It is March (already?!). The start of a new year is the most popular time when inspiration to improve oneself is at its highest. Often this motivation fizzles out after a few weeks or months, and we find ourselves back where we started: feeling guilty and stressing over the practice we are not practicing. Anyone there yet?
Like many Yoga teachers, I put a lot of time and effort into convincing people to come to Yoga class. That is because there are a lot benefits of attending a Yoga class. But that is for another article on another day. Instead, today I want to talk about your personal practice.
Why a personal Yoga practice is so awesome:
1. Comfort and Convenience
Yoga is everywhere these days. The boom in Yoga Teacher Trainings has ensured that even the most remote places have at least several Yoga teachers competing for your business. Even so, finding a class time and location that fits into your schedule can be a challenge.
Pursuing a home practice means that you fit your practice into your own schedule, in the comfort and privacy of your own space.
2. No one is watching you.
Yoga trains us to free ourselves from the ego. But this can be one of our greatest challenges, especially after a lifetime of society training us to be obsessed with our appearance. One of the most common excuses I hear from people who hesitate to come to Yoga class is, “I am not the Yoga “type”, “I am too (old, out of shape, inflexible, insert self crticism here…) for Yoga”. Of course, this is a load of hooey, because Yoga is not just a fitness routine, it is a path to heightened awareness and self-transformation that can be modified to suit any body, at any age, at any level of fitness.
However, I can understand where this body image-related hesitation comes from. Type “Yoga” into Google images and what you will see is hundreds of shots of beautiful, young models in sexy, fashionable activewear, doing super impressive things with their seemingly perfect bodies. As a result, this is the image many people have learned to associate with the word “Yoga”. It is no wonder so many people have decided that Yoga is not for them.
Many of us are not in the physical or psychological condition that we would like to be (hence, why we want and need Yoga!). Pursuing a Yoga practice means that we must confront our present condition, which includes our stiffness, aches & pains, our weaknesses, and perhaps not looking the way we wish we did in our Yoga pants. It requires us to face parts of ourselves that may have deteriorated, that feel dysfunctional or even broken.
This acknowledgement is challenging enough on its own, but the thought of facing it amongst a class full of other people can be downright intimidating.
Many people have confided in me that they don’t feel comfortable practicing Yoga in public, that they are afraid of being judged on their appearance and abilities. I receive this familiar expression with both understanding and rejection. On one hand, for the reasons mentioned above, I can’t blame anyone for feeling that way. But at the same time it bothers me that so many people have been led to such a distorted image of Yoga that causes them to feel this way.
Just for the record: Yoga is not about impressing ourselves or anyone else. No one at Yoga class should be watching you or judging you (if they are, shame on them). But even though most practitioners have heard this over and over again, self-consciousness is one of the biggest things that stands in the way of pursuing Yoga.
If you are lucky enough to have a space where you can practice Yoga in privacy, this can free you from this self-consciousness, and provide an opportunity to try things that feel too awkward and uncomfortable in front of others. In your personal Yoga practice there is no pressure to impress. You can wear your underwear if you want, even the holey ones. Never mind those pit stains, let your rolls hang out, make some funny faces. Its just YOU.
3. It’s FREE – I consider myself pretty darn privileged, but I am not ashamed to say that for most of my life I have lived on a tight budget. Those who can relate know that during those times when you are fishing coins from the couch cushions to buy some beans and rice, $10 for a yoga class is simply an unjustifiable luxury. One benefit of a home practice is, it doesn’t cost anything.
Modern society has convinced us we need “things” to pursue just about everything. Before you pursue a Yoga practice you need a nice mat (maybe one with a flowery design on it), some cute leggings and a matching top,….maybe some essential oils and music to set the mood. Yup, those things are nice, but lets remember that Yoga has existed for thousands of years, long before yoga accessories and Lulu Lemon. Don’t let tight times be an excuse for not pursuing Yoga. All you need is YOU, and a willingness to practice.
4. A chance to connect with your inner guru
Every Yoga teacher experiences and shares their own unique perspective of Yoga. Coming to a Yoga class can offer motivation, fresh perspective, and an opportunity to learn new things.
On the other hand, Yoga is a very personal experience. In order to grow we must turn our awareness within and get very intimately acquainted with ourselves, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
This can be a challenge no matter where we are. Learning to maintain stillness and equanimity even in the face of distractions is an important thing we must learn from our practice.
Even the most tranquil Yoga classes have distractions. Its not just you in the room, so in addition to all the self-generated disturbances being produced in your brain’s chatter factory, you also have external stimuli challenging your focus.
Often when we practice Yoga around others we feel pressure or an urge to “perform”. Instead of connecting deeply with what is happening within our body, breath, and mind in that present moment, and doing what is right for ourselves in that present moment, we might find ourselves more focused on how we appear in front of others. This can lead us to compare, compete, and miss the whole point of our practice.
When we can still the body, connect with the breath, silence the chatter of the mind, and anchor ourselves in the present moment, a powerful awareness occurs. In this state we observe, listen, and receive wisdom from the core of our being and beyond. In order to experience this we need to set ourselves free from the expectations and judgment of ourselves and others. When we no longer have to perform we are left with our raw selves, and this is an ideal platform for discovering and communing with our inner teacher.
Are you feeling better now about not making it to Yoga class?
Don’t get me wrong, going to a regular Yoga class is an important part of your practice, and a great way to stay motivated, learn new things, and connect with others along the path.
But a formal Yoga class is only a sliver of the Yoga journey, and hopefully now you are not feeling too guilty about not making it to class like you intend to. And hopefully you are feeling really motivated to get back on track with your personal practice!
Yes, now with all that said, we now have to face the reality that a home practice may not come that easy. Perhaps there are kids, clutter, and other chaos that is turning you off from getting your om on. There are a million excuses for ignoring or avoiding your Yoga practice, and many of them are valid.
Building a sustainable, meaningful, personal Yoga practice is not as demanding as you might think.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I offer the simplest of tips for making Yoga a part of your every day life, regardless of time, space, energy, and mood.