I have found the perfect yoga studio: my apartment.
Snowflakes spun like seed pod propellers outside the window of the studio this morning.
“I love practicing here,” I thought. “It’s so quiet, calm, and centering. The music is great, the candles smell delicious, and the teacher knows my name. Class is free, and there’s even a juicer all set for fresh libations after practice. What more could I want?”
At the risk of shooting myself in the foot (and the springy feet of Yoga teachers everywhere), I’ll let you in on a secret: the best practice is home practice.
“But wait!” I can hear you moan, “My place is messy! I’m not a teacher! I’m lazy and easily distracted!”
My place can get a bit messy, my mind is frequently scattered, I am prone to laziness and sometimes I even stop practice to (gasp) check my email.
Yes, I am a teacher, but I still need guidance.
Nonetheless, I have found through economic necessity and time constraints that rolling out my mat chez moi is worth the extra modicum of commitment it takes to practice on my own. I can always tailor my practice to what’s going on with my body and mind. If I don’t feel like pushing myself, I don’t have to. If I feel like hip opening for an hour straight, so be it. I get to control the music. I can embrace svadhyaya (self -study), as no one else is around to trigger my chitta vrittis, judgements, or even admiration. I skip the piece where I try to be awesome to impress my teacher, and cut to the part where I wholeheartedly embrace my inner voice, the one that can get squashed in the onslaught of stimuli that even the most serene yoga studio presents.
It’s nice to remember that yoga is actually free.
We can pay for service and assistance, but we can also practice the discipline of not spending for something that’s readily accessible. I know I appreciate the extra cash I save on classes, not to mention the meals and drinks I invariably consume after class when away from home. Don’t even get me started on how great it is to not be saddled by the Yoga mat I schlep around town in an effort to save mat rental costs!
A teacher friend of mine calls her mat her canvas.
I guess that makes her the paint? Or, maybe she’s the brush. Either way, I get the metaphor: home practice is both creative and exciting.
Yes, fellowship and guidance are vital components of the studio experience. But the luxury of digging deeper and cultivating a dialogue with myself is rapidly becoming a necessity. And I am never truly alone. Intuition and curiosity are my steadfast companions on this inner journey.
One of the most appealing facets of yoga practice for me is the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with the Satguru, or inner teacher. I have always been a tad rebellious (okay, a lot), and have found that I eschew teachers who claim to have a lock on “the Truth.” When a teacher emerges with fans in tow and koolaid to sell, I tend to run the other way. Do I miss out on some awesome teachers? Perhaps. But when I am ready, the teacher always appears. It just happens to be myself lately. And by cultivating this intimacy through practice, I get a chance to nurture myself on a very deep level.
I don’t mean to suggest that anyone should disavow allegiance to a teacher, studio, or specific style of practice. A great teacher (or method) can guide a student to new levels of awareness and skill. The experience of communal exploration is matchless: sweating and concentrating along with others fosters a true sense of union. I get great assists and good jokes from my favorite teachers, as well increased mastery through technical prowess. I will push myself a bit harder when with my fellow yogis, so I grow in ways I may not on my own. Instead of ordering a la carte, I go prix fixe.
I will say that if you only practice asana in a room with other people, you may be surprised at what happens when you close the door and practice at home. When you finish your practice, you can sit in meditation without the post-class chattering that inevitably occurs. If nothing else, you can stop worrying about the way your butt looks in your Lululemons.
It just may be your new favorite studio.
Annelise Hagen is a yoga instructor, writer, and performer. Her book, The Yoga Face, was published by Avery Press in 2007. She lives in New York City, where she loves taking class from a multiplicity of amazing teachers! www.yogaface.net
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Ed: Kevin Macku & Brianna Bemel