This practice-oriented book by renowned yogi Linda Sparrowe provides you with practical background information and inspiration to start—and keep up with—an at-home yoga practice. What follows is an excerpt from the Practice channel, reprinted with permissions.
Once you have your practice space defined, your props picked out and organized, and time carved out of your schedule, you’re ready to practice. But practice what exactly? Luckily, there are no hard-and-fast rules that dictate what you must do, in which order, or for how long. In fact, the only rules I adhere to are what you’d expect from a mindful yoga class: do no harm (ahimsa, the Golden Rule of yoga); start your practice where you are (this moment, this breath—not yesterday, not where you hope to be next month); and approach the time on your mat with patience, nonjudgmental curiosity, and generosity.
That doesn’t mean you can only achieve self-awareness with bolsters and eye bags. A strong, physical practice done mindfully may be just what your body needs. The key is to listen first. Tias Little, creator of Prajna Yoga in Santa Fe, New Mexico, says such a check-in increases somatic awareness, so rather than imposing “a set of sequences onto your body, a priority, you can lead a practice that, in the moment, is most appropriate for your physical and mental state.”
Of course, you’ll find ample, and often seemingly contradictory, advice throughout these pages. Some practitioners believe you should do a set sequence every time you practice; others say it doesn’t matter how long you stay on your mat or what you do when you get there—just show up, see what your body needs, and move accordingly. But everyone agrees that personal practice is, well, personal. And with guidance from a teacher to get you started, you’ll have a container with walls malleable enough to push and pull against until it takes the shape most appropriate to your needs
When thinking about how to structure your own personal practice, it may help to follow these guidelines: Practice a little every day. Even if you only have 10 or 15 minutes to spare, it’s better to do a little bit every day than a two-hour marathon once every couple of weeks. Gopi Kallayil, the chief evangelist for brand marketing at Google, once told me that he commits to doing one minute of yoga and one minute of meditation daily. His practice often extends longer, but that’s not the point. He always has two minutes to spare, he says, two minutes to devote to his well-being.
Approach Your Practice With a Beginner’s Mind
No matter how many years you’ve done yoga, every time you step onto your mat it’s a new experience. Cultivate a sense of innocence and simply show up. Set an intention to put aside any preconceived notions of what it means to practice and see if you can embrace your strengths as a gift and your limitations as an adventure. Acknowledge your limitations, but don’t get attached to them. Check in with your body often. Are those limitations still active? If they are, welcome them. But some may come from old fears or outdated habits. Challenge yourself, but balance effort with ease and willpower with compassion. Be patient. It’s always more helpful, and certainly more fun, to approach your practice and your challenges from the perspective of “Isn’t that interesting?” instead of “Aren’t I awful?”
When you can’t practice, get creative. Do some seated forward bends when you watch television or talk to your partner; a few Sun Salutations first thing in the morning while your coffee or tea is brewing; and three rounds of pranayama at the stoplight (but keep your eyes open!).
Linda Sparrowe has a long and varied career as a writer, editor, teacher, and mentor in the holistic healing arena, with a special emphasis on women’s health and yoga. As the former editor-in-chief of Yoga International magazine and managing editor of Yoga Journal, Linda has been brought the authentic voice of yoga to thousands of teachers and practitioners. She also co-leads the Courageous Women, Fearless Living retreats for women touched by cancer.