yoga home practice

How To Create A Retreat Space At Home

Getting to do yoga or meditate at home can be challenging.

You may not have much time at home - and maybe your kids/dogs/cats view the unrolling of the yoga mat as an invitation to clamber all over it, and you. Believe me, I completely relate:

It can be very frustrating. But with a bit of ingenuity, you can squeeze in some 'you-time' and even create a retreat space for yourself.  

How to create a retreat space at home

Having a special little space set aside can be like having a practice buddy, just quietly reminding you to take time out for yourself, do a few yoga poses, sit and meditate for five minutes.

Here's my space. It's just a corner of my not-very-big lounge room. 

Peaceful yoga altar - creating a home yoga retreat

I use a few elements to make this a space I want to practice yoga in. Given that I am 100% likely to have my practice interrupted, the feeling of retreat needs to come from something other than actual peace and quiet! 

Four elements of a great home yoga retreat:

  • An anchor for the space. In this space, it's the Buddha statue. You could also use artwork that makes you feel inspired or peaceful, like these from Sweet Peony Press:
sweet peony press namaste print
sweet peony press let it go print
  • Candles. I love candles, especially ones made from natural materials with pretty, light scents. Lighting a candle at the start of your practice can be a ritual that helps you get into a calm state before you've even done any yoga.
  • Intention cards. There is a yogic tradition of setting an intention for your practice - it's called making a sankalpa. For example, making sankalpa to be accepting. How smart, when your you-time might get interrupted! Getting angry about the interruptions won't help, but accepting them? Well, you are halfway to calm already. 
  • Special keepsakes. These help to remind you of good times and loved ones. Life can be tough, and sometimes we need tangible reminders that it's not always so. Here, I have a set of mala beads I got at a beautiful retreat centre in South Africa, and a heart made from semi-precious stone. I also often add in gifts small children have given me. Right now, there's a little stuffed hippo on my Buddha's lap! You could also add photos of loved ones, keepsakes from special places…the options are endless.
special things to put on your yoga altar

Even if you don't get to use your little retreat space very often, it's so nice to take a deep breath when you walk past it, and remind yourself that your little oasis of calm is always there for you! 


How to tell when enough is enough


I do yoga every day.

When I tell people this, they often look at me in wonder, and I’m pretty sure they’re imagining that I spend an hour a day standing on my head, or doing 108 sun salutations every morning.

Nope. Some days I do five minutes. Nothing more. I only stand on my head rarely and I probably only salute the sun once a week.

This is enough. This still counts as doing yoga every day.

Once I finally got it into my head that one minute of yoga as often as I'm able is better than, say, three hours of yoga once a week -- that is, regularity is more important than the length of any given yoga session -- doing yoga every day became easy.

Image via the fabulous  Breanna Rose

Image via the fabulous Breanna Rose

So how much is enough? How often is enough? How dynamic a practice is enough? Is simply lying on the floor really yoga?

Here’s the thing: whatever you’re doing, it’s probably enough. Truly.

Yes, there's always more you could be doing, but just because there’s more, doesn’t mean you’re not doing enough. (This is also true of life more generally.)

Here are some specific signs that you might be approaching (or have gone beyond!) 'enough':

  • It’s difficult to breath relatively calmly

  • You feel exhausted (either during or after the practice)

  • You feel more than a little anxious (either during or after the practice)

  • You find yourself wanting to avoid altogether starting your yoga practice or going to class

This applies to individual yoga poses too. Yes, not every yoga pose will always feel like the most blissful place to be, but you want to feel like you can cope with where you are.

Because when we're coping with where we are in a yoga practice, we can build up the strength and flexibility to move on—either to something more, or just something different. If we're not coping, building anything is awfully difficult.

This is true of other parts of life too, of course, and those signs that you might have gone a little beyond 'enough' are pretty good ones to watch out for off the yoga mat too.

The other thing to remember is that 'enough' changes, on and off the yoga mat. It depends on what's going on in your life—and what's enough for you might not look the same as anyone else in the yoga class or in your life. And that's okay.

So take a mental load off (and a physical one too, if you like): you're probably doing enough.

Sore Back Yoga

Sore backs and sore shoulders are the most common complaints we hear from people.

My back’s sore at the moment, mostly because life's been a bit stressful and when I'm stressed I habitually tense muscles that put extra pressure on my spine.

Physical exercise isn't the only reason to do yoga: I need yoga to help keep me calm(ish).

Sore back + no yoga  = No Fun Sophie.

It's hard to know what yoga to do with a sore back: sticking to a samasthiti practice helps. Sama means 'same' and sthiti means 'stay'. Samasthiti practice involves keeping the body more or less symmetrical. The spine stays in neutral and the back muscles get to relax. It's great relief (and prevention!) for a sore back.

Here’s a sequence Nadine came up with that's really soothed my back. If your back is sore too, try this, and take it slowly. And if anything hurts more than doing nothing did, stop, okay?

sore back yoga.jpg
  1. Start in balasana (child pose) with hips a little off the heels so the back doesn't round. Think of tilting the pelvis forward and sticking your bum out, the same as you would in any other forward bend.

  2. Inhale to all fours. Press the heels of your hands, and the knuckles where your fingers join your hand into the floor. Make sure you're engaging the stabilising muscles in your pelvis (pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominus).

  3. Exhale, curl toes under and come into phalankasana (plank pose) or kneeling plank (don't do plank now if it's a challenge even on good days!). Keep those pelvic stablising muscles working. Stay there for several breaths.

  4. When you feel ready, exhale into Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog), with knees a bit bent to keep the back long. This is a great pose to allow the verterbrae in the spine to move away from one another and ease compression and pinching. Then go back the way you came: plank (phalankasana), cakravakasana, balasana. Repeat as many times as you want.

  5. Next, come to sit, and prepare for table top pose. Keep those pelvis stabilising muscles working. Hold the shape for several breaths.
  6. Then come to stand and practice urdvha hastasana: Inhale, arms out and up, exhale arms down, belly tones to spine.

After that, lie on your back and hug your knees. This is a lovely release for the hips and the muscles of the back.

Finish by putting your legs up the wall, or up a chair if you need something that puts a little less pressure on your back.

A short practice, but an effective one.

Just quietly, I think this is probably my most favourite of all yoga poses. 

Just quietly, I think this is probably my most favourite of all yoga poses.