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Claire Ams

Developing a personal practice

  • by Claire Ferry - Jan 23, 2023

This year's National Iyengar Yoga Day 21 January from Iyengar Yoga UK has a theme of personal practice, and I ran a workshop around this topic last week. I hope our workshop follow up might be useful for you.

Building a self-practice

My husband and I often talk about the rollercoaster of a personal practice – in his case playing the piano and mindfulness practice, in my case yoga (encompassing mindfulness/meditation). The vagaries of practice will be familiar to anyone who attempts to have such a commitment – ranging from wild enthusiasm and suddenly jumping up a level, through plateauing and routine, uneventful days, to those hugely dispiriting moments where you feel as though you....just....can’t.

The journey within a yoga practice, and dealing with the emotional responses, is of course another occasion for svādhyāya, self-study, towards the main purpose of yoga i.e. to still the fluctuations of the mind: sūtra 1.2 yogaḥ cittavṛtti nirodhaḥ.

In our workshop we came up with all sorts of barriers:

  • lack of space
  • lack of time
  • prioritisation
  • not knowing what to do once on the mat
  • not remembering names of poses or how to do them

This is all very human and it’s reassuring that people recognised this thousands of years ago, as recorded in Patañjali’s yoga sūtras 1.30 These obstacles are disease, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance and backsliding.

Here’s some of what we came up with to help.

Starting a practice

First, get on the mat. Make that as easy as possible.

  • Have the mat lying out where you can’t miss it
  • Set a regular time
  • Set a limit of time (i.e. no more than 10 minutes) – it’s very achievable, gives you a sense of accomplishment and leaves you wanting more!
  • Create time – set the alarm 10 minutes earlier? Or do the practice the minute you walk in from work before you’ve opened the fridge / wine / chocolate / tea

What to practice

It’s not always that you have to remember, with your head/brain/ego.

Try taking a quite moment lying on the floor, sitting in Sukhāsana (seated cross legs) or standing in Tāḍāsana (mountain pose) to scan the body and feel how it already wants to move. That might give you a way to start – potentially not even an official ‘pose’ but some form of movement and breathing with attention.

Or, prior to practice, draft up a practice plan with stick figures or names of poses:

  • Use the generic sequence of poses to fit a practice together: standings, shoulder opening & backbends, inversions (anything with head below heart), twists, forward bends, restorative / supine, śavāsana
  • Choose a pose you’re aiming towards and think what poses might help you get there
  • Have a part of the body you’re working on? e.g. more flexibility in shoulders, building strength in arms, maybe counteracting an imbalance or injury? Think about (or ask your teacher) what poses would help.
  • Think of an action e.g. a twist and the group similar poses together and find the links between them. Some examples:
    • Parivṛtta Pārśvottānāsana with Marīchyāsana III (elbow/upper arm over knee and twist)
    • Supta Pādānguṣṭhāsana I with Utthita Hasta Pādānguṣṭhāsana I and Pārśvottānāsana (one leg in front, one behind)
    • Vṛkṣāsana, Utthita Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrāsana (external rotation of the thigh)

Or use videos, instagram, books for inspiration:

  • following a video (like a class) becomes less self-practice, as you’re outsourcing your understanding to some degree – but sometimes we don’t have the wherewithal to motivate ourselves another way, so that’s OK! I like Roads to Bliss on YouTube.
  • instagram/facebook accounts and books can give sequences or ideas as inspiration on which you can then build – try following #iyengaryoga or see who I follow at @iyengaryogabelfast.

How to practice

In your head you likely have a list of instructions you can remember from your teacher or read in a book which can be a good start. You might not think you do, but have confidence, there will be something in both your muscular and mental memories!

Important is for you to feel and notice and breathe. Be curious.

Basic principles are equal action or equal length, creating openness and balance – if one arm is working really hard, what is the other one doing? Is the weight equal in different parts of the body? Compare one side with another. Inside/outside of foot? Front/back of leg? Play around with finding a stability and ease, one of the few cues given about asana practice in Patañjali’s yoga sūtras.

