A strong self-practice is essential for any serious yogi or yogini. Surprised to hear a yoga teacher (and studio owner!) encouraging you to practice on your own? Don’t be – it’s no different than the ‘homework’ we learn from in our school years. It’s what engrains what we learn in the studio and ultimately allows us to reap the full benefits of yoga.
There are a number of key moments in our lives that are profoundly transformative. Our teenage years are a time of meaningful change where we claim our identity and start breaking that strong bond that connects us to our parents, striving for our independence. Later in life, we might leave home to study, work, volunteer or travel, often still seeking financial support of some type from our parents. And then, there is the coming of age, where we become adults in our own right and become truly independent, both financially and emotionally. All these stages happen sooner for some and later for others, but ultimately it is about growing up, about maturing and taking responsibility for our own lives and our own decisions and actions.
Our yoga practice is similar. We start with a class, we go to more classes, we become more disciplined about our practice. We connect with a teacher or a number of teachers and form a bond. We become reliant on the teacher/teachers for our practice. We might occasionally get on our mats, but feel stranded without that guiding voice that takes us through the practice. So we might surf Youtube, buy videos or find ways of being guided and held.
Starting a self-practice is daunting as it requires us to rely on our own resources which are unlikely to be the same as our teacher’s. Our teachers will generally have years of practice under their belts and will be trained to hold the space and to bring a certain tempo into the class, that keeps the class interesting, challenging but yet relaxing. Being alone on our mats, without that guiding hand, can feel like being a teenager, wanting to gain independence, but not quite able to handle it yet.
A self-practice starts with small steps. It might be a few minutes of breathing, a few poses from the last practice we did in class or a few gentle stretches to bring a sense of embodiment and connection, a few rounds of sun salutations. A self-practice is not meant to look or feel like a class. A few minutes regularly does wonders and starts the process.
Ultimately, the true coming of age in our own practice, comes through self-practice. This is when our yoga practice truly blossoms into the magnificent potential that yoga holds for us. It is not about it being a 75 or 90 minute sequence, it is about it becoming a way of life. Yoga and it’s philosophy start seeping into all aspects of our lives. The breathing techniques accompany us wherever we go mat or no mat, the mindfulness and deepened awareness and expanded consciousness are with us in each and every situation. We are constantly reminded to reconnect through breath, mindfulness, awareness and physical practice. Of course, we are human and at times loose the connection, act out of context, regret our actions. But all of it becomes an opportunity for growth, learning and evolution, as we gain an ability for observation and introspection.