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Challenging Yourself at Home

When practicing yoga asanas at home, there are so many ways to keep things interesting and continue extending our boundaries.

To know where those boundaries are, it’s important to practice a variety of poses, not just the ones you like best. This will really help you tune into your body, as you move into and hold the various positions. You’ll notice which poses you find hard, which ones you love, and where you are feeling stiffness in your body. All of these are indications of what postures your body needs, and they can help you design a customized and challenging sequence.

So here are a few tips. Take a few minutes to write down the areas of your body that you know need attention—achy joints, perhaps, or a stubborn tight spot in your back. Maybe you want to strengthen your legs, or core, or loosen up tight hamstrings. If you’ve been stressed out, you may need to calm your nerves with some yoga breathing or restorative poses.

Once you know what you want to work on, write down the poses or techniques that target these areas and put them together in a sequence. Let these be your go-to poses for a couple of weeks, or a couple of months (although you can vary the poses you do with them each day). At the end of that time, notice how you’re feeling and consider how you might change up the poses to target any new areas you want to address.

You might find it helpful to begin each day’s session with a breathing technique, or a few minutes of Yoga Sound Meditation to help calm the mind.  Then move on to gentle stretches to loosen up the body overall. Next you could do your chosen poses one by one, including counter poses when necessary. For example, counter backbends with a forward bend or spinal twist (spinal twists are good counter poses for most postures). I like to include at least one twist, usually Lower Body Rock, at the end of my sequence. It helps balance out the effects of the poses by stretching the spine and back muscles, leaving you relaxed and ready for Shavasana (Corpse Pose), however brief.

Another way to challenge yourself is by holding the poses a little longer or doing more repetitions than usual. If you’re not sure how long you generally hold a pose, count your breaths as you hold, and try to hold for a few more breaths, after your first inclination to come out of the pose. You can gradually build up to holding longer, which will help you gain strength and stamina, as well as flexibility.

You might also like to create a theme for your practice and vary it day by day (or do it every day for a week before moving on to something else). For example, if you know that backbends are challenging for you, design a sequence that slowly warms up your back. Cat Stretch is a good one to start with, then move on to gradually deeper backbends, peaking at your target backbend of the day, which might be Locust, Bow, or Camel. Then, as I said before, be sure to do a few cool-down counter poses, before spending a few minutes in relaxation and meditation.

Of course, there are always those days when you don’t feel like challenging yourself. Maybe you’re tired or low on energy. You can approach these days in one of two ways. Push through and challenge yourself anyway—halfway through your session your energy may return and stay with you for the rest of the day. Or you could take a break from your regular asana routine and do some gentle, restorative poses. Try both at different times to see which works best for you.

One of the perks of a regular home practice is that we have the time and the freedom to listen to our bodies, learn where our boundaries are, experiment, challenge ourselves, and change around our practice as we see fit, letting it continually evolve so that we are always getting something more out of it—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Have fun with it!

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