THERE’S A crazy downpour when you’re about to leave and you just can’t get out the door. And then your mom calls on Skype. A village ceremony closes the road and there’s traffic gridlock. It’s just one of those days. You’re late for class and you know that rushing to yoga is counterproductive. So you don’t go. You miss your favorite teacher, your favorite time slot and your favorite activity. Your whole day is thrown off kilter and you now have ninety minutes of unscheduled time.
Maybe today is the day?
You’ve always wanted to. People rave about it. But you just haven’t felt “ready”. You’re dressed, your stomach is empty and you own a yoga mat. There’s space on the floor if you just move that chair to the left. A day like this is when people who feel dependent on attending a class feel the inspiration to begin a self practice. Millions of yogis around the planet begin their day this way, likely including your own teacher. With a little willpower, commitment, motivation and structure, you can too.
Practicing yoga on your own offers many benefits beyond the obvious financial savings and logistical issues of travel. It gives you the freedom to explore poses that you find challenging, perhaps by staying in them longer or doing them multiple times. You have the option to adjust your practice depending on your physical or mental health, without having to explain anything to anyone. You can practice where you want, when you want, and how you want. Practicing on your own also helps develop intrinsic motivation and self-discipline, which increases our overall sense of accomplishment.
“Home practice says a lot about an individual’s strong motivation and high level of commitment.It’s a luxury to go to a yoga class and practice. home practice develops character.” Tim Miller
A self-directed practice offers valuable quiet time to integrate all that is taught in class, which sometimes can just pass by so quickly we miss the opportunity to grasp the teachings. These insights then stay with us off the mat, to be shared with others.
At the same time, you’re developing skills to live in alignment with the philosophical teachings of this tradition. In the quiet of your home space, without the distractions of a studio – music, smells, body shapes, and egos – yoga comes to life. We learn to trust our own ability to guide us down a path that is healthy, balanced and loving and that the guru (one who leads us from darkness to light) is not outside, but within.
“I encourage people to take classes, but mainly for ideas and inspiration— to pick up a few new tools for their yoga tool kit. Then I tell them to go home and use these tools to enhance their personal practice. I see classes as an adjunct to home practice, not vice versa. Yoga truly becomes your own when you rely on the strength of your love and dedication primarily and not on the structure of a class.” Sarah Powers
How To Get Started, Alone
You may consider transitioning to a home practice using podcasts or online videos. For a local teacher in Bali, tune into Daniel Aaron’s weekly inspirational and dynamic vinyasa podcasts (www.radiantlyalive. com). For a global selection of styles and teachers, visit Yoga Journal (www.yogajournal.com) or YogaGlo (www.yogaglo.com) for hours of audio and visual guidance.
Once you feel comfortable on your own, turn down the volume and let your own voice take over. You’re ready to begin your self-practice.
1. Try to practice in the same physical space in your home, ideally at the same time of day. Bali is beautiful and cooler the early hours.
2. Let your family/roommates know about your practice and ask them not to disturb you. Turn off your phone and close your door. Consider turning on some soothing or inspiring music (tip: music is a great way help put distracting sounds in the background, like kids if you’re a parent).
3. Roll out your mat! Start slowly, perhaps just sitting and breathing. Don’t worry if what you are doing is “right”, focus more on how you feel.
4. Starting with a few Sun Salutations helps warm up the large muscles of the body and get you breathing. There are so many variations of Sun Salutations, you can’t go wrong. Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), lift the arms, then fold over, then step back. Let the rest unfold based on memory from class and what your body wants.
5. Give yourself permission to forget and make up poses. Setting short practice sessions when you start, like 15 minutes, supports the process.
6. If it helps, create pre-existing sequences on a piece of paper and place it beside your mat. Stick people are a wonderful way to remember the shapes of poses.
7. Give yourself credit for whatever you have done.
8. Don’t skip Savasana, ever. Never.
Obviously, a self-practice does not have the collective energy of a group class. You miss the guidance of someone with experience, insight and expertise. In a class setting questions can be answered and new territories of the practice can be explored under a teacher’s guidance. Staying at home doesn’t build community with like-minded people either. So, don’t stop going to class, just learn to balance the two, understanding the value of both options.
Repeat each of the sentences at least once, to yourself. Go through the four sentences and then start again, replacing the pronoun. For the second round, think of someone specific and name the person you are sending the love to. For the third round, include your family and community. For the last round, direct your thoughts to all living beings.
Metta Meditation (Loving Kindness)
May all beings be safe and protected
May all beings be healthy and strong
May all beings be peaceful and happy
May all beings be free of pain and suffering.
In the Ashtanga tradition, as developed and taught by Pattabhi Jois, a unique style called Mysore is practiced. Mysore (named after a town in India) combines a personal practice within a classroom setting. Students come together and practice a pre-set sequence at their own pace, under the supervision of a senior yoga teacher, who offers individual instruction.