One of the most common questions I am asked is something along the lines of:
"I can't practice at a studio and I want to practice yoga. But I am afraid I will injure myself without a teacher for guidance. How can I practice at home safely?"
Well, there's a lot I have to say on that. I'll try to keep it simple. Enumeration to the rescue!
I sincerely believe having a regular yoga practice, whether at home or at a studio, will lead to more overall benefits to your life than NOT having one. Even if you do injure yourself. Because injuries are a part of life. But so is stress, which yoga can alleviate. So is bad posture, which yoga can correct. So is pain, which yoga can help.
The practice of postural yoga is one which involves strengthening--more than any muscle--the connection between the mind and body. So if you are practising yoga, you are LISTENING. This means moving with mindful attention to how your body feels as you move. Move slowly and with a sense of curiosity and intrigue.
This may be a very unpopular stance but: I believe that injuries aren't that bad. They're a part of life. We all get injured in our lives. Usually it's when we're kids and more carefree, and then at some point we get scared of doing anything and start bubble-wrapping ourselves and holding back on what we really want for fear that we might do some minor damage.
The body is brilliantly designed to heal itself. If you begin to feel pain or discomfort or something that just doesn't "feel right", then listen to that, honour that, and let your body heal while you stay away from anything that causes that pain to return. Chances are, your body will heal itself, but more importantly as you discover what things you can and cannot do while avoiding that pain, you'll learn so much!
Injuries are great teachers! If you allow yourself to learn from them. Of course I'm not in any way advocating carelessness or pushing yourself towards pain. Quite the opposite! I'm only saying that IF you do something to cause some strain or stress, then don't see it as a reason to stop moving, or feel you did something wrong. See it as an opportunity to learn.
(Also drink plenty of water, eat anti-inflammatory foods, and get plenty of sleep, which will help the healing process.)
As well as moving mindfully, you will also greatly reduce your risk of injury by making sure you are warmed up. All this takes is starting your movements gently and slowly.
If you go cold into a handstand or chaturanga or wheel pose, then you're asking for trouble. Warm up the body, and get the muscles activated in simple postures. As you feel ready, move towards more and more intense postures.
Understand your intention: why do you practice asana? What do you want to get out of it? What I hope you want from it is to go inwards and learn about yourself. Flexibility, strength, balancing on one foot or on your hands are all things that may come from a regular movement practice, but that’s not why we practice yoga.
Yoga is union: connection of mind and body, connection to the breath, connection to yourself. Asana can teach us so much about ourselves — what our bodies tell us as we move, what our mind's reaction is to what the body says. And this comes through moving MINDFULLY. Not moving in a way to achieve some goal or put your body in some particular shape, but moving, breathing, and observing body and mind every inch of the way.
If strength or flexibility or crazy arm balances is what you want, then I really believe that will come with regular practice, if your practice is indeed regular (i.e. as close to daily as possible) and varied (i.e. moving in a variety of ways). Practice online in as many different styles as you can so you're getting a variety of movement in. If you're doing the same few postures all the time, then you'll stagnate. There are so many free videos and apps for following along to if you need some inspiration or guidance.
But remember, if it's YOGA you want to practice, then you can practice that by sitting and breathing.
Finally, I know there are a lot of scary things out there about bad alignment. Instagram posts with big red Xs on them, or showing two postures as "right" or "wrong". They're intended to be helpful, I'm sure, but I personally disagree with most of them.
Alignment is as individual as taste in music; we're all going to have different preferences and those preferences are probably going to change depending on how we feel that day.
Anyway, the purpose of most alignment guides in yoga are to get slightly MORE out of a posture, rather than to avoid injury.
For example, if you do a revolved chair pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana), chances are your knees will slide away from each other as you twist, and at home on your own, you probably don't notice. In a group yoga class, the teacher may come over to you and tell you to bring your knees back in line, and you'll feel that you have to twist deeper then. What you'll realise is that your hips were doing some of the twisting too, and with the knees glued back together, the twist happens more in the thoracic spine, which is a nice area to twist from.
But is it WRONG or INJURIOUS to allow the knees to slide away from each other and have some of the twist come from the pelvis? No! It's entirely natural. I reckon if it's what most of us do in our first revolved chair pose, then it's how our bodies are designed to move.
Does it hurt? No! Are we going to spend hours and hours like it every day? No!! So how can it be "wrong"? (By the way we DO spend hours and hours sitting in bad posture at desks or in our cars everyday -- so that's what we should be more afraid of.)
Yes, some alignment cues are to avoid injury, but going back to what I said earlier, if you are moving mindfully and not pushing yourself into some posture that feels wrong, then you're only going to learn more about your body and your self, and that is the goal.
I've completely failed at keeping this short and simple. Sorry.
But my final piece of advise is this:
If you are still unsure of your home yoga practice, then seek out some way to have a yoga teacher look at your practice and help you with some of the postures you're unsure about. Go to a class, or buy a private lesson. Remember that with the internet you have access to pretty much EVERYTHING. Yoga teachers don't even need to see you in person! I, among many other yoga teachers, give private lessons via Facetime and Skype. If it's important to you, you'll prioritise it, and do what you need to do to make your yoga practice feel amazing.