nuts and bolts, props

Setting up your home yoga space

It’s not always possible to have a dedicated yoga space. If you can do it, though, great! It might be a hallway, or a corner of your bedroom. Even in a limited space, try to keep your mat visible as a reminder that you’re trying for daily practice.

Freddie has no respect for the yoga mat.

I usually practice in our family room where I can keep a mat unrolled with a little stack of blankets. When I see it, I remember what I am supposed to do. It’s just a bit tricky to keep the dogs from taking it over.

Here are some ideas for props you can find around the house.

  • Blankets – If you have a firm wool blanket, you can use that. It’s likely to be bigger than the normal yoga blankets, but you can fold it in numerous different ways to meet your needs. Modern (non-wool) blankets tend to be too squishy for yoga. Big towels work very nicely, because they can create a firm base for, say, shoulder stand.
  • Blocks – Well, bricks. Really. Do you have any bricks outside? Clean them off and wrap them in dishtowels to make them easier to handle. For poses where you need a block that you won’t be putting weight on, you can use tissue boxes, preferably full. Or take some books you know you’ll never read and wrap them in duct tape.
  • Straps – Bathrobe ties, dishtowels, single bed sheets folded lengthways, martial arts belts from when your kid took tae kwon do, and many other items will work nicely, depending on what you need them for. Generally, they should be 6-8 feet long. Don’t use men’s ties – they are cut on the bias and are too stretchy to use.
  • Bolsters – Got an old quilt? Roll it up into a bolster and tie it together. You can do the same with several bath towels. Sofa and chair cushions are good in some cases.
  • Chairs – Best case would be to get a folding chair that you don’t care about and beat the back of it out. But try using your dining room chairs, or a footstool.

Look around for big things or architectural features of your house. Can you use your countertops? Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (backbend over a chair) over the arm of your sofa? Uttanasana (standing forward bend) with your hands on the bottom step of the staircase? I have a half-wall that is a good place to do hip stretches. A hallway can be used for walking up the wall into a handstand.

nuts and bolts, self-talk

Yoga and visitors

We had company this week.  This is when I wish I had a dedicated yoga room.  My yoga space is part of the family room and part of the hallway leading to the guest room, our son’s room (but he’s away at college), and the table tennis cum furnace room.  

Most of the time I am alone in the space and all is well.  When we have guests sleeping in the guest room, I am not very happy practicing in my space.  I don’t want to wake anyone up, for one thing, particularly if I’m practicing at 6 am, and I also don’t want anyone watching me, or talking to me, or just walking through.

OK.  Having written this, I see that I simply need to be more flexible.  I didn’t practice while my brother-in-law was here.  I could easily have done so in my office with the doors closed.  All my props are downstairs, but I can put together a perfectly good practice without props.  The bamboo floor is good underfoot too.

nuts and bolts, poses

Supta Virasana for the flexibly challenged

Deb, who is almost as stiff as I am, asked how to get into Supta Virasana (reclining hero).

Before I get into the pose I warm up with a few other poses.


Virasana (hero) – Kneel down with knees together and feet just far enough apart for you to sit between.  Your heels should be snugged in to your hips. If your sitting bones are not on the floor in this pose, put a block or folded blanket under you.  Make your seat as high as necessary to be comfortable.  If you’re just hanging there in space you’ll damage your knees. If your knees bother you, roll up a couple of washcloths and shove them behind your knees as you sit down.  That gives you a little extra space.  You can also roll up a blanket or sticky mat to put behind your knees for more stretch.

This is also a good pose to sit in while doing arm stretches, and it’s a good TV yoga pose.


Lunge – You can do this with your toes bent and your back leg straight, as you see in the thumbnail, or you can do it with your knee on the floor (or blanket) and your toes extending behind you.  You can feel this working on your psoas.




Those two are the ones I always do, but there are lots of others.  Anything that opens up the front of the hip is good, and anything that stretches the shins and tops of the feet.  One way to do that is to roll up a blanket halfway, and put it crosswise under your ankles in Virasana.  Sit that way for a bit.  Then move the blanket closer to your toes and sit that way for a bit.  Keep moving it down until it’s under your toes.  Ow, but it stretches parts of your body that rarely get a stretch.

