Photo Credit: Lynsey Riach – Yoga
Home yoga practice: we all know we should be doing it, but why bother, when we could just attend a class anyway? If you needed any further urging, a recent preliminary study suggests frequency and duration of home practice may be the key to reaping the most benefits from your yoga practice.
To conduct the study, researchers distributed anonymous surveys to 4,307 randomly selected participants drawn from 18,160 Iyengar practitioners at 15 Iyengar studios in the U.S. The researchers measured dimensions of physical, behavioral, and psychological well-being.
Their findings were striking. It didn’t appear to matter overall how long participants had practiced yoga, but rather the frequency and total time practiced on a regular basis. Home practice, whether comprised of asana, meditation, pranayama, or philosophy was found to be an important predictor of many aspects of health while class attendance was not. Improvements included mindfulness, subjective well-being, fruit/vegetable consumption, and reductions in sleep disturbance, BMI, and fatigue. Those most likely to practice yoga at home were also more likely to practice a broader array of yogic practices and potentially glean a more comprehensive span of benefits.
Due to the study’s cross-sectional design, it does not suggest that home practice is necessarily more beneficial than class practice. For example, it may be that the individuals most likely to practice more at home in their study were also higher in self-motivation, mindfulness, etc. to begin with, which helped them practice at home. However, we can equally surmise that home practice may have promoted these qualities. Future research should thus investigate these relationships over time.
The results of this study may seem fairly commonsensical. Because it can be challenging (and expensive!) to attend yoga classes daily, having a regular home routine established can thwart the standard excuses for not practicing (for example, being too tired, broke, or busy). It also projects a reminder of the importance of yoga practice—and everything that entails—into the home environment, where many important decisions are made and your habits, for better or worse, reside.
For me, the most important part of developing a home practice was starting by creating a safe and sacred practice space. While you may not have the luxury of an exclusive room for this, you can designate an area of your home and utilize room dividers or other techniques to cordon it off from your normal environment. If children, technology, or other distractions beg your attention, hang a sign on the door or divider, set a timer, and communicate clearly that you will be available in X minutes. Turn off all distractions, and tune into the sweet sensation of coming home.
If you want to practice at home but are not yet sure you know enough postures or need more safety/alignment tips, supplementing with yoga class attendance or private sessions is a great way to expand your knowledge base and support home practice. For advanced practitioners, an exclusively home-based practice can become stale; continually supplementing with classes, workshops, and other experiences ensures continued growth and evolution.