Self Practice-  in praise of commitment.

Burra Show grounds

You would think, going to a popular yoga class with a great teacher, that the class would be full of yoga teachers every day, right?  But the reality is, most yoga teachers, and certainly all the dedicated ones, are yoga practitioners first… and being a devoted yoga practitioner means that you have a self or home practice, probably daily, often early or first thing in the morning. You can usually tell the teachers who don’t have a committed practice.

In saying this, self or home practice is in no way limited to yoga instructors- a home practice can be fit into almost any career or vocation. And anyone with a home practice can attest to the benefits it offers.

So what is it that sets home practice apart from going to class?

When you roll out your mat- at home or in a self practice space, it’s your practice… so you can decide what you want to focus on- the breath, a certain asana and the poses that open you up for it, movement of energy, commitment to a set sequence, mindful movement. You name it, it’s your practice!

There’s a whole lot less ego in the room- especially if you are alone. You find your mind stays on the mat and it’s far easier to maintain your focus when there’s not some mad bendy guy or super strong woman floating along on the mat next to you, so you won’t find yourself comparing your practice/body/strength/ new lycra pants to theirs and they in turn won’t compare themselves to you. Similarly, your ego won’t be tickled by the presence of a newbie in class- especially if you are also the teacher type. 🙂 Alone at home, or in a dark corner of a good, self practice space, it’s only your own ego you have to worry about. After a while, if you keep your focus steady on the breath or something else constant, even that should shut up for a bit.

In your own practice, you can explore certain poses at length, staying longer than a few breaths or doing the poses that might help you find depth or strength in the pose.

Along the same lines, you can explore some of the different aspects of yoga within a asana if you choose to hold it longer- the breath (pranayama), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (single pointed concentration), dhyana (meditation), or some of the kleshas (obstacles to yoga) such as attachment or aversion that arise in your favourite or most loathed asanas.

As self practice evolves over time, you really get to know your individual body/mind/self, and in time are far more able to accept that being.

Being faithful to something that’s not always easy- as self practice can sometimes be difficult to maintain-  gives you the sense that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

Here are some reasons that may encourage you to start a self practice regimen:

  • you can take it anywhere- all you need is a mat- in fact you might not even need that, a flat space is enough. ( The image above is from a campground / old show-grounds on the way to The Outback in South Australia- a perfect place for a morning practice while the kids played football, before a long day on the road )
  • you can choose a time that suits you- whatever your day involves
  • you can change that time to suit your schedule when something comes up – a sleepless night or day off for example
  • you can adapt the routine or emphasis of your practice to suit your changing needs- going to a strong yoga class when you have period pain might not be a great idea, or a yin class when you are full of excess energy or motivation
  • similarly, you can choose what kind of practice to do for the time of the day available for you- doing a strong, sweaty class with inversions and arm balances in the evening might not suit your constitution if you find it hard to sleep. Or a Yin or Restorative class in the morning might make you too relaxed and you find you can’t get anything done for the rest of the day 🙂
  • your Savasana can be as long as it is meant to be ( there’s some formula about 5 minutes of rest per 30 mins of asana- something sadly very rare in a class setting)

 

Self practice is the perfect adjunct to GOING to class, and I’m not suggesting you never practice in a group, led setting again. Regular classes are an awesome thing. A good yoga teacher will teach you something new every single time you go to class ( assuming you are attentive) – and every teacher will gift you with something different. Self practice is time to consolidate what you learn in class and have your body learn what your mind has taken in ( your practice of your theory), and to learn things for yourself.

Together, self practice and led practice make for authentic yoga.  It’s a beautiful thing. 

One more very useful thing about self practice is that you can wear your favourite pants with the hole in the crotch and no one is around who cares. 😉 

 

The Habit of Yoga

My family and I recently packed up our lives and moved them elsewhere, from our lovely spacious home in a lonely part of the world to a smaller, kinda crummy rental home in a thriving community. For me, the most important thing, was to claim a mat sized space to call my own in which to practice my daily habit. Without that, I’d be lost.
Having moved from a place with a mini yoga studio to call my own, to a small and grubby room in which I also must have my writing desk and film making stuff and an increasing pile of bills, it seemed a bit of a bum deal at first. But once I rolled out that mat on the first morning, and did my practice, I claimed the little space and I was happy.
How lucky to have a space to call my own, with no lego to step on or under couch dustballs to ponder over in headstand. How lucky to have a daily practice, a damn serious habit… something that is a given, like brushing the teeth. Second nature.
Habit is a powerful thing, sometimes selfish, sometimes obtuse. Always there. Even when travelling, camping, sick, tired, busy, broke, distracted, upset- however we find ourselves.
Without it, we all are lost.
And of all the habits in the world, a self practice of yoga and meditation are the ones I have chosen. What a blessing.

Here is a quote from the illustrious Mary Oliver on Habit:
What some might call the restrictions of the daily office they find to be an opportunity to foster the inner life. The hours are appointed and named… Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers… And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.

On the way to the Outback we camped at the Showgrounds at Burra and found the perfect open air shed to practice in.

On the way to the Outback we camped at the Showgrounds at Burra and found the perfect open air shed to practice in.