Updated: 6 days ago
Yoga has evolved through every era of human culture, from its ancient origins as secret, spoken teachings, then codified texts taught to royals and seekers, then an increasingly physical system that spread throughout India into group-fitness-loving global culture today. With the pandemic, yoga has evolved yet again, this time reclaiming its roots as a singular pursuit of an individual who values mind-body health and harmony.
Practicing at home is a skill in itself. I had the opportunity to learn this when I was very small, preparing for classical Indian dance performances since age 6, all the way through practicing to perform at Madison Square Garden at age 17. Those years of daily practice eased me into daily practice of Ashtanga, first primary series and now Second. I practice every day at home, and am always looking forward to it. Here are some guidelines for your own home practice, whether Ashtanga, meditation, or any other meditative movements you love.
You need to begin with three things: calm mind, clear intention, and clean space.
1. Calm mind is the beautiful balance point between excitement, rushing to begin and dragging, bored with or resistant to the work to be done. With excitement, the mind is in a state of rajas, over stimulated with thoughts and expectations. With dragging, the mind is in a state of tamas, or dullness.
Be attentive to the way that you begin, and everything that follows will be sweeter for it. Take time, but not too much time! Be interested, be attentive, be curious and be calm. That is the best framework for the mind to be with the body and breath, as a guide for the practice.
2. Clear intention comes with a calm mind. If you are you practicing out of habit, you will need to energize this step to enliven your yoga experience. If you practice infrequently, then you will naturally have a good idea of why you are stepping onto the mat!
Fundamentally, the intention of yoga is to bring us closer to a state of vibrant health and full immersion in the present moment.
3. Clean space has the power to inspire your practice. In traditional yoga philosophy, saucha, or purity/cleanlinss, is a principle that precedes the practice of asana and pranayama. Personally, I feel far less distracted on my mat when my home feels neat and clean, like a reflection of the mental space that I step into.
Creating some cleaning rituals can help bring you into a state of readiness. Cleaning floors, clearing countertops, and showering with care will help draw you into the rhythm of yoga.
Yes, shower before practice! That is traditional— to clean the surface of the body in preparation for cleansing the inner body through yoga.
In preparing for your home practice, be sensitive, sensual, rather than automated or rushed. The way we used our senses on on the mat— vision, hearing, smell, touch, even taste— create our depth of presence in the practice. When you set your space-space-time for practice, consider the journey you are desire:
I love to set my mat in front of a window and look out into the sky. It’s amazing how much the clouds, trees, and even coloring of the sky move over time! Appreciating the natural world enhances our work on the mat: remembering our innate connectivity to life.
I’ve also had years when I loved being in the middle of a room, or close to a small table that I would keep clear except for a statue of Buddha and a vase of fresh flowers. Perhaps you would like to make a sacred space for images and objects that inspire your inward journey.
The small sounds of the world we live in seem like an orchestra when we are sensitive and positive, able to hear past our thoughts and willing to hear beauty. This is the state that we approach in yoga, and can carry with us off of the mat.
Traditionally, yoga has been practiced without music— hard to imagine today, when it’s normal to hear pop music leading choreographed fitness flows! There is an art to listening. Sound is energy. In silence, we can attune to the inner sounds of the breath, body-mind thoughts and feelings. And when we choose music, we choose a powerful way to shape the energy of our space and movements.
Ideally, the music will draw you deeper into the moment rather than distracting you from feeling your body and hearing your breath. Choose something with steady rhythm, no lyrics, and a mood that enhances your clarity of mind and intentional, inward journey. Personally, I love traditional Indian flute music, or Japanese rock, or ocean waves— non-synthetic sounds of people devoted to their instruments, and the quiet power of the natural world.
I like unscented candles for lighting, and the element of fire in the cooler, darker months of the year. When it comes to scent, I prefer the significance of burning/smoking incense, and Palo Santo. (Some people love sage!) All of these smell incredible but the purpose is not to create scent but to cleanse the energy of the space. I think that matters: the intention is to cleanse, and the sensory effect is a lingering reminder of your conscious action to set a clear and sacred start to your practice.
My favorite Indian incense is Triloka’s Yellow Rose, and the dozens of varieties that I bring back from my travels to India. For Japanese incense, I like Morning Star Amber and Shoyeido Diamond.
Coming into our bodies is an opportunity to become more sensitive to what we feel on our skin. Notice the feel of the clothes on your body, the texture of the mat below your hands and feet, and the sureness of the ground below the mat. From this skin-deep sensitivity will build exquisite, subtle, feelings of proprioception and interoception. When you can translate this off the mat, you’ll feel so alive, no matter what you are doing!
This is the least intuitive sensory aspect of practice, and yet, sometimes you will taste! Your exhale is always a detoxifying action, and as you move and breathe, your body will naturally move through its detoxification, not just as sweat but as exhale. The tongue is known in Ayurveda to be a powerful organ of detoxification— so you may taste the effects of your physical practice— and you also may begin to feel a subtle taste for your thoughts. Make them sweet! And you’ll be happy you unrolled your mat and got sensual.