Making the leap from the studio to a home practice

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The other night I was subbing a class and asked some of the students if they had a home practice. These were students who have been practicing for years, and their responses were a bit surprising. “I don’t know which poses to do,” one said. “I prefer just doing yoga in the studio,” another said.

I am finding that not practicing at home because of these two reasons is very common. Doing yoga without a teacher is very much like studying Spanish for 10 years in a classroom and being asked by someone from Spain where the bathroom is and drawing a complete blank. And then when the Spanish guy leaves and finds the bathroom on his own, you come up with a beautifully crafted sentence with agreeing tenses on how to find the loo.

Making a jump from studio practice to home practice is tantamount to that scene in 2001, A Space Odyssey where the caveman throws the bone in the air and it jump cuts to a large spaceship. You get a much richer experience trying it on your own! I remember when I started supplementing my classes with a home practice, my yoga experience increased exponentially.

A bit of history about my own practice. I was one of those people who picked up “Light On Yoga” got inspired, and tried the courses at the back of the book…the kind with 40-50 poses for a single practice. I remember those days. I would blast Coltrane while trying to do Parsvottanasana which I thought was a backbend in stage I because Iyengar’s chest was so open.

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Of course Parsvottanasana is actually a forward bend and the prep as seen above is to open the chest. To get to my point, I had to do the manual labor of those courses and fail miserably in my own practice before I could appreciate what my teacher was actually trying to tell me. But a magical thing happened while I was trying out those courses and could not make it past week 16 in Light On Yoga…I developed some type of internal discernment about how to sequence poses.

One of my top posts is to do Supta Padangusthasana if you cannot think of any other pose to start your practice. To develop that idea a bit further for seasoned students, I would start doing a home practice by first selecting a clan of poses on which to focus. There are Utthishta Sthiti (standing poses), Paschima Pratana Sthiti (forward bends), Purva Pratana Sthiti (Backbends), Upavistha Sthiti (seated poses), Viparita Sthiti (Inversions), Udara Akunchana Sthiti (abdominal poses), and Visranta Karaka (restorative poses). Each clan has it’s own personality and effects.

Standing poses are vigourous and are the “donkey work” of yoga. It is said that raw beginners should do at least 6 months from this clan before proceeding if their practice is regular. I would say more like 2 years for the practitioner who does yoga twice a week.

Forward bends are considered “cooling” as they calm the nervous system when done properly. However, if you have tight hamstrings, parsvottanasana (see above) is anything but “cooling” and that is why you need the prerequisite foundation of standing poses.

Seated poses are “quieting” and allow the practitioner to learn how to build time in poses. With a strong earth element in the pose, they ground the practitioner. With experience, one later uses this clan for pranayama and dhyana.

Backbends are approached with caution. The are “heating” and energizing, but you can blow a gasket (or a vertebrae) if you don’t respect this clan. It is best to start with the “baby back bends” like salabhasana before getting too adventurous.

Inversions are also approached with care. They have an assertive effect on blood circulation. If you have any blood pressure issues, you should consult your teacher and your doctor. It is also not advised for women not to do this while menstruating. Once that is out of the way inversions should be a daily practice and advised to do in the evening as they contract many of the ill effects of sitting throughout the day.

Abdominal poses can be treated more like a garnish, more than an entree and can be interspersed between poses in certain sequences. These are poses like Paripoona Navasana, and Supta Padangusthasana. However, I have been to many classes where all we did was abdominal poses.

Lastly, restorative poses are done for several reasons. I like to think of them as “repairing” myself for any mistakes I made in my other clans. In the Iyengar style, women who are menstruating should adhere to restorative practice during their cycle and omit inversions. Yoga in the West nowadays is turning into a glorified aerobics craze, and this clan allow the practitioner to start focusing on the inward aspects of the practice.

To start one’s own practice, I would chose a clan according to experience and energy level. Yoga is an art, a science, and a philosophy. By doing your own practice, you practice the art. You construct what you need to do. You explore concepts that you are curious about. You will fail. You will succeed.

