I have been a home Ashtanga practitioner ever since I moved away from my local studio. That was a long 6 years ago and so for the past 6 years, I have practiced Ashtanga yoga alone, without a teacher.
There were times when I wished there was a teacher around as I would have progressed much more than I have. And yet, I consider myself lucky to have had a teacher in the first place.
I practiced with my teacher for 4 years before moving away. In that time I learned the fundamentals of Ashtanga yoga and so when I did have to practice alone I had a good understanding of both my body and the postures. And that is where my work began. Motivating myself to practice alone.
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In my opinion, there are 8 key components to practicing Ashtanga yoga without a teacher:
- Find the motivation to practice alone daily
- Practice in a safe manner
- Have a yoga space for your practice
- Mix it up sometimes
- Focus on a key posture
- Have the yoga props you may need
- Understand how and when to move to the next posture
- Have a teacher to travel to
All these topics will be discussed in greater detail below.
1. Find the motivation to practice alone daily
Overcoming lethargy and finding the motivation to practice alone is the key obstacle to doing your practice alone without a teacher. For anyone who has practiced in a yoga shala you may have noticed that the energy of the room was sometimes enough to help you get through your practice.
This is something I loved about my yoga shala. I would still be half asleep walking into the room at 7 am. And yet seeing my fellow practitioners and practicing side by side was enough for me.
And of course, the presence of my teacher was the other thing that motivated me. Her calm presence was there to guide me and adjust me where needed.
And so when I moved away and had to now practice alone. This meant remembering how that special space felt like and use that to help motivate me.
It can be hard. It really is not the same practicing alone, especially when you are used to having your teacher there to answer your questions and push you deeper into postures you never seem to be able to achieve when you are alone.
With time you learn to keep your teachers presence in your mind and practice the way you would if they were around. And then as time passes you become your own teacher. You motivate yourself, you self-adjust in postures and you find creative ways to keep up with your practice.
This could be taking photos or videos, tracking your practicing on a calendar, or something I do, which is to always promise myself I will at least practice the sun salutations.
That way, even if I don’t do a full practice I have at least stepped onto my mat. And even that is something to be proud of as a home practitioner.
For my go-to 30 minute practice, check out my video:
2. Practice in a safe manner
Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding practice. This means that we put our bodies through many postures that help us build both strength and flexibility. For this reason, it is very important to practice in a way that respects our body and will help us keep this as a lifelong practice.
It is advisable for all beginners to practice with a teacher. The reason is that a teacher will be able to notice any postures of movements done in a way that can cause injury.
A typical example of this is shoulder placement during chaturanga (lowering the shoulders as we lower down from plank) or hand position in the downward-facing dog. These somewhat small details can actually help prevent injury in the long term.
And so my advice to any Ashtanga beginner would be to try to start to practice with a teacher. If there are no teachers nearby, then try to travel to one even just for a private class or a workshop. And use their advice in your practice.
3. Have a yoga space for your practice
Find a space that is big enough to fit your yoga mat. This should ideally feel inviting and safe, as small as it may be. Try to keep your yoga space clean and free from clutter to minimize any possible distractions. You could also add a candle or a piece of artwork to make it more special.
One additional word of advice is to try to remove any distractions, especially mobile phones. Move them to another room for the duration of your practice so as to help you stay focused on your practice.
Related article: Your Ultimate Guide To A Successful Home Yoga Practice
4. Focus on a key posture
Even within Ashtanga yoga, you can be flexible about the practice. This means that we maintain the set of postures but perhaps play around with it more. For example, one day you may want to focus on backbends, and on others, it may be inversions. It is your practice so do what feels right to you.
It goes without saying that we don’t want to dilute our Ashtanga yoga practice too much and lose the overall set sequence. However, if it feels right to focus on key elements of the practice on certain days, then go for that.
Use variety, allow yourself the freedom to mix things upon some days get creative, for example, place emphasis on a category of asanas (back or forward bends), stay longer in your postures, do fewer asanas, or go faster and do more asanas.David Garrigues
At the end of the day, when we stay within the limits of the practice, by focusing on Drishti, bandhas, and breath, then there is no right and wrong. Just what is right for you in that given moment in time.
