What brings you to your mat? What is the driving force behind advancing your yoga practice? If it is in some way shape or form to access your better self then taking up a home practice is something to consider! I mean, maybe what you need to obtain from the practice you are perfectly receiving from your teacher(s) in a class setting but there is something potentially magical you could be discovering on your own.
Now, why would a yoga teacher be advocating a home practice when I would love to see as many yogis in my classes as possible? Because I believe in it’s ability to improve you as a student and practitioner and to introduce one irrevocably powerful element; being yourself. By being yourself I mean to say listening to your (always changing) energy level, mindset, intuition all of which can be summed up in two words: inner teacher.
I’m sure if you are a regular practitioner you have heard this concept of being your own teacher and listening to your body. But when a teacher says that do you adhere to the sequence being laid out for you or deviate entirely? Should you deviate? Well, depending on the teacher and the class it may not be appropriate to REALLY do what your inner teacher is telling you to do. That is where a home practice becomes incredibly awesome and beneficial.
Now, allow me to give you a brief history of my own journey: when I discovered yoga I fell in love in many ways with the practice and now I know that it is because it allowed me to explore and learn about myself in ways I hadn't before and it brought a feeling of contentment & calm post-practice that I could never quite find words to describe it. From that point on I dove head-first into the practice, dedicating myself daily to showing up to class with an open mind and a willingness to work hard but then something happened; I realized that the same rigid thinking that I had initially tried to alleviate by coming to the mat in the first place was starting to show up again in my practice, this was the emergence of attachments to the fruits of a very stubborn ego. I realized some of that initial treasured calm was suppressed. Huh. I wondered how to find that very peaceful state of bliss again that initially had pulled me so deep into this new healthy addiction of yoga. Not that I was no longer enjoying my practice but simply it had changed it’s tone and it was the first time I came to understand that a long term practice was going to have a life of it’s own in terms of ebbing and flowing much like life itself ebbs and flows; we cannot ALWAYS be in state of bliss.
Luckily for me, life had decided to change course and I moved half-way across the country and spent six months where I knew no one and had to make adjustments to my lifestyle including yoga! I am so grateful for this opportunity, despite the slight lingering fear of the unknown. I took some of the local classes but it didn’t feel like I was using this time properly; it occurred to me that I could be spending this relatively short-but-just-long-enough period of time to discover something I would not have back home: MY practice, individual and unique to my needs. Wow, what an enlightening experience. Rewind to a few months prior to this move a friend and fellow teacher said to me, “you cannot be successful in a home practice, you won’t push yourself enough!” well, I respectfully have to disagree! Not only did my practice continue to advance during this time of home practicing but I learned more about the art of teaching through it and arguably most importantly I developed a closer relationship with myself and a stronger union of mind and body; if I am not mistaken yoga really means “to yolk” in other words, “to unite”. There is something beautiful about realizing you are already and have always been the perfect teacher and student of life.
I am not going to say that discovering a home practice was the cure for me finding bliss in my practice again but I will say that it has taken my yoga, more specifically, the very sacred mind-body connection to a new level and through that I have learned a lot. I had to ask myself hard questions like why was I attached to being with a teacher in a class setting when I had the knowledge enough to practice on my own? Well, there is a certain amount of competitiveness in modern yoga, we’ve really stepped up our yoga game as of late and with that comes the good, bad and the down-right obnoxious but as a wise person once said “check yourself before you wreck yourself”. Acknowledging the fact that the ego is susceptible to being engulfed in the spirit of competitiveness (hey, we are all human after all!) is the first step to actually separating from that, in a good way.
Spending quality time with just you, your mat and whatever it is that you are feeling inclined to explore on sed mat is priceless. This is time where all components of the practice get put back into perspective and no longer do concepts like competitiveness come into play. It is the most tailor-made practice you are ever going to have, and yes even more tailor made than a private; although those can be extremely beneficial to have someone else see your practice through their trained eye a home practice is seeing the practice through your eyes and your’s only. How incredible to move and breathe into a space that is being held by one’s self and delve deeper into the subtle body. The inner teacher gains a stronger voice the more you hone in on this skill of practicing on your own and that translates on and off the mat in a powerful way. We should already know that the advancement of our physical asana does not bring us enlightenment but rather the knowledge we gain about ourselves through asana is the real fruit of our labor and setting aside time to practice with yourself for yourself can be an incredibly useful tool on the road to obtaining this invaluable knowledge.
All of this being said, I love the energy of group classes and being with an experienced teacher to practice through the eyes of another and gain a new perspective. I value time spent with my teachers and I am continually humbled but with an appreciation for my home practice. I no longer diminish the credibility of simply doing my own thing; if it feels right it probably is and I trust that now. My hope for all of my students and the yoga community as a whole is that as this industry grows we can still value the knowledge inherent to us all within ourselves. So, come to class and learn, grow and explore with your fellow yogis but maybe throw in a little solo time on your mat here and there too. On the hectic days when it seems there is not enough time to do everything and fit in a practice at the local studio, try staying calm and simply roll out your mat at home allowing yourself a stress-free, custom-fit practice for you rather than rushing to the studio and squeezing in a practice in between being stuck in traffic to and from.
One of the greatest gifts yoga can teach us is to stay in our bodies, in this moment while trusting all of the work is quite perfectly being done here and now. If you find that you are challenged by or even fearful of taking up a solo practice then perhaps it is exactly what you need. Challenge is good and having an open mind is a virtue. With that, I say happy practicing wherever and however you choose to do it!
“Your work is discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”