March 14, 2012

Do What Your Teacher Tells You. ~ Amy Jirsa

Why it’s always easier to go to yoga class than to stay home.

Photo: Julia Manzerova

Have you ever wondered why it’s easier to practice yoga in a room full of other practitioners than it is to practice on your own at home? In class you feel engaged, energized, flowing from one pose to the next, while at home you become fatigued, listless, and find you’re not nearly as strong as you are in class. Why is this? It’s the same body, the same mind. Or is it?

An article written by John Tierney and published in the New York Times in August of last year explored the idea of decision fatigue, or the state the brain enters after making decision after decision all day. Basically, it boils down to this: the brain is tired and, instead of making yet one more decision, it creates shortcuts. One is to become reckless and act impulsively. The other is to do nothing, to just put off the decision, to flop down on the couch and let someone else do the deciding.

So, picture this: you’ve come home from work (where you’ve decided and decided all day) and decide (yet again) that yoga, which is so soothing in your weekly class, is just the ticket for your befuddled brain. Right? Well, yes. That’s true—until you roll out your mat and then have to decide (gah!) which pose to start with.

Do you just go through the routine from class? Can you even remember the routine from class? Music? No music? Turn off the phone? Set it to vibrate? How long should you practice? An hour seems good, but you’re so tired…and on and on.

Do you see the pattern emerging here?

Even the smallest decision (choice of music, say) is enough, at the end of that long day, to put you off the mat. Your energy is sapped and you’ve had enough. The couch becomes the easiest decision you’ve made all day.

Now let’s look at your average class. You probably already have your yoga clothes with you (if you’re coming from work) or you’ve laid them out the night before (if you’re going first thing in the morning). No decision there. You probably have a spot in the room you like, or you get there late and there’s only a spot or two left—again, no decision. The instructor has done the work of sequencing, has chosen the music, the lighting level, and the length of the class is dictated by the schedule.

All you have to do is show up.

Class starts and your instructor leads you through the sequence and all you have to do is listen. Your body follows this guidance and you are blissfully decision-free for an entire hour. The effects are overwhelming: your energy is renewed, your brain is rested, and since you’re probably planning a snack or meal of some kind immediately after class (glucose help sreplenish a decision-fatigued brain), you feel pretty fabulous and ready to take on the world.

Even if your home practice consists of being guided by a DVD, there are still fewer choices to be made in a public class: leave or don’t leave. That’s about it. At home? Which DVD? How much, the whole thing, or just the middle bit? Again, phone on or off? What about distractions? Not to mention temptation—the laptop just a few feet away. Who’s to know if you just check Facebook once before starting practice? In class there are firm regulations surrounding these kinds of distractions and either you choose to follow them or you don’t.

That’s one choice versus tens of choices; the fewer choices you need to make, the stronger your willpower is, hence the ability to make it through a class while at home you feel like you need to lie down after your first round of Sun Salutations.

Even experienced yoga instructors, many of whom are guided by their own inner sense of sequencing and flow, find themselves troubled by this same fatigue. I know I’m always more energized after spending an hour having someone tell me what to do in which asana (yoga pose)—especially nice after spending a day or a week deciding what to do in each of the classes I teach.

Studies show that your self-control (and, I would argue, sanity) improves the more you structure your life in a mindful manner. Have a decision to make? Make it after a lunch break. Want to make a commitment to a yoga class? Pack your bag and throw it in your car the night before. Plan your meals for the week during a leisurely hour of your weekend. Buy a class pass to your local yoga studio and mark the classes that interest you on your calendar. They’re a commitment, written in ink, already part of your schedule.

See? Wasn’t that decision easy?

Read more from Amy:

Sex and the Siddhis: Why We Still Need to Discuss Yoga and Sex. 

Our Great Sage: 3 Reasons Why Stephen Fry May Be the Greatest Yogi Never to Have Practiced Yoga.

Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer and yogi. She makes her home at her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, and on her blog











Editor: Tanya L. Markul

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