Why I Practice Alone. ~ Derek Schroeder

Via Derek Schroederon Dec 25, 2013

Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana - Person performs mystical "Sun Salutation" yoga stretching exercise on Morro Strand "Church of Kelp"

It’s not just because I’m broke (we’ll get to that).

I practice yoga for one ultimate reason—it makes my body feel better. I began practicing to correct a spine injury without spending thousands of dollars at the chiropractor and ever since then it has taken me on a personal and spiritual journey I never could have imagined. Yoga allows me to break barriers I didn’t know existed. I used to giggle when an instructor would tell me to lift with my heart until I actually lifted with my heart.

But as much as I love the guidance and undeniable energy of practicing in a yoga studio, it’s been awhile since I’ve found myself paying any membership fees. I’m beginning to practice alone more and more for a few reasons:

1. I’m broke.

When it comes to spending money on a membership to a studio versus chipping away at my staggering student loan debt, it’s hard to prioritize namaste when I can just stay at home. I love to drop in from time to time, usually a non-profit center like the Lotus Seed in Portland, to connect to a community and benefit from some instruction. But I love yoga because it allows me to forget everything for awhile, including transactions, and I get the sense that yoga for some people is a declaration of class.

When I’m old and successful and own a studio I will bathe in the luxury of perfume incense and $120 yoga pants, but until then I’m fine with a basement and a record player as my spiritual guide.

Like most things, I feel Americans have missed the point of yoga. I wish classes were filled with middle class mothers or fast food workers who could benefit more from the practice than trophy wives suppressing their espresso jitters.

2. I’m a man.

Or, I guess more accurately, no matter how old I get I’m still a boy. I know what you’re thinking. This is ridiculous. I agree. But, like most people, I have what I consider a healthy amount of social anxiety—there is a time and place for pop culture references—which means pretty girls still make me blush. And though my reasons for practicing are far from trolling unsuspecting yuppie princesses, it’s never far from the back of my mind that I am typically one of the only men in a class, except for a few tag-along boyfriends and crazy Jack Lalance old dudes.

It affects my focus. A friend of mine described it to me as quantum physics—the awareness of being perceived by an outside force—but I know it better as junior high. Yoga is a female-centered universe, not unlike my bathroom growing up as a kid, and like most men I become hyper-aware of that social anxiety when I’m treading water in an estrogen ocean. When I practice alone, my mind is free to focus on nothing but myself. I don’t peek through my elbow to make sure I’m in the right pose, and I’m never worried about looking like an idiot. My pulse is lower and my awareness sharper. I find I can root myself easier and I listen to my body instead of the instructor. Plus I can fart.

How can a man like me complain about being surrounded by like-minded yoga goddesses? #FirstWorldProblems. But that’s not the point. I’m not trying to be something I’m not. When it comes to my practice, if I’m the only person I connect with is that a bad thing? Am I missing the point? That’s not a rhetorical question.

 3. I am in control.

It’s liberating, especially for a man (there I go, more of those gender generalizations) to be able to control the simple things like the thermostat and the music. My favorite thing about practicing yoga is that it allows me to tailor my atmosphere to my mood. My most memorable experiences with yoga are rolling out of bed and actually saluting the rising sun. Or stretching the fatigue from my muscles by the crimson banks of the Colorado River on a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon trip.

I don’t want my practice to be confined to a schedule and my aptitude for tardiness isn’t going anywhere fast. I prefer to take my practice all over the world. Yoga liberates me to stand among the trees, tall and proud; have the discipline and strength of a warrior (yeah right) next to a calm glacial lake and feel the sun imbue me with power.

The critiques of our brand of vain, capitalistic, westernized yoga are endless. I don’t mean to add to them, but I do want to distance myself from them. I don’t think less of any yogi, no matter how rich or disillusioned they may be. I’m not saying it’s unfair that more men my age (23) don’t practice. I’m simply saying that I’m a man, and I prefer to practice yoga by myself, to my own music, often stoned. I hope I’m not doing it wrong…

Take the journey with me (from a safe distance).

Here’s a quick list of my favorite yoga albums:

Van Morrison: Hard Nose the Highway

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: S/T

 

Santana: Abraxas

Jonathan Wilson: Gentle Spirit

Radiation City: Cool Nightmare

Tame Impala: Innerspeaker

ISIS: Wavering Radiant

Hammock: Departure Songs

 

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Assistant Editor: Lauren Savory / Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Mike Baird / Flickr

About Derek Schroeder

Derek Schroeder is a writer from Wyoming. He’s spent his life running through the prairie, chasing peaks and rivers and sleeping under the stars. With a habit of pushing his body to the brink, yoga is the center of his universe, keeping his spine and mind in alignment. He is on a quest to live a life worth writing about, constantly seeking inspiration in the wisdom of the wind. He works on a farm in Oregon. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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5 Responses to “Why I Practice Alone. ~ Derek Schroeder”

  1. "it’s hard to prioritize namaste "

    Oh, exactly THAT … except I'm paranoid and superstitious enough to create my own 'namaste-free' zone. After being overwhelmingly a primarily home yoga practitioner, made to feel "less than" in that I chose to be such. Or, rather, was chosen BY my medical expenses, aging, job insecurity, and living in expensive NYC on what I make full-time at a job in which I am one of the 'little people' who makes an inventor's life easier …

    And I don't have to be a man. I'm a stiff, over 55 year old lady in the alien zone of ACTIVE, NON-SLEEPYTIME vinyasa yoga classes … and treated (or feeling, or both) like I don't really belong in those classes …

    So, this is what I do: I practice alone with just my voice on a playlist of mp3 s I've created, for guidance, including the interweaving of my rendition of what is popularly known as the "woo-woo patter" and the Sanskrit chants, (and alignment cues, affirmations and the like …) that I love so well … Been at this nearly 3 months already. after years of written scripts, flash cards, the CD player with the music … and the occasional DVD/download … So, it is not entirely free of charge.

    [Scratching my head ...] but it beats paying (or paying in heavy rotation) for someone to actually say to me "Namaste" …
    Not even sure if they mean it.

    I mean it–and that's why I don't exhort that word to myself on the mp3 … maybe some day soon.

    For right now, thank you for posting this.

    "The light in me sees the light in you…" imagine I say to you, without the least bit of irony in my voice …

  2. Guest says:

    Brilliant!

  3. Megz1022 says:

    love love love! i practice alone everyday and i enjoy every minute of it and that's what our practice is supposed to be about. Yourself. Your body. What you feel, hear, see, smell. i go with the flow of me. ive done a few classes but its not the same to me. i respect those who do attended classes religiously tho props to them that they can afford it. hopefully they dont think that im less of a yogi tho for not joining them. thank you for this article. glad im not the only loner yogi lol

  4. sabine says:

    Great article – thank you. I think, whatever gets it done. Practice alone. Practice in class. Practice in a retreat. Practice at the beach. Just "do your practice – and all is coming".

    Peace.

  5. terpsichorian07 says:

    I returned to yoga 19 months ago after 4-year hiatus and in contrast to the previous, this time I've been practising most by myself. It feels so natural now. I simply download loads of yoga videos that I fancy, then I "curate" a programme almost every day according to what I think I or my body need/needs. I do take classes occasionally and sometimes travel to another city for a particular few hour workshop on offer, but that's all about it. Decidedly to self-curating programmes. Recently I decided to take just 2 classes in local (international) yoga festival, and indeed, I was so lost. So thanks for sharing this… I still wish that someday I'll do those yoga retreats, but I just feel I need to take time – not only for saving up the money, but for looking the one(s) that fit.

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