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24 thoughts on “Making the leap from the studio to a home practice

  1. enflemin1

    Thank you for writing this. I have been pushing myself to create a home practice, specifically I put myself on a daily challenge till my 28th birthday on July 28th☺️ I will use this as a guide, hopefully I’ll find a good studio in Durham nc when I move in August. If you get a chance check out my blog, I’d love to hear your feedback.

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  2. Sudhanshu

    Dear Miachel,

    Me and my wife also get inspired by “Illustrated light on yoga” and “Yoga – a gem for women” and started home practice because of absence of any Iyengar yoga studio in our locality.
    We are trying to follow this sequence
    Morning Practice
    1. Few Standing Poses.(In the sequence given in “Yoga for Women” on Page-110 as Introductory course for beginners for first three months)
    2. Bhujang Asana
    3.Supta Padangusthasana using rope.
    4. Lateral twist(Chair twist)
    5 Forward bend(In the sequence given in “Yoga for Women” on Page-110 as Introductory course for beginners for first three months)
    6. Salamba Sarvangasana -> Halasana-> Vipritkarani
    7. Savasana using bolster (First in Badhkonasana, then cross leg and then complete relax)

    Evening Practice
    1. Adhumukh Virasana
    2. Suptvirasana
    3.Vipritkarani
    4. Savasana using bolster (First in Badhkonasana, then cross leg and then complete relax).

    My wife is also following same sequence but doing less number of standing poses and only doing Vipritkarni as Inversion, due to lack of strength and stiffness in shoulder and neck.
    We have decided to follow this sequence till December and then progress in practice.

    My doubts/questions are
    1. is this sequence okay or it need some correction?
    2. What are other Asana beneficial for my wife that She can do easily?Where to include them?
    3. I also want to include Sarvangasana(Plate 100, 102 in “yoga for women”), Urdhva Mukha Savanasana,(Plate 135), Dhanurasana(plate 136) and Urdhva Dhanurasana(plate 139) in my practice, but not able to decide where to include them. Please suggest.
    4.What more Asanas, we can include in evening practice?

    we have following books, so you may give reference from them –
    1. Yoga for women.
    2. Yoga for children.
    3.Illustrated light on Yoga

    Regards,
    Sudhanshu

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      I appreciate you seeking my guidance Sudhanshu.

      First, I would omit the Bhujangasana as Geeta set this as a forward bending sequence. It is best to stay within one clan of asanas per practice especially when beginning.

      See my blog for a back bending sequence designed for beginners. I don’t know your level of experience, but you want to be working toward Salamba Sarvangasana and Salamba Sirsasana. Wife should not do inversions during menstruation.

      For the evening practice, it is advised to do more inversions. If Salamba Sarvanasana and Sirsasana are not yet attainable, work on poses where the head is below the heart like Adho Mukha Svanasana and Uttanasana, I also like to work on seated poses in my evening practice finishing with Viparita Karani.

      It is wonderful that you and your wife are practicing twice a day. Try to do more sequences rather than sticking to one static sequence. I will publish more sequences on my blog. I have standing sequence (see Iyengar yoga with no props…) a back bending sequence and and forward bending sequence.

      I hope this is helpful and best wishes with your practice!

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      1. Sudhanshu Srivastava

        Dear Miachel,

        Thank you for such a quick and detailed reply.
        I also don’t want to stick on a static sequence but its become difficult to decide sequence for daily practice. So, I am trying to figure out at least three sequence and do them on first three days of week and then repeat them in same sequence on remaining three days of week, with rest on Sunday.
        I suffered from lower back pain, few year back and then doctor suggested me to do some exercise to cure it. These exercise are nothing but Bhujangasana followed by Supta Padangusthasana. From there, I became interested in yoga practice. So, I want to include these two Asanas in my daily practice.
        I also want to include some lateral twist daily because I am finding it very much reliving for my neck pain and stiff shoulders.
        I also thought of doing only one clan of Asanas but due to lack of strength and reason given above, we are trying to select asanas from more than one clan.
        As per your suggestion and my understanding, I am trying to modify my yoga practice sequence as follow
        Morning practice
        Day 1,4 – Standing sequence suggested by you(1-10)->Lateral twist->Supta Padangusthasana->Bhujang Asana -> Salamba Sarvangasana -> Halasana->Savasana

