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. 😉 

 

Destination Sensation

 

bw saddle web

Yoga is an inward journey, I fear this is increasingly forgotten. In the yoga studios and gyms lined with mirrors, I’m almost certain it IS being forgotten. It’s true that this is where we go, these studios, for motivation, or for convenience, for a certain teacher or style, an adjustment or two, to be a part of something, for a community of sorts, for a reliable heat source or a mat sized flat space to call your own for an hour or two. Or for a regular pay check without the frustration of self promotion. 🙂

But yoga is also solitary. Actually, yoga is primarily solitary. A solitary, inward journey. Every student coming to class regularly should ALSO be devoting time to self practice. Turning up on your own mat to your own time and doing something ( it doesn’t matter so much what, as long as there is breath and focus).

I hear, over and over, that you don’t have the motivation for self practice.. the discipline — but I beg to differ. If you can come to class you have that drive in you, already. You say you don’t know what asanas to practice. I say you’d be surprised by your kinaesthetic memory even if you’ve only been to a handful of classes.

( Sequencing poses is quite intuitive. In can be ‘pose and counter pose’…. ‘compressive followed by expansive’. And/or a series of poses working one group of muscles on one side of the body, perhaps building up in depth or strength or hold, followed by the other side. Breathing is even more intuitive. Upward movements ask for an inhale, downward for an exhale. The breath wants to be smooth and fluid by nature, not ragged and jittery. Not forced in. Certainly not forced out. Not usually held, but sometimes so quiet it drops away. Focus is all that is needed here. If in doubt just breathe naturally! )

Then, here is where the concept of a quiet practice comes in. A practice doesn’t always have to be based on the constant chatter of a teacher and her generalised ‘blanket’ cues ( as experienced as she is, she can’t feasibly speak for everyone).  Or paced with the prescriptive mantra of the breath of your fellow class attendees. Yoga doesn’t require an external noise source ( your teacher’s playlist ),  defining a choreographed plot line with a musical peak pose moment.

A silent, solitary, inward practice.

Self motivated. Without mirrors or selfie sticks.  Without the internet or a podcast. Without music. Without that hottie on the mat next to you. Without a teacher or his instruction. Without that ‘advanced’ student to follow along, in front of you. Without the back-drop of a rack synthetic hot pants for sale at the studio, or boxes of packaged vegan bars / trendy ( ok, delicious) cold pressed juices, the free coconut water that calls you to rush out of your savasana before it runs out.

Can I ask you to practice alone, in old, not particularly flattering but just comfortable clothes, on a no frills mat from Target rolled out in a little bit of space somewhere, with your eyes half closed?

A silent, solitary practice is where yoga takes flight. For here, without external reflection, the mind is drawn inward and you start to notice, and in time observe, sensation. The feelings of being in a physical body. The feeling of the muscles, bones, sinews, skin. The stretch of the fascia, the rebound. The sensation of the breath moving in and out of the body. And more subtly, the sensation of energetic movement and pattern. Each pose has an attendant sensation. Perhaps a little -or a great deal- different for every body. Perhaps changing every day. The actual quality of the sensation is not what matters. Noticing the quality, with curiosity,  without judgement or categorisation, is what matters.

This is the present moment. This is the gift we are given whilst placed in a physical body. Sensation which always already brings you to the present moment. The start and the end of the journey, sensation is forever present, woven through all experience.