Starting an at-home yoga practice can be a great way support your mental and physical health, especially as a Veteran. Studies have shown that practicing yoga can improve symptoms of PTSD, reduce the need for opioids in treating chronic backpain, and improve symptoms of anxiety or depression. Being able to roll out your yoga mat anywhere is both convenient and often much cheaper than paying studio fees. And practicing yoga from home means you can create a routine that truly suits your unique lifestyle. You can choose how and where you practice, what you’d like to focus on, select your own music, style and even the duration. Even better — it’s simple to get started.
What is an at-home yoga practice?
Practicing yoga from home will look different for everyone. An at-home yoga practice can include moving your body into the physical postures and poses you probably most commonly associate with yoga. But it can also include meditation, mindfulness, breath work or even chanting matras. Before you start to design your own home-based yoga practice it can be powerful to consider the reason you’re starting in the first place. In yoga, the Sanskrit term Sankalpa refers to a heartfelt desire or intention. By setting a Sankalpa for your at-home yoga practice you can get clearer on the type of yoga you’ll be focusing on, how often you’ll practice and more.
Can anyone practice yoga at home?
As is the case with any lifestyle change, before starting an at-home yoga practice it is recommended that you first consult your GP, physiotherapist or other relevant specialist. Together they can make recommendations based on your unique circumstances to ensure you’re able to practice yoga safely at home. If you’ve never practiced yoga before, it can also be beneficial to take a beginner class with a certified yoga teacher or yoga therapist (one who is also trained in trauma-informed yoga practices). They’ll help you understand how to undertake the physical poses in a safe manner, modify the poses using props such as blocks or a bolster and what to do if you’re feeling distressed or uncomfortable during your practice.
Equipment you’ll need to practice yoga from home
Technically, all you need to practice yoga at home is your body. But with the addition of a few items — none of which need to be expensive — you can create your own yoga ‘space’ and make your practice a little more comfortable.
- Yoga Mat — although there’s a huge range of yoga mats on the market, if you’re new to the practice, focus on finding one with just enough padding to support your knees when kneeling on a hard floor.
- Block — usually made of either foam or cork, a yoga block (or 2) can be useful to support your body in a variety of physical postures.
- Strap — these will sometimes come in a kit with your blocks, a yoga strap is long piece of fabric with a buckle on one end (similar to a belt). Great for stretching and supporting the hamstrings among others.
- Bolster — another yoga support, a bolster is a usually a long, cylindrical pillow which you may like to sit on when meditating (a regular pillow works just fine for this) or lay over in restorative poses like reclined butterfly.
- Blanket — useful in so many ways, a blanket can keep you warm during savasana, provide extra support under the knees, help to tilt the pelvis and better align the spine during seated poses and more.
- Phone — with access to YouTube, Spotify or apps like Calm (included with our Veteran’s program) you can use your phone to follow along with a guided practice, listen to a meditation or practice with soothing (or energising) music in the background.
How to start your home-based yoga practice
Getting started with your at-home yoga practice might feel a little daunting at first, but like any new habit you develop, it will get easier the more you do it.
- Find your space – First, choose a location for your practice. Depending on your living arrangements, you may be able to keep your equipment set up and ready in the one spot. Or you may need to roll out your mat just before you practice each day. Either way, make sure you notify the other members of your household that you’d prefer to be uninterrupted for the duration of your practice.
- Choose your flow – Using an app like Calm, choose a practice that focuses on slow, gentle movements like a Yin, Restorative or Gentle Flow — especialy if you’re to new to yoga. Set up your phone, tablet or laptop somewhere you can easily see and hear the guidance, but make sure you turn off your notifications. Life is busy enough so give yourself the gift of focus while you practice.
- Set your intention – Either seated or lying on your mat, choose a Sankalpa for your practice. Then turn your intention into a present-tense affirmation. For example, if you would like to cope better with the stress in your life, you may say, “I cope easily with the stress in my life.” You can then choose to reuse the same Sankalpa each day and until you feel it coming true, or choose a new one, depending on your intention day.
- Start small – Even if you’ve been practising yoga for a while, starting an at-home yoga practice is different to one in a studio, so start small. A good place to start is to set a daily goal to simply “get on your mat.” Whether you start with some simple stretches, a few rounds of breath work or five minutes of mindfulness, research points to the value of starting with ‘tiny habits’ first for long-term success. Remember, every time you show up on your mat, you’re showing up for yourself and your overall health and wellbeing. Consistency is key.
- Be kind to yourself – There will always be challenges on the way to developing a new habit, so be kind to yourself as you cultivate this new practice. As you start to reconnect with your body again on a physical level, you may notice a variety of emotions can rise to the surface. Listen to your body and don’t force anything. If you experience any distress during your practice, try turning your attention to your breath, move to a position that feels safe, or focus on an object in the room. Consider engaging the help of a certified yoga therapist, a yoga teacher who is also trained in trauma-informed yoga, to help you craft a safe and supportive at-home yoga practice.
- Give it time – Patience, patience, patience. Although your new habit won’t be created overnight (some research indicates it can take 66 days for a new habit to stick) it’s possible to start reaping the benefits almost right away — just keep in mind sometimes these changes can be subtle. To help build your awareness and reflect on your progress, it can be useful to record how you feel before and after you practice. Keep a journal by your mat and then after a month or two, go back through your notes and see how things have shifted.
Bonus Tips For Starting Your Home Yoga Practice
- Encourage your kids to join you — if you have children at home, roll out an extra mat for them to play on while you practice. Yoga can be a lot of fun (especially if you don’t take it too seriously) and children can certainly help with that!
- If in doubt, just breathe — if you’re short on time and find that adding yoga to your day feels like too much pressure, then commit to just doing five rounds of deep breaths. Mindful breath work only takes a few minutes but will help return the body to a state of rest and repair and give you the experience of slowing down. Something we can all benefit from!
- Make technology work for you — if you find you’re checking your phone multiple times during your practice, check to see if you can stream your class on your TV using GoogleChrome or AppleTV. That way, you can put your phone on charge (and away from temptation) and enjoy a distraction-free practice.
More and more Veterans are turning to yoga and other mindfulness practices to help improve their post traumatic stress symptoms, ease back pain, reduce anxiety and increase their overall experience of wellness. And studies are continuing to find more evidence to validate them. By creating an at-home yoga practice, you can tap into the benefits of yoga anywhere you can roll out your mat. A home-based yoga practice is convenient, affordable, flexible and (if you let it be) a lot of fun too.