        Day 2,5 – Back Bending sequence suggested by you till Adho Mukha Svanasana-> Lateral Twist->Supta Padangusthasana -> Salamba Sarvangasana -> Halasana->Savasana

        Day 3,6 – Forward bending sequence suggested by you (with omission of Salamba Sirsasana) till Paschimottonasana ->Bhujang Asana -> Salamba Sarvangasana -> Halasana->Savasana

        Evening Practice
        We are doing this, just to maintain the continuation and for recuperation.
        We will include Adho Mukha Svanasana and Uttanasana as suggested by you and then follow the same sequence as previously.

        Please excuse me for asking too many questions.

        Regards,
        Sudhanshu

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      2. yogibattle Post author

        Everything is good except Bhujanasana after paschimottonasana in forward bending sequence. Omit it completely. It seems like you like to do bhujangasana because of your therapy, but it is best to try other poses otherwise you will just do asanas you like and not asanas you need. I don’t mind your questions if you try out what I ask.

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      3. Sudhanshu Srivastava

        Dear Miachel,

        Thank you for quick reply.
        I think you are telling about Day 3,6.
        Okay, I am omitting it from the sequence. I think that rest is fine.
        Please post more article on how to plan daily sequences.
        Very many tkanks to you.

        Regards,
        Sudhanshu

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  3. Sudhanshu Srivastava

    Dear Miachel,

    I am preparing for an exam and after coming from office I feel exhausted and also its become very difficult for me to wake up in the morning.
    Please post an evening sequence that we can follow to get rid of these problem and able to study for few hours in night and then wake up more energetically in morning.. Please mention the time gap between Asana practice and lunch.

    Regards,
    Sudhanshu

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  4. edspyhill01

    Thank you for this essay. I am close to 70 y.o. and I trying to create 3 to 4 sequences of 60 – 75 minutes in duration. I do not do any of the gymnastic and acrobatic poses. One sequence I need to create is one or two backbend sequences to do once a week. Can you recommend a source for this knowledge?

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  5. edspyhill01

    I’m finding that in order to create viable home practice sequences we have to basically learn everything taught in Yoga Teacher Training. This is the reason almost no one in a Yoga class has a home practice.

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks for your comment ed

      I am finding that people don’t have a home practice because they don’t have know where to start. Yoga, as it is classically taught, is using asanas to learn about oneself more deeply. With this in mind, I encourage my students to at least start with simple poses that we repeat in class and that will cue them to go further.

      Iyengar teachers instruct students step by step how to do the poses so they have some reference from which to draw.

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      1. edspyhill01

        True. I’ve been studying Iyengar Yoga for almost 4 years. But I think it takes a lot of knowledge to design a home practice. How to sequence standing asanas, forward bends, backbends, inversions, supra poses, standing, sitting twists. Then which poses are heating poses, which poses are cooling posesn how seemingly different asanas actually work the same muscles. There is also how to break up a long sequence into 2 sequences. Setting up a home peactice takes constant study with a mentor/reacher.

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      2. yogibattle Post author

        I learned a great deal about sequencing just going through the courses in the back of Light On Yoga. Although I could not advance past week 16, the sequences are logical and interesting to follow. I posted a few sequences on this blog for my students to follow for their home practice. As a teacher I give students “homework” on what they need to work on and found that most do. Motivation and discipline are probably the two largest barriers to a home practice. At least for me 🙂 I appreciate this discussion ed.

        Liked by 1 person

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