90 degree angled wall to practice inversions against as well.
My practices can last 45 minutes to an hour, depending on what I choose to work on that day. Normally, I work on poses I practice at the studio I find may still be challenging to get into or stick. Other times, I like to experiment with new arm balances I recently learned or older ones I do not practice as much for 20 minutes. Inversions are usually done close to the end of my home practice and I generally practice all of them for 15-20 minutes. Before I practice any asanas, I warm up my body with some core work. I select a few Pilates exercises, include some canoe crunches or holding Boat Pose until I shake. This specific warm-up is done in 10-15 minutes.
Since falling in love with vinyasa flow classes two years ago and committing them to my personal practice regime, it was not hard for me to come up with my own sequences. By writing all of the postures down on paper, I had already committed them to memory, repeating the names silently to myself as they were cued in class. I even knew some of the Sanskrit names for a few postures. Being able to put my own flow sequences together to practice at home just gave me yet another outlet to let my creativity on the mat shine.
In 2016, I subscribed to Yoga Journal Magazine. To get started, I borrowed a few postures from pictures within the magazine and grouped them into various categories for a vinyasa flow: Warm up, Standing Poses, Arm Balances, Inversions, Backbends, Twists, Seated Forward Bends and Closing Poses. I put two to four postures in each subset to choose from when putting my sequences together.
Before actually practicing at home, I select music to play. Typically, I prefer a jazz CD because I can stop or start a specific sequence and speed up or slow down where there are breaks and pauses in the songs. Jazz songs are usually instrumental and allow me to both harmonize with the tune as I flow in and out of the selected postures.
When I practice at home, I am much more gentle with myself than I am at the studio. I do not hold the postures as long, but I may complete more repetitions of the same sequence. A typical session might be 45-50 minutes long, including stretching at the end. I structure my home practices in four parts: a warm-up, the first sequence, a second sequence and a cool down. The two most intense parts of my flow are the first and second sequences. It does not take my body long to get warmed up. After the first sequence, I am usually sweating a little, though not as much, due to a lack of 90-degree heat! The cool down allows me to relax and lay in Savasana for at least ten minutes. It is at this point that I am lost in my ujjayi breath and just simply resting in the stillness of my being. The idea behind my flows is that they should be far less intense than any yoga instructors would be.
I conduct my personal yoga session something like this: start my warm up with a side stretch on both the right and left sides. Then I fire up my core by holding Plank Pose for a count of 10 breaths. From Plank Pose, I walk back into my first Downward Dog Pose to get a bit of movement in my legs. Next, I drop to my knees for three Cat Cows. At this point, I begin the first actual flow sequence.
My sequences always begin with a traditional vinyasa flow, comprised of Chataranga Dedasana into Upward Dog Pose and finishing up in Downward Dog. I mix in a few Sun Salutations to transition into a Forward Fold, followed by a Half Lift. I flow in Crescent Lunge Pose and then hit Warrior II Pose. Sometimes, I will select a Runner’s Lunge Pose and lower my body to get into Lizard Lunge Pose for a brief stretch of my hips, lasting for about two to three breaths. The last two postures I get into are Triangle Pose and Half Moon (Warrior III Pose). These are two of my favorite postures to hold. Of course, everything is done on both sides!
The second sequence involves some type of arm balance or inversion. To catch my breath and rest, I will take Garland Pose (Malasana). Since I am already in a squatting position, I like to get into Crow Pose, hold that for a few breaths and then push up into a Tripod Headstand, the only other posture I can safely do besides a Chin Stand away from the wall!
Cooling down is an absolute necessity after completing so many poses! I take Pigeon Pose because it feels so good! I also take Bridge Pose, using my block as a bolster for support. My last posture fluctuates between Happy Baby Posture or Eagle Legs Twist. No home session is complete without proper stretching and twists to ring out my spine. By stretching, I am setting my body up to get the most out of Savasana, the final resting pose.
I am grateful for an established home yoga practice I put in place two years ago because without it, I would not have discovered the freedom and pure bliss an individual feels when he/she nails a posture, arm balance or inversion. Many of my instructors and close friends invested so much time and energy into helping me become the yoga practitioner I am today. Excellent instruction and careful attention to details continue to be the catalyst for growth in my practice.
Although I do not daily implement my home practice as much as I would like, by having one, I stay honest within assessing my strengths and the progress I have made to improve my weaknesses. Practicing what I have learned in the studio at home allows me the chance to express myself creatively on my mat and get playful within a flow sequence.
I feel everyone should have a home yoga practice designed according to what they have learned, enjoy practicing and can steadily improve upon for further growth. When I practice at home alone, I am the only one on the mat in the room with the music, flowing through a created sequence. In the stillness, there is peace in both my mind and heart. It is through this tranquility, I can truly connect to my Higher Self and the Divine.