5. Mix it up sometimes
Practicing other types of yoga is often frowned upon in Ashtanga yoga. There is of course logic there, as we want to keep a consistent practice and focus more on the moving meditation aspect of the practice whilst building the strength and flexibility needed for the next series of postures.
Ashtangis only practice Ashtanga yoga. Right?
Well, as a home practitioner I beg to differ. There are days when I do my Ashtanga practice. And there are days that I practice other forms of yoga. And so far that has been working really well with me.
This could be that it helps give me some needed motivation for my practice and that it helps me feel more balanced.
For example, there are days when I prefer to do a yin yoga practice and there are days when I do a more vinyasa flow practice. There are even days when I prefer to cycle or do a more cardio-type exercise.
In fact, I have noticed two things:
- When I do a cardio type exercise, my Ashtanga practice seems easier and lighter the following day. This could be because my cardio workout helps build some additional endurance and strength that I can then feed into the Ashtanga practice.
- When I do a yin yoga type practice, I feel more flexible in my Ashtanga practice the following day. This could be because I have stretched out the connective tissue in parts of my body that don’t usually get stretched.
And so find what works for you!
6. Have the yoga props you may need
In Ashtanga, some of the more traditional teachers don’t encourage the use of props. And yet, at home, you are your own teacher so you can use them to your advantage and really tap into things that you may be struggling with. Just try to not disrupt the flow of the practice too much.
Yoga props include:
- Yoga blocks, which may be used to help with your jump backs.
- Straps, which may be used to help hold your leg in Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana (the first balancing pose).
- Yoga wheels, which may be used to open up your back and prepare for backbends.
For a list of my recommended equipment for home practitioners that may help you out in your practice, check out this article: Ashtanga Yoga Equipment And Accessories (Beginners, Home and Travel)
7. Understand how and when to move to the next posture
Knowing when to move on to the next posture can be a big thing in Ashtanga yoga as we are at times judged on the posture we are on. It is best to ask a teacher who knows your practice when to move on, however, there is a rule of thumb. When you can do a pose with ease, then you can do the next.
For beginners, it is best to stick with the sun salutations and do the three finishing postures. Once you are comfortable with that, slowly add on the standing postures.
For more experienced practitioners, as you may know how to listen to your body more than a beginner, make sure you feel comfortable in the postures you can do. This means being able to stay in each posture for 5 long breaths with ease.
There are certain postures that require you to bind. These are the 4 Marichyasana (A, B, C, D) postures and Supta Kurmasana. We ideally want to be able to bind alone in each of these postures before we move on to the next one.
You may need to get creative with a yoga strap to start to experience the bind. And then give your body time to slowly open up.
For more tips on specific asanas, Kino McGreggor has very helpful tutorials. Check out her YouTube channel for her tutorials.
8. Have a teacher to travel to
After just one year of practicing alone, I was desperate to find a teacher I could travel to. I had already been to Mysore and practiced with Sharath Jois and so this became my annual pilgrimage.
1 month every year I was back in India, practicing with my teacher with another 80 people in the same room. I really do cherish all the memories from those trips.
I may have received one adjustment every 2 days and yet, my teacher’s presence, as well as all my fellow practitioners in the same room as me, gave me the motivation I needed. And so this month every year charged my yoga batteries.
As time went by I started to seek out other teachers to travel to and learn more aspects of the Ashtanga yoga system. And so I am now happy to say I have 3 years in total that I get to practice with and learn from:
- Sharath jois, Mysore, India
- Kia Neddermier, Paris, France
- Matthew Sweeney, Bali, Indonesia.
One way to practice with a teacher is to go on an Ashtanga yoga retreat. These are a wonderful opportunity to practice with experienced teachers and develop your practice. And also as an added bonus, you will get to meet lovely people from all over the world.
Ashtanga yoga retreats may last from just a weekend to a week to a month! If this is something that may interest you, check out my article: 7 Ashtanga Yoga Retreats in Europe to add to your list
If you are new to Ashtanga yoga then try to find a teacher you can practice with once in a while. Trust me, it will be worth it in the long term!