Supta Virasana
Supta Virasana

Now for Supta Virasana.  I don’t do the version shown here.  I make two modifications (more if you count variations on propping).

First of all, I only put one leg back beside me.  The other one remains in front of me with the knee bent, foot on the floor.  This is much nicer to the low back.

Second, I use whatever props my body needs that day.  Usually that means a bolster or a pile of blankets folded into a rectangle more or less a foot wide and three feet long.  If I’m using a bolster, I put a folded blanket lengthwise on it and then another one crosswise for my head.  When you get back in the pose, you don’t want your chin pointing up in the air.  Your forehead and chin should be level or pointing toward your chest.  So you may need to adjust the crosswise blanket when you get there.

I keep some other props nearby.  Sometimes I sit on a block if my knees are especially stiff. More often I stuff a folded blanket under my seat – it’s easier to remove as I relax into the pose. Sometimes I put a sandbag on my hip.

To get into the pose, I test first to see how close I am to the props.  I don’t want them poking into my low back.  I kneel in Virasana (both legs) and put my hand between my back and the bolster.  A fist width is good for me.

Then I raise up into kneeling and swing one leg forward with my foot on the floor.  Then I put my arms behind me on the floor, keeping my chest high, shoulders down and back, and head up, and walk myself back onto the bolster, adjusting as needed.  My down knee is usually several inches from the floor and my quads are yelling “Are you nuts?  We can’t do this!”  They settle down after a while, and my knee sinks to the floor.   Then I can relax.  I stay there for five or ten minutes before switching legs.

To get up, keep your head back and lead with your chest, pushing up with your arms.

More than you wanted to know, I bet.

nuts and bolts

Trouble with travel

I do know how to do yoga while I travel – how to find space, how to use props, how to modify the timing.  But finding the time and sticking to it is much harder than at home.   There are too many other things happening.

Yesterday,  at my mother’s house, all I had time for was Virasana and Savasana.  Today, at my sister’s house, I did Supta Virasana, Urdvha Prasarita Padasana, thread the needle (don’t know the Sanskrit for that one), Virasana, and about a minute of Savasana.

I’m having an excellent trip, but I wish I’d be more disciplined.  However, YoMo is a powerful motivator.  If not for my promise to practice daily, I wouldn’t have done ANY yoga yesterday and today.

nuts and bolts

Crabbiness about pants

I am trying to find yoga pants that have narrow legs.  I bought some online that said “tapered leg,” but they weren’t.  Bell bottoms on yoga pants are stupid.  You can’t see your leg, your teacher can’t see your leg, flapping bottoms get in the way.  Plus, I want cotton, and choice of some other color than black.

OK, that’s enough whining.  

It was a good day for yoga. Kim taught a great class.

nuts and bolts, props

Today’s props

I CAN practice yoga without props, but why would I?  They make many poses much more beneficial for me.  Today I used, not including the mat:

  • Eight-foot strap, to strap my elbows in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog), to hang onto my foot in Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana (hand-to-foot) I and II, to hold between my hands in Gomukhasana, and to strap up my feet and hips in Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle)
  • Blankets, one flat on the mat in seated poses to protect my bony ankles, several under me in a seated twist I can’t remember the name of but possible a variation of Ardha Matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes, no, I don’t know why), under my block to raise it just a bit in Virasana (hero), and under my head in Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle).
  • Blocks, to help me reach the floor in Trikonasana (triangle) and Ardha Chandrasana (half moon), under my hips in Virasana (hero), and on the arm of a chair as a place to put my foot in Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana (hand-to-foot) I and II.
  • Chair, see above.
  • Wall, for wall dog.
  • Bolster, under me in Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle).
  • Ropes, to do a supported version of Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog).  I don’t actually have my ropes adjusted properly, and it drives me nuts.  The knots are very tight, and I can’t undo them myself, so I’ve just worked around the ones that are too short and the ones that are too long.  Really, I should fix them once and for all.  They’ve been wrong since we moved into this house three years ago.