This includes playing with the poses. What happens if you take a longer stride? A shorter stride? Turn your leg out more? Use a block or not? etc….endless ways to explore!

Sometimes just move and make the shapes (fake it ‘til you make it) is what you manage – at least there’s movement and repetition if not accuracy. Sun salutations can be a great start to practice – flow the movement with the breath.

Other times you can slow down and hold poses (even with a timer, or counting the breath) so that you have longer to notice and make more refined adjustments.

Use a wall or other props for alignment cues or to help you hold and investigate poses.

Bear in mind what energies you are balancing that day – tamas (dullness, heaviness, lethargy), rajas (passion, activity, fire) and aiming towards sattva (harmony, present, balanced). We often need some rajasic energy to move and counteract sitting all day. Other times we need quietening, to settle an agitated body-mind. During menstruation, or if you have menopausal symptoms, or if you have an illness or injury some poses are best avoided and others will actively help. Your teacher will be able to help advise.


You can remind yourself to have mini-practices (or at least actions) while the kettle boils, standing in a queue, or watching TV:

  • Vṛkṣāsana (tree pose) or Ardha Uttānāsana (half forward bend) to a kitchen sideboard or wall
  • Stand in Tāḍāsana and pull up knee caps – no-one need know!
  • Baddha Koṇāsana or any of the seated poses to give variation to legs and opening of hips and lengthening of spine
  • Lie on floor – I have a friend who watches TV in Bhujaṅgāsana (cobra)
  • My husband used to stand behind the sofa (that I was slouching on) and put his foot onto the back of the sofa in a form of Utthita Hasta Pādānguṣṭhāsana to stretch out hamstrings and help sciatica
  • Bed yoga – what can you do under the warm duvet before you get up? OK maybe not quite a full yoga practice but some stretches and mindful awareness that start to ease out morning stiffness – Supta Tāḍāsana? A twist? Hug knees to chest (Supta Pawanmuktāsana)? Supta Baddha Koṇāsana?

Quiet time

Don’t underestimate śavāsana or sitting quietly and observing the breath. It is vital in our busy lives to have quiet time for being and not doing. Try sitting or lying down and do a self-guided relaxation or one of the many mindfulness / guided relaxation apps or recordings. With experience you will also develop a prāṇāyāma practice.


These ideas may help you develop a personal practice - I hope so. At the same time we know life is busy and demanding and sometimes we really do have responsibilities which temporarily make a practice difficult. I have definitely learned that while #yogaeverydamnday might sound good it is an aggressive attitude and (in me) can prompt guilt if I'm not doing it.

Instead, let's approach ourselves and our aims to practice with maitri (friendliness), karuṇa (compassion) and muditā (delight), and upekṣā (equanimity) if we don't manage to fit in a practice. For me this is much more motivating than beating myself with a big virtual stick. I can let my yoga practice be my homecoming, a treat and a joy.

I sincerely hope that sharing these tips from our workshop and my thoughts over the years, and gleaned from fellow practitioners and teachers, will be helpful for you. Wishing you very well with it.



Other resources

Great article with tips from many teachers on the IYUK site - tips, experiences and resources

My sequences from lockdown with home practice ideas with downloadable sheets

Pose of the month and practices from Yoga on Tay

Illustrations of home yoga props from Yoga Vancouver

Links to a whole bunch of articles & practice sheets from Iyengar Yoga London

I like Insight Timer as an app both to set times for practice (lovely bell sounds) and for recorded relaxations or guided meditations.


All of these contain sequences for practice – you can borrow several of these from Maitri Studio or ask me. These are all from the Iyengar yoga tradition as this is my practice but you will find your own favourites.

  • Light on Yoga – BKS Iyengar
  • Mira Mehta – various books – Yoga the Iyengar Way is a classic
  • Yoga – The Path to Holistic Health, BKS Iyengar
  • Stretch & Relax – Maxine Tobias – ancient but absolutely covers the basics - was my first Iyengar yoga book (apart from Light on Yoga)
  • Iyengar yoga – Judy Smith

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