Teachers Talk Home Practice
How, Why, What Gets In The Way
Creating and maintaining a home practice can be tricky. Sometimes you get on your mat and your mind goes blank, forgetting all the poses. Sometimes the day gets away from you and after work, feeding kids, walking the dog and running errands you realize you’ve forgotten to practice at all. Or you feel if you can’t dedicate a full hour to your practice, it doesn’t count.
To get a peek into what other’s home practices look like, Allison Richard sat down with Ishta yogis
Alan and Sarah Finger, Ashtanga practitioner Lara Land, Vinyasa yogi Amy Quinn-Suplina and Restorative/Ayurvedic trained Jillian Pransky to get their thoughts on what a home practice really is and how they keep themselves on track, especially on those less than motivating mornings.
Allison Richard: How do you define your home practice?
Alan and Sarah Finger: Having a home practice is like brushing your teeth. Once you do it regularly, it becomes part of your daily routine and you feel awkward leaving home unless it has been done. To us, home practice means sadhana. It is the practice one does to connect to spirit. This is the most important thing: to re-align the body, clear the mind with pranayama (breath work) and Kriya (purification), and to sit, connected with spirit in meditation.
Lara Land: Home practice, which I call self-practice, is without a teacher there in front of you or even peers surrounding you. It's a solo situation though the whole history of your practice and your teacher is there with you guiding you.
Amy Quinn-Suplina: I usually use it as a time to tap into my own rhythm and design a sequence from an intuitive sense of what my body needs that day, that moment. Other days my home practice is more heady as I use it as a time to design a class sequence I plan on teaching.
Jillian Pransky: I’ve been practicing yoga regularly since 1994 and over this time a home practice has had various definitions to me. For the last decade or so, it is essential as a way to manage the day-to-day health and vitality of body and mind. It is a time to nurture myself, slow down, and create a deeper relationship with myself, and the present moment. So, the main focus of my daily home practice is to cultivate more groundedness, presence and openness, so I can go out in to the world more relaxed and engage in life in a more mindful, awake and compassionate way.
AR: What influences your home practice?
AF&SF: We always dedicate a minimum of 40 minutes daily to do our practice even if that requires us waking up earlier. When we travel we are often adjusting to a new space and new time zone but we always make it a priority, as that is what helps us to move through transitions most gracefully. We are also always affected by our nearly 2-year-old daughter, who often wants to assist or play with us while we do our yoga, but we use that as an opportunity to keep our practice light and playful.
LL: My practice is the same daily but feels different inside! That depends on all sorts of things like whatever has been going on in my life, my energy level, the seasons, etc!
AQS: Most days I rely on what my intuition tells me I need that day. Other days a theme for a future public class will help shape my practice. For example, if I know I want to build a class toward Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana, I’ll end up doing poses to lengthen the hamstrings and prepare the hips.
JP: How I do a home practice is influenced by they system of Ayurveda as well as my studies with Erich Schiffmann and Pema Chodron. Ayurveda influences my practice to ensure my own personal energy feels balanced with the environment around me. Erich taught me to let go of ‘knowing’ what to do, and lean into ‘listening and discovering’ what asanas to do… What a relief to not have to “know” everything! This keeps things real… and super fun! Pema Chodron has influenced my yoga to help me be more mentally open and emotionally fluid.
AR: Have you ever gone through a time where you haven't had a home practice?
AF&SF: In 52 years that Alan has been doing yoga, he's left off only 7 days total that he has not done his practice. Sarah did not do an official practice while she was in the hospital after giving birth but she did do some gentle stretches in bed to recover. Other than that, practice is our priority. It keeps us strong, grounded, clear-minded and inspired.
AQS: Most definitely! As a mom and studio owner my home practice ebbs and flows and I’ve grown to be ok with that. I strive to carve out 20 minutes for myself on days I can’t make a group class at the studio but that isn’t always possible.
JP: I remember waking up when my son was about two years old and realizing I barely had a regular practice for like… almost two years? For these early mothering years, I put my son, William, before everything. When I wasn’t caring for him I was attending to teaching, other work, and managing the home. I practiced some, but truth be told I was NOT taking care of myself during this time with a nurturing practice. When I did manage to get to my mat, I was just getting my practice done.
I paid for this deeply. When I realized I hadn’t been practicing, my own health had already started to slip. I bottomed out and wound up in several doctors offices looking for the root of my problem. In the end, what nursed me back to vibrant health was a renewed commitment to my daily personal practice along with an Ayurveda diet and life style.
AR: What are some barriers that get in the way of your home practice?
AF&SF: There are always distractions, especially with a toddler, but knowing that viveka or clarity of mind is so important allows us to remain focused and committed to completing our practice and accessing inspirational intelligence each morning.
LL: I have really instilled a habit of daily practice into my life so that it's not even a question; I just do it. When it's hard, I remind myself that I'll feel so much better when it is done.
AQS: I inspire myself simply by tuning into that lack of motivation and paying attention to it. By bringing simple awareness to feelings of “blah” they transform somehow. I remind myself that there was really never a time when I regretted carving out time for a home practice. I don’t think I’ve ever said, “I wasted my time and wish my energy were more blocked.”
JP: The main barrier for me is getting up for it! In order for me to practice at home, it has to be the first thing in the morning, which means getting up somewhere around 5:30 or 6. Truth be told, this is hard. I love to cozy up in my soft down blanket. My son loves to sneak in for a yummy morning cuddle and I have a delicious teddy bear-like cock-a-poo who also is the best snuggler. But I manage to peel myself up as I know I’m even more loving and compassionate to my son and all my loved ones, students and mostly to myself when I practice regularly.
When I am in need EXTRA motivation I like to turn on one of my favorite teachers on-line classes or DVDs. I wind up doing my own practice and sequence no matter what they are teaching, but I really enjoy their company as they teach their students. Even via cyber space, it is nice to feel the community of yogis out there.
One last thing that keeps me motivated is I LOVE my yoga space in my home. It is in my personal office and my favorite room in the house. I just LOVE to practice in my room.
Alan and Sarah Finger own Ishta Yoga in Manhattan. Lara Land owns Land Yoga in Harlem. Amy Quinn-Suplina owns Bend and Bloom Yoga in Brooklyn and is the director of Restorative Therapeutic Yoga teacher training for YogaWorks, and a founding Director of Bright Spirit Yoga Trainings.