Setting the Pace For Your Home Practice

I’ve been practicing yoga at home and am completely hooked. I’ve had no classroom training, but I’ve read books to ensure that I’m performing the poses with the correct form. Everything I’ve read says to perform a pose either for
a certain number of breaths or for a certain amount of time. Since it’s difficult to watch a clock, I usually end
up counting in my head, which I find distracting. Can you offer any advice?

—Geoffrey Gregory, Barbados

Charles MacInerney reply:

It’s worth it to take a class with a good teacher who can help you with pacing, if you can. If this is difficult, consider a yoga retreat or conference. In the meantime, here are some suggestions for your home practice.

If the choice is between counting seconds or breaths, I advise counting breaths. To begin, focus on a three- to five-count inhalation and an exhalation of equal length. Using this method, you can hold the average pose for three to five breaths. Your breath might lengthen as you continue to practice, but this is a good starting point.

Keep in mind that timing isn’t an exact science—it varies depending on which style of yoga you practice. It also varies from pose to pose: You might hold a strenuous arm balance like Bakasana (Crane Pose) for just a few breaths, and a pose like Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) for 30 breaths or more.

Yoga videos or audio recordings can help you set the pace for your practice as well. If you use videos, you’ll no longer need to follow along with your eyes after a few repetitions—just listen for timing cues. Once you have done the routine several more times, you might even find that you have internalized the rhythm of the asanas and no longer even need the sound track.

You could also make your own recording by following a sequence from one of your books. Choose appropriate music or silence for the background and record a chime over it to signal when it’s time to move into the next pose—or record your own script with more detailed instructions. If you’re distracted by the sound of your own voice, have a friend read it for you.

As your practice progresses, you will rely less on the external cues provided by experts and more on the internal cues that your body provides for you. As you become aware of these inner signals, you will learn to listen, trust, and follow them, which will lead you deeper into your own practice.

Charles MacInerney has been practicing yoga since 1971. He teaches hatha and raja yoga in Austin, Texas, and leads retreats around the world. He is also the founder of and cofounder of the Living Yoga Teacher Training Program.