There’s No Place Like Home: How to Cultivate a Home Yoga Practice

I used to attend daily yoga classes. Peer pressure, in this context, was an apt motivator. I stayed on my mat, despite my mood or energy level, anchored by fellow yogis.

But at home one day, alone, I twisted just so … and injured my back. Forward bends became excruciating. Though attentive teachers urged me to make adjustments in class, to listen to my body and proceed with caution, I couldn’t allow myself to do “less.” I felt compelled to do all or nothing.

I soon had to opt for nothing. I took long walks instead. I swam in the summer. To strengthen weak muscles, my physical therapist recommended two videos, 8-Minute Buns and 8-Minute Abs, led by Jaime Brenkus. “Squeeze, concentrate,” Jaime urged. The synthesizers and spandex brought me back to aerobics classes in the early ‘90s. “What do you want the buns to look like?”

I began to miss yoga dearly.

I sampled other videos, until I found an apt challenge for a compulsive like me: 30 days of short, gentle yoga sessions. I completed the month, treated myself to a commemorative T-shirt, and kept going. That was more than a year ago.

“One of the most important keys to a successful home practice is consistency,” says Cristie Newhart, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga. “We get the most benefit out of our practices when we do something every day. Consistency allows us to see how we progress, and also lets us develop a deeper relationship to who we are and encourage who we want to become.”

I wanted to be easier on myself. The key was giving myself permission to do shorter practices. I know this is true of writing. If I only have 10 minutes, so be it; at least it’s something. It hadn’t occurred to me to apply this idea to yoga.

Curious about other home practices, I surveyed my peers:

“If I can’t sleep at night, I do a few yoga poses to ease my body.”

“Breathwork keeps me calm and focused. I feel refreshed after.”

“My home yoga practice involves a trapeze swing, which helps lengthen my muscles—necessary with the running I do. Now I’m hanging upside down all the time in the evenings. The dogs think I'm crazy.”

“I guide my mother, who repeats everything I say and then gives me instant feedback about it.”

A massage therapist admits, “I think about doing yoga every day, but I don't always turn those thoughts into [actual practice]. When I do get on the mat, I always feel so grateful to myself for making it happen. Yoga works out all of the tightness, kinks, and sore areas that have a way of finding me. I always feel looser, stronger, and more balanced afterwards. ”

One friend has an app to simply remind her to stop and breathe for 10 seconds. Another teaches yoga five times a week but still uses at-home poses after shoveling, stacking wood, gardening, or hiking. “I’ll move into Down Dog or Child’s pose. I love going back to my breath to reset. I do Savasana to relax when I notice how tense I’ve become.”

Others enjoy a home practice because of the flexibility it offers, particularly with young children. One mom I know uses an online series designed for kids so she can practice with her son. If he loses interest, she completes the class by herself as he plays nearby.

“I sometimes think of my off-the-mat practice as connecting with my children and being really present with them,” says Liza Bertini, a yoga teacher, personal development coach, Manager of Kripalu R&R, and mother of twins. “But much of my home practice happens very early in the morning, before they wake up.”

Micah Mortali, Director of Outdoor Education and Programming at Kripalu, Dean and Founder of the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership, and father of three, says, “These days I have a few different home practices, depending on the quality of my day. I rotate them. Some days I do 15 minutes of Kripalu Yoga. Other days it’s push-ups, crunches, and pull-ups. And most days, there is a walk in the woods.”

Finding apt space at home can be a challenge. The online classes I follow are filmed in a room that is small and spare: bare walls and a few plants in the corner. I see this room and remember, I don’t need a lot. My teacher suggests using household items if props aren’t available—a towel instead of a strap. If I want to do the poses in a chair, that’s fine with her, too.

A friend uses her couch as a prop to do morning stretches. Another practices in the kitchen because it’s the one space where she can comfortably raise her arms overhead and not touch the ceiling.

I practice in my bedroom, crammed next to the laundry rack. But I close the door and the minutes are mine. I often practice in the evening, a wind-down session. The rituals hold me there: spraying lavender scent on my mat, bowing to my fern.

When I reappear, my husband says I look different, calmer. (He didn’t say that after my buns and abs routine.) This serves as a reminder: A home practice can mirror where we happen to be in life. It can evolve as our as priorities and circumstances shift, whether by choice or not.

Says Micah, “Even if I can't actually get outside for as long as I want to, I find looking out my bedroom window at the small mountain behind our house to be a steady practice through the years. I like to take a deep breath and let my focus wander to whatever is moving in the moment—a cardinal shooting across my field of view, the sparkle of water flowing through our little brook in the afternoon light, the shape of the wind as it blows fresh snow off the mountain hemlocks.”

“Every day is different,” Liza says. “I don’t want yoga to be another thing on my endless to-do list, so sometimes I take my daily practice off the mat and let the focus be more on mindfulness and compassion for myself and others. However it looks, it always supports how I want to feel. A home practice is important to me because it is a sacred time when I can truly connect with my body and inquire about what I really need.”

It occurs to me: Even when I thought I’d quit for a time, I was still doing yoga all along.

As Micah says, “Having a home practice is a way to come home to ourselves. We can touch that steady place inside that sits, like the mountain, through all the weather life brings.”

Lara Tupper, MFA, is the author of two novels, Off Island and A Thousand and One Nights, and Amphibians, a linked short story collection forthcoming in 2021.

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