Are you too busy to commute to yoga class but daunted by the thought of choosing poses and sequences on your own? Establishing a yoga routine at home may be easier than you think. An at-home practice offers freedom and flexibility, enabling you to set a schedule that suits a busy life. It’s less expensive than attending classes, and you can select the types of poses you want to focus on in a given session.

Some top yoga teachers encourage it. “Practicing at home allows you to focus on the internal and meditative aspects of yoga,” says Richard Freeman, director of the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, Colorado. Instructor Rodney Yee, codirector of the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California, agrees. “Classes and workshops are great, but taking your practice home is what it’s all about,” he says. Here, Freeman, Yee, and veteran teacher Beryl Bender Birch offer advice on how to make a home yoga practice successful.

Step One: Learn proper form

Step one: Learn proper form

If you’re uncomfortable with your current knowledge of yoga, it may be necessary to take one or two classes or attend a yoga conference. “Classes or conferences are good in the beginning to learn proper alignment and techniques,” says Bender Birch, founder and director of The Hard & The Soft Astanga Yoga Institute in East Hampton, New York. “But they aren’t absolutely necessary. Many books and videos are available to provide great instruction if you really study them.” (For a sampling of guided yoga routines, see “Five Home Yoga Books and Videos,” below.)

In addition to making sure you are doing the poses correctly, it’s worth the effort to understand the philosophy that accompanies yoga. Yoga is a mindful exercise, and many practitioners consider that aspect as important as the postures. In fact, some believe an at-home yoga regimen offers a better chance for mindfulness because it eliminates public distractions.

Step Two: Create the right space

Step two: Create the right space

Establishing a place in your home for yoga will help you stick to your plan. After all, you are more likely to take to the mat if you set aside a dedicated area. If you live in a small apartment or house, however, “don’t let the limited room be a deterrent to your home practice,” says Bender Birch. You can temporarily move tables, chairs, or couches, or for more privacy, you can section off a specific yoga spot with portable screens.

Proper lighting and room temperature are important considerations when preparing a yoga space. Natural light is best because it is soothing and limits reflective glare, says Yee. The room should be comfortably warm, around 75 to 85 degrees, to facilitate heating muscles and improving flexibility. In chilly weather, you can roll out your mat in front of the fireplace or heater for a cozy, inspiring spot.

Another factor to take into account is floor surface. “Hardwood or ceramic tile are ideal because of their stability,” says Bender Birch. She advises avoiding spongy surfaces or padded carpet, which can throw off your balance. To keep from slipping, get a nonslip or sticky mat. “[Other] props, like blocks and straps, are not required but can be helpful in some asanas [poses], especially for beginners,” says Bender Birch. “But keep in mind, a great thing about yoga is that it’s so portable. When you load up on stuff, you lose that benefit.”

Music and scents are optional. “Soothing or meditative types of music can be a nice addition for Savasana [Corpse Pose], but I don’t recommend music during most of the practice,” says Bender Birch. “It’s more important to focus on your breath.” If you do choose to include a scent, Bender Birch recommends natural, pure products instead of synthetic scents, which could introduce chemicals into the air you breathe. “Don’t burn incense during your practice either, because it releases smoke that could be irritating,” says Bender Birch. Instead, use smokeless aromatherapy diffusers with natural scents, such as cedar, pine, rose, or lavender.

Step Three: Begin your practice

Step three: Begin your practice

Now that you’ve learned proper form and prepared a space, you are ready to begin your routine. Some people like to become invigorated in the early morning. Others would rather use yoga to unwind after a long day. Whichever you choose, Freeman recommends waiting two to three hours after a heavy meal and one hour after a light meal. “Having a relatively empty stomach is important because during an asana practice there is much activity in the abdomen, and too much food in the stomach impedes movement,” he says. Also, Freeman adds, blood goes to the stomach for digestion after you’ve eaten, causing your body to relax and your practice to be less vibrant.

5 home yoga books and videos

Beginner
Living Yoga Upper Body/Abs/Lower Body Videos
with Rodney Yee and Suzanne Deason (Gaiam, 1998, 1999).
Each video presents a 30-minute beginner workout.

Yoga Journal’s Yoga Basics
by Mara Carrico and the editors of Yoga Journal (Henry Holt and Company, 1997).
This book offers complete coverage of types of yoga, practice guidelines, and sample poses.

Yoga with Richard Freeman:
Ashtanga Yoga: The Primary Series
(Delphi Productions, 1993).
An in-depth two-hour video with demonstrations of alignment and technique.

Intermediate to advanced
Power Yoga: The Practice
video or DVD (Image Entertainment, 2002) and book (Fireside, 1995) both by Beryl Bender Birch.
Each includes a 75-minute workout.

Something different
Om at Home by Cyndi Lee
(Chronicle Books, 2003). This journal highlights a different practice for each season of the year.

—V.F.

For your routine, select poses from different categories, such as standing, seated, and twisting. For example, a sequence for a half-hour session might begin with Sun Salutations, then progress to standing poses, arm balances, forward bends, twisting poses, and finish with restorative poses. Always consult a yoga book, videotape, or instructor for detailed direction on specific poses and sequences within these categories. Hold each pose for three to five complete breaths. The finale is traditionally Savasana, held for at least five minutes.

“[Beginners should] avoid inversions, like the Plough, as well as headstands, shoulder stands, and backbends,” says Bender Birch. “Those are safer in a supervised setting.” Also, don’t force yourself into a posture, and be sure to go at a pace that allows your breathing to stay deep and full. “You’ve got plenty of time to grow into the postures,” says Freeman. “The main thing is to stay open and mindful.”

If you have questions about alignment, Freeman recommends checking in with an instructor. In fact, he says, “it’s probably a good idea to check in with an instructor at least two or three times a year anyway.” Practicing in front of mirrors is acceptable, too, but use them sparingly, once or twice a week. Too much time in front of a mirror can encourage you to focus on superficial or external factors, says Freeman. “An obsession with self-image can be a cause of torment. It’s very important that the practice of yoga not become an enhancement of narcissism,” he says.

Step Four: Find a tranquil finish

Step four: Find a tranquil finish

To wrap up your home yoga session in good form, spend at least five minutes in Savasana, says Bender Birch. Restorative poses such as this quiet the mind, allowing time to soak in the benefits of your practice and to transition gradually from this period of relaxation and meditation to the rest of your day or evening.

Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or a veteran yogi, you may be unsure of your home yoga routine when first going solo. Don’t worry—it doesn’t have to be perfect. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is always trying to get it right,” says Yee. “Yoga is a process, not a destination. Your body will tell you if it’s aligned properly when you listen to it. Never compete with anyone else, and remember that yoga should move you toward equanimity and ease.”

Victoria Freeman practices yoga at home to simplify her life. “Being able to find peace and serenity is a huge benefit that speaks to the heart of yoga,” she says. Freeman wrote a chapter in The Sports Nutrition Review, due out this year.