August 30, 2013

Why Practice Yoga Alone? ~ Daisy Whittemore

Yoga Nag is still nagging. Even as the 40 days of one pose a day winds to a close.

Keep doing at least one pose. Everyday. On your own.

Many online teachers and advisors of home practice are much more strict and cautious than I am, suggesting a set routine done daily and committing to a set amount of time, at least 15 minutes.

This is wise advice. But I am a realist and have a tendency to whimsy.

These guidelines make me either not want to practice my yoga at home at all, or make it seem impossible to make it happen. Yes, some days, many in fact, 15 minutes feels like more than I have. In planning the day, I can’t carve out the time for myself. It seems crazy, I know.

But it is true. It is a life struggle, albeit a slightly ridiculous one, but I was raised with more than my fair share of whimsy, without much planning, and it is my life habit, both blessing and curse.

So, for those of you wonderful disciplinarians who can commit to a set practice every day for a set amount of time, I applaud you, I envy you, but I am not going to beat myself up on a daily basis anymore because I cannot be like you. Rather, I am living my yoga, my way, starting with one pose every day and seeing if and where it takes me.

This is a new approach to my struggle toward a more disciplined life with more yoga in it. Remarkably, this current path is working for me. I can commit to one pose. Most of the time. And more often then not, it leads to much more than one pose.

Imagining there are others out in the world like me, I am hoping that this one pose a day works for you too and encourages you to practice. The question that comes up, of course, is why practice on your own? Why not just rely on your classes, one a week, two a week, or even every day? They certainly provide scheduling structure for those of us handicapped in that department.

This is good. So, let me be very clear, I am not anti-social. I love yoga classes. I love doing yoga in community, with the direction of a teacher. I don’t think you should stop doing this and start only practicing alone, doing just one pose a day. I hope you do more yoga, in more places, not less.

But, I am suggesting that—even on days when you take a class—you also practice on your own, one pose at a time.

What is the importance of practicing on your own? Why my insistence on a solo affair?

For you beautiful, obedient types, the ancient yogic texts say to practice yoga alone. Okay. Off you go.

For the rest of us, there are more reasons:

Practicing at home removes many logistics, such as finding a class you like, traveling to and from a class, paying for that class, buying and wearing your yoga duds, whatever they may be, and for many of us, finding someone to watch our kids while we traipse across town to get our yoga on.

At home, you can practice yoga in your nightgown, or even, in your birthday suit.

Practice makes perfect—er, well, let’s not strive for perfect, but how about better, more refined, stronger. Repetition is a good thing. The more you practice, the better your practice will become.

This is a no brainer.

Even one pose a day will improve your practice and your capacity to practice. It may also reduce your stress levels, which is a sweet bonus almost every one needs.

When you practice at home, you can practice what you want. You can pick the poses you love, or love to hate, and have your way with them, uninterrupted, with no pesky teacher telling you it is time to move on to some more chaturangas.

Your poses. At your pace.

Practicing on your own brings you greater awareness of your own body and what it feels like in a posture. For me, I am more able to think about the poses in a personal, analytical way. I consider things my teachers have said, such as trying to bring my left sits bone underneath me, and what the heck that really means, and how I can possibly do it while my other groin stays soft.

I can play around with those and other competing actions in my body more thoughtfully and thoroughly on my own.

Practicing alone allows more room to connect with some of those emotional or psychological layers you have going on within you. These are pieces that sometimes keep me away from my mat, but really, avoidance is no way to live these beautiful lives we have.

So, let’s all hit our mats, head bravely into our stuff, and keep on truckin.’ It will surely make the world a better place.

Practicing with yourself can help you stay more connected to your breath, the organic pulse of you, without forcing, without trying to keep pace with a class, but actually moving in response to your own breath, where your breath currently is, in its present moment experience.

For me, this begins to feel more like surfing my breath, than trying to move in unison with my breath as directed by a teacher or in unison with the person next to me. Both have their place.

But there is a sweetness to riding the natural ebb and flow of me that brings me home. To myself. That allows me to settle into all that I am. At that moment.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Practicing at home, away from the guidance of your teacher(s), often helps you see and feel yourself, your body, and your practice in an entirely new way.

Practicing on your own teaches you what you already know. It can give you confidence in your practice and your ability to do your yoga, both on your own and in a class.

For many of us who have attended a lot of yoga classes, we don’t know how much we know until we strike out alone. For me, my first home practice was a clumsy, overachieving mess that ended in a pile of necessary tears but it blossomed into much more very quickly.

Within days, I felt more accomplished and powerful than I ever had in my years of taking classes.

Practicing alone helps you internalize what your teachers have taught you. One of my teachers, a particularly wise and beautiful man named Moses, once told me the story of growing his home practice. For many months, he would move through the poses, the breathing, the sitting, hearing the voices of his teachers, telling him what and how to do his practice.

Then, after some time, there was a shift, and he began to hear a different voice. It was his own voice, very clearly, telling him how to do his practice. He slowly became his own inner teacher. And so can you. Practicing on your own gives you your yoga.

You claim this ancient and powerful practice for yourself. You become your own teacher, with all of the bounty of wisdom you have about yourself and your body, with your growing knowledge about yoga. This combination makes you your very best teacher ever.

These are some of the reasons that I practice yoga alone. There are more. There are always more.

And there is a world of other yoga practices, such as meditation, that I am not even mentioning (yet). But this is my list for today.

Hopefully, there are enough reasons to encourage you to at least try it, if you haven’t already.

To allow yourself the time and the space to practice yoga on your own, in the quiet of your own space, experiencing the clutter and solace of your own mind, and experimenting with the body awareness of placing yourself in a pose.

There is so much super juice to be had in this process. Nutritious, (ful)filling, and organic substance for your yoga practice and your life.

I imagine you, friends and unknowns, coming home from work, putting your bag down, taking off your shoes, getting a glass of water, saying hello to the pets or people in your house, and then going to change into your non-work clothes.

But before re-entering your world, I see you pause, breathe into your belly, and make your way into a yoga pose or two, any poses that will wring you out from your work life and set the stage for your home experience.

Or perhaps, you wake up in the morning, find your belly breath while still in bed, get up, take care of your bladder business, and then pause, making your way into a yoga pose or two, any forms that will unfurl your body from its hopefully sweet sleepiness and prepare you for the action of your day.

Now, these are the sweet scenarios that my brain creates.

Perhaps they seem like fairy tales in your life, with kids waking you at dawn, or work taking you late into the night. Yet, there are many opportunities throughout the day for yoga on your own. I bet you can think of a few.

Even for the busiest of bees amongst us, I am sure you can carve out a small spot for a bit of yoga, even if it means making an adjustment or two.

Start small. As I do. One pose a day. Every single day. All by yourself. See where it takes you. Give yourself yoga.


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 Asst. Ed: Leace Hughes / Ed: Catherine Monkman

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