10 Inspiring Quotes About Building a Home Yoga Practice
Starting (and actually sticking with) any new habit can be incredibly challenging, and yoga is no exception, especially when it comes to practicing yoga at home.
I’m continuously amazed at how diligent I am at sticking to my yoga practice when I have set days and times that I go to a studio with other people…and how horrible I am at sticking to my practice at home by myself!
Why can it be so difficult to do something that makes me feel so good?
Have you ever found yourself asking this same question? Well don’t be too hard on yourself, even experienced and world-renowned yoga teachers struggle when it comes to their home yoga practice. In a recent interview with Teachasana, Elena Brower admitted that one of the biggest challenges she’s faced as a yoga teacher has been practicing yoga at home.
“It took over a decade to develop a steady home practice, and it was only when I began studying Kundalini yoga that I found a regular time for myself.”
What else are some of the world’s best-known yoga teachers saying when it comes establishing a consistent daily yoga practice?
Here are ten of my favorite quotes from top yoga teachers, which might just be what you need to get started with – and actually stick to – your home yoga practice.
- Experiment first, then be consistent.
“Start where you are: Don’t limit your experience with the idea that you need to meet some external goal. Let the internal and external training and churning and transformation happen authentically and in their own time. Show up: Stay present in your breath and be compassionate with yourself as you discover and play with your evolutionary edge. Be consistent: Establishing a practice is about finding a rhythm. Try practicing at different times of the day until you find the time where the rhythm of your daily energy naturally supports a steady practice.”
- Make your practice a conscious choice.
“One of the most dangerous words in the English language is “SHOULD.” We bury ourselves in shame and inadequacy when we listen to the “Should Bird” resting eagerly on our shoulder. Every time we use the word “should”, we are in effect saying that we are “wrong” and “not good enough.” As my Priestess, Ariel says, the “should bird” is “should-ing” all over us. The message is you were wrong, or you will be wrong if you don’t do whatever you think you “should” do.”
- Build a strong foundation by understanding basic techniques.
“In my dream world, students would know that there are techniques they need to understand before they approach a more challenging or fluid practice. That would mean either going to a very beginner-level class or an Iyengar class. For some students, that may feel too slow, but it’s providing the appropriate information that’s going to give them longevity in their practice.”
- Start slow and discover your own inner teacher.
“Build a foundation with slower, more mild practices (like Hatha). Without a foundation, the rest of the structure cannot establish integrity and progress properly. Would you jump into a ten kilometer marathon without ever having done some form of training with running? NO! So why jump into an intermediate/advanced vinyasa class without first learning the basics (fundamental poses, elements of breathing, motor control and proprioceptive awareness, especially with deep stretching)? Most important, give yourself permission to find your inner teacher—external teachers offer a wealth of concepts, but this learning only has true value if it resonates with what your inner teacher expresses.”
- Start with the poses you really enjoy.
“A lot of students in their minds set themselves up for failure in their home practice because they think that it has to replicate or repeat the exact same experience as a yoga class. You want to just develop a simple routine that is warm and satisfying to you. Start with poses you love! Maybe that will create enough momentum that you will then diversify your practice at home, but at first, start with what you love.”
- Ditch the idea that you need a special mat, clothes, or place to practice yoga.
“I wish that everyone knew that you didn’t need a 3 x 7 sticky mat to practice yoga. You can practice anywhere you wish for any amount of time—you can practice while you are standing in line at the grocery store, waiting in traffic, in a parking lot, on top of a mountain–there are so many places you can practice, and the best part is, it’s contagious!”
- Approach your practice with openness and curiosity, rather than self-judgment or competitiveness.
“As you practice your first poses on your own, try to cultivate an attitude of playfulness and acceptance. Being present during your practice means allowing yourself to be aware of whatever physical sensations, emotions and thoughts are currently arising. Be creative and spontaneous. If you approach your practice with a sense of curiosity, rather than self-judgment or competitiveness, you will find it easier to motivate yourself to practice—and you’ll be more present when you do practice…At home, you learn to listen to what your body needs that day, move at your own pace, and develop intuition about what sequences or kinds of yoga poses you want and need to do most on any given day.”
- Allow for flexibility, in more than one sense of the word.
“I try to do something twice a day, sometimes it’s just a little bit. The place that my life happens to be will determine its intensity—anything from restorative to high intensity vinyasa. I try to be true to myself each day and see what I’m moved to do. I don’t have a mold or external blueprint that I follow, but in general I’m pulled toward vinyasa, heat-based movement, moving energy through my body. Rigid routines don’t really work well for me. I like fluid practice instead. My style is based on being safe and opening the body from a place that is protecting the joint system. I do a lot of creative sequencing, and I teach people my philosophy, “To thine own self be true.” You intuitively know what is right.”
- Find a deeper sense of connection through reverence or ritual.
