If you have been to a few yoga classes, and “got the bug”, you might be thinking about starting a home yoga practice. Even five or ten minutes of yoga each day makes a huge difference to how comfortable and at ease you feel in your body, and will also help you to combat stress and cope with challenging situations with more equanimity.
Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start though. So many poses – what to practice? And without a teacher to guide you, you might worry that you aren’t doing it right.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is one of the best all round exercises to start with, as it includes forward bends, back bends, inversions and deep breathing coordinated with the movements. It is complete practice by itself. There are many different versions of Surya Namaskar, and you can also add in your own variations to make an interesting flow.
The Sivananda Sun Salutation is:
- Exhale, hands in prayer position whilst standing
- Inhale, raise your arms and arch your chest back to the ceiling
- Exhale, hands to the floor, bending your knees if you need to
- Inhale, right leg back to a lunge (knee and top of foot on floor)
- Retain the breath, left foot back to plank
- Exhale, knees, chest and chin to floor, keeping the hips lifted
- Inhale, hips to the floor and lift the chest to cobra
- Exhale, push back with your arms and lift the hips to downward dog
- Inhale, right foot forwards to the lunge
- Exhale, left foot forwards to join it in standing forward fold
- Inhale, rise up, hands to the ceiling and arching back
- Exhale, return to standing
- Repeat with the left leg leading in the lunges
You can do this sequence slowly, pausing in each pose to feel your way into it (sway the hips, peddle out the feet in downward dog). Or you can do it more quickly, with each move corresponding to half a breath. Try to make the movement and the breath the same length.
If you only have five minutes to practice, four Surya Namaskars followed by a minute lying down in Savasana to relax is perfect.
If you have a little more time, you could try some of the following:
- There are no twists in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) so you might want to add a simple seated twist or Ardha Matsyendrasana (Lord of the Fishes).
- Dolphin pose is great for building the upper body strength needed for more challenging arm balances and Sirsasana (headstand). It is like Downward Facing Dog, but done on the forearms. As you exhale, bring your nose to the floor in front of your hands. As you inhale, move your chin back towards your feet. If you practice Dolphin every day for a month, you will probably be strong enough to start working in Sirsasana!
- To feel confident before a challenging situation, try Bhujangasana or Cobra pose, Ustrasana (Camel pose) and perhaps some Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses.
- At the end of a long day, when you feel tired and in need of refreshment, you could try Legs Up the Wall. This is a lovely way to refresh and re-energise, and you can hold it for as long as you want.
- Forward folds are also a good way to relax at the end of a long day, but can be challenging if you have tight hamstrings. Try sitting down, knees bent and close to your chest, with your arms hugging around your thighs. Then slowly walk your feet further away, until you can no longer keep the stomach in contact with the thighs. Then breath deeply here, relaxing more with each exhale.
- Three part breathing can be practised anywhere! A boring meeting, a supermarket queue, at your desk, supervising children, traffic lights, waiting for a train, almost anywhere. Remember to breath deeply into your abdomen, chest, then collar bones, and exhale through the same three sections of your body. You can also extend your breath by counting (for example, counting to four on the in breath and eight on the out breath).
Many people love the sound of chanting at the beginning and end of class, but worry about joining in. The Sanskrit words are unfamiliar and lots of us are self-conscious about how we might sound. If you want to become more familiar with the Sivananda chants, you can listen or practice here.
Finally, if you want to practice some meditation, I really recommend a free app called Insight Timer. You could set up the timer for five or ten minutes, and set an interval bell for every one or two minutes just to remind to stay focused. There are also lots of guided meditations to explore and some beautiful recordings of chanting, many of which are suitable for joining in with.
There is so much that you could practice, but you don’t need to practice it all! Choose a practice that suits you and helps you to feel nurtured and restored. If you enjoy it, you will be more likely to stick to it. Don’t be too ambitious about how much time you will spend on it, but try to be consistent. Five minutes a day is much better than one hour every two weeks.
I find it easier not to miss a day when I practice first thing in the morning. The longer I leave my practice, the most likely it is that life will get in the way and it won’t happen. But I do feel much less flexible first thing in the morning, so I need a gentler practice. See which time of day works best for you, and then stick to it.