Wherever I lay my mat (that’s my home)… to paraphrase Marvin Gaye. And if your New Year’s Resolution is (finally) to get round to taking up yoga, or setting aside time each week for your practice, it’s worth remembering that you don’t absolutely have to go to a class, every single time. (Though personally, even though I wrote a whole book about yoga a couple of years ago – Yoga for Life, which you can find here on VH – I keep up with regular classes because I learn so much). Personally, I don’t know what I’d do without my yoga – run around like a headless chicken, probably. But the best way to experience its physical (and mental) benefits is to do it regularly.
It’s true that all you really need for a great home yoga practice is a sticky mat and enough space around it to extend 360 degrees into the poses. The reality is, though, that it takes discipline to make yourself practise at home, and not be distracted by the urge to check e-mails, put on another load of laundry or check the messages on your phone.
So carving out a dedicated space for your home practice really, really helps – if you can manage it. It doesn’t have to cost much; after all, you’re doing this to express yourself, not to impress another soul. And it doesn’t require a whole room; a corner of a room is fine. But if you can’t dedicate a whole room to your practice, at least try to block off your yoga space with a beautiful screen. Wherever your special yoga space is, you will find that it becomes a refuge and an oasis – and so your mind automatically starts to relax whenever you get on the mat. Here are my tips on creating the perfect space at home:
Choose a hard floor You’ll be practising yoga on a mat, of course, but a rubber mat plus a squishy carpet is tougher for balancing poses. There is also something wonderfully grounding about practising yoga on wood or stone (or bamboo, a fantastic new eco-friendly flooring material). On the other hand, if you’re worried about falling, practising on carpet can make you feel safer. If you have a very hard floor (say, slate), you may need a thicker yoga mat (look for those intended for Astanga practice), or you might like to try doubling up with one mat on top of another, which can be gentler on the joints.
Banish the clutter to create a sense of peace, you might not want to go as far as creating an altar or buying yourself a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, but do make sure your yoga space is clear of clutter. Move old photograph albums, dusty tennis rackets or piles of paperwork – they will only distract you from your practice. Keep the walls unadorned or go for simple, uncomplicated images. Patterned wallpaper and strong colours can also be a distraction; there’s a reason most yoga studios are painted in calming creams and neutrals (with maybe a touch of earthy red or brown) – it works. A mirror, meanwhile, is entirely optional. It can be good for checking your alignment, but if you’d really rather not look at yourself while practising, I empathise entirely.
Get the lighting right natural light is perfect for practising yoga, but if the only place you can carve out enough room for your little yoga corner is a dark attic, go for it. While sunlight is energising, direct sun can make you feel hot (or even, yes, flushed). If your space gets lots of direct sun, consider fixing up a lightweight blind or soft sheeting – unless you have a view of the garden or countryside and like to be inspired by changing seasons. (Me? I’d find it hard not to get out there and get weeding, and so would prefer the blind.) In windowless spaces or for after-dark practice, opt for soft, shaded lighting; lying on the floor with a halogen bulb blasting your retinas does not feel very yogic. Candles are great, but the usual warnings about leaving them unattended or placing them too close to soft furnishings apply (no less than three of my friends have managed to create small house fires with candles).
Think about music you might find that playing birdsong, Eastern-influenced music or Western classical music makes your yoga practice more focused. Maybe you prefer the sound of silence – some people find music distracting. You’ll only find out what makes your yoga space most conducive to regular practice by experimenting. If you need a CD player or iPod speakers, do position them well away from your workout area so they don’t constrain your movements or (sorry to sound like a naggy health-and-safety officer) become a trip hazard.
Make sure it’s warm enough the temperature of your home yoga space should be warm enough that you feel comfortable sitting still in a t-shirt and yoga pants. Keep a blanket to hand to cover yourself during a long final relaxation or meditation session. If your yoga space is cold and draughty, you won’t practice; it’s as simple as that. On the other hand, on a hot day (or during hot flushes), it’s fantastic to be able to open a window or turn on a fan.
‘Sanctify’ your space (if you feel like it) if you do want to make an altar in your yoga space, don’t feel like a weirdo. Plenty of people do. It doesn’t mean that you’ve changed your religion (or even found one); an altar can simply give you something to focus on or anchor you when you’re meditating. To make an altar, use any small table or cut down a console table and paint it or throw a cloth over it. Place whatever feels calming on your altar table: nature photos, fresh flowers, statues of deities, a bell, candles. I have a small painted Indian altar that I found cheaply in a junk shop, and on it I keep a few objects that mean something to me. The most significant is my small brass bell. Nothing stills my mind like the lingering vibration of a bell, and I have ‘auditioned’ hundreds of bells in my time, to find the ‘perfect’ sound, remembering what a local antique dealer once said to me: that a bell should have ‘the cry of a child’ in its ring. Aside from this single piece of furniture, try to keep your home yoga space furniture-free.
And have a wonderful, yoga-filled 2015…