“The two most important elements of practice may be: consistency and reverence or ritual. These days I am fortunate enough to have a room in my home whose sole purpose is yoga and meditation. I enter it around the same time every day, about 5:30 A.M.–just as I have been doing for nearly thirty years. The teachings have long praised these quiet hours of the day, before sunrise, as the most productive time to practice. It’s also the time when the rest of my house is still asleep, which means no worldly duties will call or interrupt my practice–my process of remembering deep and abiding peace.
The first thing I do upon entering the room is light a flame and pay homage to it. The flame connects me to the source of life and the teachings. I think of my teacher(s), the teachings, and offer them my gratitude before I “do” anything. Once I establish that connection, I turn my awareness to my inner teacher to guide me as I move into postures and the whole of my practice.”
- Every time you fall off the bandwagon, jump back on!
“The critical element in meditation practice is beginning again. Everyone loses focus at times, everyone loses interest at times, and everyone gets distracted over and over again. What is essential, and also incredibly transforming, is realizing that we have the ability to begin again, without blaming or judging ourselves, without thinking we have failed, without losing heart, we can, and need to, constantly be beginning again.”
Put It Into Practice
Which of these quotes most resonates with you?
Spend some time, right now, thinking about how you might be able to integrate this advice into your life to begin—or more consistently stick with—your home yoga practice.
Share what you come up with in the comments section so that we all might inspire and benefit from one another!
Redefining the Core
A woman referred by a yoga colleague came to me for an Alexander Technique lesson, hoping to relieve her agonizing neck and shoulder pain. I began by explaining Alexander’s central concept: release your neck to free the spine and relieve the shoulders. Then I stepped back to consider her overall stance. Though she had what might be considered “good” posture, I noticed a strange contraction in the front of her torso.
“What are you doing with your abdominals?” I asked.
“Holding them,” she replied.
“Well,” I said, “let them go.”
She did. Her torso did not collapse without that alleged “support.” After her first and, as it turned out, only lesson, her acute shoulder pain disappeared. What does this show? 1) A symptom may be far from its cause and 2) a flawed concept of abdominal support can be damaging.
Such a quick resolution is rare. Usually, in a private Alexander session or yoga class, we are on a quest to change neuromuscular habits bit by bit, refining awareness, unraveling tension and marshaling the body’s inherent postural support.
Many students pat themselves just above the navel and say, “I’ve got to strengthen my core,” with a vague idea of what that means. There are legions in the fields of physical conditioning and performance who will tell you that maintaining a conscious contraction in the superficial abdominals – those we can see and feel – will resolve back pain, foster better balance and improve posture. But misusing abdominal muscles can actually compress the spine and increase back pain, send you off balance, restrict your breath and compress your posture. In a class or private lesson, I have used the same instruction – let your abdominals go – to help people resolve sciatica, improve their singing, free their hip joints and restore full breathing. I don’t mean a slump or a droop, but the dynamic lengthening that comes from marshaling oppositional forces throughout the whole body.
Let’s correct some prevalent misconceptions and expand our idea of what core support really is.
Don’t Hold Anything
You wouldn’t strengthen your biceps by holding them in contraction all the time, so why do that with your abs? No muscle group should be held.
Muscles work reciprocally, and abdominal muscles work in relation to the head, neck, back and legs. As you walk, your abdominals – which connect from the pelvis to the lower ribs – work automatically. It may take some enlightened instruction to get there, but when you let your abdominals release and you envision ease and length in your spine, your abs work as they should.
The body is a marvelously complex creation – easy to move, hard to understand. Our body’s real function is a dazzling interplay of forces. As we try to sort out how it works, it’s easy to over-simplify. People try to stabilize one area rather than coordinate the entire body in motion. But a little anatomical understanding and some guiding principles can help you access your torso’s genuine support and truly enliven your core.
There are four layers of abdominals:
- Rectus abdominis are straight up and down, easily felt on the front surface of the torso. The goal of crunches is to develop these into “washboard abs.” Washboards – not much in use these days – are made of metal, a hard substance unlike human tissue. I’m all for strong abdominals, but they can be strong without being hard.
- Oblique abdominals are slanted and come in two layers – internal and external. They work when you do a yoga twist, when you breathe and as you walk. They wrap around your torso and go almost all the way back to the spine.
- Transversus abdominis is the deepest of the four layers, wrapping all the way around the torso, connecting to the lower spine. Roughly horizontal, transversus helps contain the internal organs and participate in upright posture.
Core Is So Much More
Let’s keep going, to underlayers you can’t consciously feel or directly engage, deeper within the body.
- Diaphragm – This mushroom-shaped structure at the bottom of the rib cage is the primary muscle of respiration. It coordinates with other torso muscles to expel CO2 – the waste product of breath – and inhale O2, the oxygen we need for survival. You can’t get more “core” than this. The entire rib cage expands as we inhale and contracts as we exhale. Allowing your breath to work fully and easily supports upright posture, calms the mind and conditions torso muscles – subtly and without effort.