Adho Mukha Svanasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana I
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana I

tthita Hasta Padangusthasana II
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana II

Supta Baddha Konasana


Ardha Matsyendrasana I
Ardha Matsyendrasana I

Utthita Trikonasana
Utthita Trikonasana

Ardha Chandrasana
Ardha Chandrasana

mulling things over, nuts and bolts

Getting motivated, plus email

In class yesterday we talked about home practice, and how hard it is to make yourself do it.  It is hard, and it’s good if we help each other.  Kim touted my blog, thank you, Kim!

A couple of people asked if there was any kind of email reminder that would make them do yoga.  I couldn’t think of exactly that, but it motivated me to add an email subscription link (see it there?  over at the top right?) for people who don’t use a blog reader.

(And why don’t you use a reader?  It’s so handy.  Criminy!  I’ve put the instructions right up in the tab at the top called “How to read blogs”.  Come onnnn!  Be brave!  Just try it!)

Jim talked about the benefits he gets from home practice – moving better the whole rest of the day, feeling good even when you’re old and creaky.  I agree.

I started this blog when I signed up for WoYoPracMo.  That’s World Yoga Practice Month, which was last January.  In WoYoPracMo, you commit to practicing yoga every day for a month.  There’s no penalty for not doing it, and nobody will know if you don’t, but it’s an excellent internal motivator.

Now WoYoPracMo is every month, which for me removes some urgency.  I’d rather know there’s an end point, and then keep going on my own, I guess.

I wonder if we should have a local YoPracMo.  KanYoPracMo?

mulling things over, nuts and bolts, self-talk

Face yoga again

Now that I wrote about relaxing my face, I’m realizing how much farther I have to go.  My practice these days remains pretty much the same, and will until the sciatica goes away and/or the Lyme arthritis in my arms and hands gets better.  That means I’m getting to know this subset of asanas pretty darn well.

Smiling while practicing isn’t exactly what I mean.  It’s not some big grin.  But when I just move the corners of my mouth up a teeny bit, probably an imperceptible amount if you’re looking at me, I do feel my face relax.

When my face relaxes, I can feel shifts in the rest of my body.  In Trikonasana, for example, my shoulders widen a bit more, and I can make that subtle twist in the middle of my back just a tad more flexibly.

But in this morning’s practice I noticed, especially in Supta Padangusthasana, that my neck was way too engaged, and my head had rolled up in a strange way, independent of relaxing my face.  That dang neck is always wanting to run the show!  So that’s the next little subtlety I’m going to try to pay attention to.

nuts and bolts

Yoga books

I seem to have amassed a rather large yoga library, not exactly on purpose. Most of my books are downstairs in the room where I practice, but I have a little pile beside the bed. At any given time I am reading a novel, something on web development, a New Yorker (because my father-in-law gives me his old ones), possibly something on spirituality or writing or both, and a yoga book or magazine.

My current bedside yoga books are:

  • Light on Life, by B.K.S. Iyengar. I have to confess I’ve had this beside the bed for a long time and have only read a teeny bit.
  • Yin Yoga, by Paul Grilley. I’ve read this a couple of times and really like it.
  • Recovery Yoga, by Sam Dworkis. I just got this, and haven’t had time to read much. I want to read the whole thing through before I start applying it to my own practice. Silly me, I keep thinking that I’m going to heal up miraculously and not need any recovery anything.
  • Yoga Anatomy, by Leslie Kaminoff. Excellent reference book! But it’s time for it to go downstairs to my yoga library. I’ve gone through it, and now it’s only inertia that keeps the book beside the bed.
  • Yoga as Medicine, by Timothy McCall. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s divided into chapters by illness or condition, and for each chapter, the author interviews one yoga teacher (mostly well-known) who has worked with that condition. There’s general information about the condition, and about the teacher’s approach, a case study, and at least one sequence. I read it all the way through, put it downstairs in the yoga library, and then got it back out again on the advice of my sister when the Lyme arthritis reared its ugly head.

I keep wishing I could read and do yoga at the same time, but it seems counterproductive to the going-inward, paying-attention aspects of yoga.