- Psoas – You’ll hear this word thrown around a lot in yoga classes as a problem area. Some – not all – anatomy geeks consider this part of your core. Psoas expert Liz Koch calls her work Core Awareness. The full name is iliopsoas. Toward the top, it connects to the diaphragm and lumbar spine, relates to each breath we take and helps support upright posture. The “ilio” part coats the inside of the pelvis. The “psoas” part loops under the thighbone and, when it contracts, bends the hip joint. It is so central, so deep, that some consider it a barometer of our emotional state and level of stress.
- Pelvic floor – This web of muscle at the bottom of the torso helps support the internal organs. A busy intersection devoted to elimination and sexual activity, it connects to fascia in the body’s front and back that indirectly link all the way up to the base of the skull.
- Multifidus – Some back muscles – the ones you use when you arch your back in yoga – are on the torso’s surface. When they engage, they extend the whole length of the spine. Beneath those big surface muscles are intermediate layers and, deepest and closest to the spine are these little ones: multifidus, linking one vertebrae to another. They support us to stand, sit well and initiate larger movements. Studies show that to protect the spine from injury, the multifidus muscles activate before any motion.
The Body Works as a Whole
When you bend your elbow, your biceps work and your triceps release. When you straighten your arm, the triceps engage. If both are working, your shoulder and elbow joints will compress. When muscular work is efficient, one muscle group is active and the opposing group releases. That release is a neuromuscular function called inhibition. We can make that function conscious by pausing before we do a yoga posture to envision the posture as a whole and move into it with ease.
When you learned how to throw a ball or swing a racket, you didn’t analyze a sequence of muscles engaging. You looked where you wanted the ball to go and imitated your teacher, an athlete or adept older kid. You got a whole picture. Your eyes delivered that picture to your brain and nervous system in a flash, and you did your best to fulfill the action you saw. Over time, you practiced and got better at it, not from analysis, but from keeping your eye on the ball and repeating a whole body experience. When we see the objective of an action in the mind’s eye, we are better able to engage the body’s complex, integrated response.
Many people think that surface muscles – the back and superficial abdominals – support upright posture. It’s nice to know where the abs are and what they do, but here’s the big news: if the outside shell of muscle is tense, the inner muscles fail to engage. Rather than working, the core muscles actually inhibit, making the spine less spacious and more vulnerable. Before we do something, the spine can enliven and lengthen to prepare for our next move. When you understand this, it can bring more ease and balance to your daily tasks and to the practice of yoga.
Ways to Build the Core
Here are some ways in everyday movement and yoga to build a truly strong core:
- Standing – Whether waiting for a train or standing in tadasana, Mountain Pose, notice whether your weight is more toward the front of your feet or the heel. If you’re not centered, envision the top of your head guiding you right over your feet. If it feels weird, you’ll know you habitually stand back on your heels. Once you’re in balance, central muscles naturally engage and upright poise can become effortless.
- Sitting – To sit well, envision space and ease where the spine joins the head – a point between the ears. Balance your weight on your sitbones, breathe easily and envision those little muscles along the spine supporting you from within. If in yoga class you find it a strain to sit with legs crossed, sit on a folded blanket or bolster to make upright posture easier. Rather than lifting your rib cage, let it be buoyant with breath.
- Breathing – Believe it or not, a full easy breath is one of the most accessible ways to improve your posture and engage your core. Your lungs go from your shoulders to near the bottom of the rib cage. Allow your breath to fill the whole torso, including the back where you have more lung tissue.
Many yoga poses demand and can inspire core support. Here are just a few:
- Seated Spinal Twist – Allow your breath to support the easy movement of your rib cage and shoulders as you wring out the waist.
- Plank – When you do this pose in yoga class or at the gym, allow your head to rotate slightly at the top of your spine. That will allow the spine to lengthen and give this strong pose a foundation of ease. Your core – you can’t do this pose without it – will engage as needed.
- Side Plank – In Vasistasana, allow that slight rotation as you send the crown of the head away from the heels of your flexed feet.
Practice either of these plank variations as you hold a block between your thighs to spark deep, genuine core support.
We’re not like an ice cream sandwich, with a slab of muscle on the front facing another slab on the back. We are round and multi-layered, with the largest muscles on the outside and the smallest deep within. Isolating and overworking one surface muscle group is misguided. It’s not how movement and function work. In fact, one part of engaging the core is breathing fully and easily. You can think of your core as beginning from the long arch in your feet, your inner heels and big toes, and ending at the top of your head.
And please, don’t hold your abdominals. Remember that your body is supported by a complicated, orchestral set of interactions that harmonize when you envision your body working – as a whole. Enjoy your new core.