I didn’t begin practicing yoga until I was 50, because I was an arrogant lifelong meditator who thought I was above it all.
It took me about a year of daily yoga practice with renowned teachers in Los Angeles to figure out how wrong I was.
Thanks to my primary teachers—Saul David Raye, Max Strom, Shiva Rea, and Denise Kaufman—I got to know my asanas fairly well. I was retired and had a lot of free time that allowed me to take back-to-back, hour-and-a-half long classes, which I often did.
My biggest surprise was that my meditation practice benefited greatly from my yoga practice as well. This was unexpected, because I viewed asanas as purely physical—and when my ability to go deeper in seated meditation appeared, I was delighted.
When I joined the “Sacred Movement” yoga studio, they were running a special one-year membership for $1,200 that included unlimited classes. I practiced at the studio about 10 years and made many friends. A “good” class would have a bunch of people waiting to get in to secure their places, and after class people lingering around while putting on street clothes, jackets, and so forth. So, people meet and become friends.
When I sold my house in Santa Monica, not far from the studio, to move to Maui, Hawaii, the most prominent anxiety about the move was not my kids’ schooling, my work, or settling into a new house, buying a car, and so forth, but separation anxiety from my yoga teachers.
Saul, Shiva, Denise, Max, and others were real dharma brothers and sisters, and I had grown accustomed to them adjusting my postures, listening to their voices, and getting to know them as individuals. Moreover, I had so many friends at the studio—friendships I valued.
I was full of anxiety about being able to practice alone, and Maui had only one studio near my home, a Bikram studio which I had no interest in attending. I decided I would not be intimidated by building a solo practice, started from day one of my move, and gave it the same priority as buying furniture, getting my kids enrolled in school, and all the other details of setting up a household.
It wasn’t long before I was enjoying my solo practice as much as my studio classes. Working solo allowed me to focus more where I needed it, and I could sit right on my yoga mat an hour before and an hour after to practice meditation. I now had a fully integrated personal practice and loved it. All my previous anxiety turned out to be a paper tiger. (And, my kids even got enrolled, wonder of wonders!)
Here are some things I learned about building a solo practice:
1. Begin with short sessions: We cannot expect ourselves to duplicate a studio session right off the bat. Begin with a time-slot that is on the short side, perhaps half of what we were accustomed to. We don’t have our teacher or friends around to keep us on track, and it is not easy to be single-minded right away while going solo, so take it easy.
2. Keep the studio time. If we are accustomed to going to the yoga studio at a particular time, try to maintain that time. Logistically it is probably better, and chances are we biologically have adapted to that time.
3. Use a metronome and timer: A metronome set at a beat close to our heart rate is excellent background noise for flowing through asanas. The steady rhythm will help balance and timing. The use of a timer for individual asanas is good, but I recently switched to using a timer to break up a routine into 15-minute segments. It is purely psychological perhaps, but I find that the time markers make the session move more quickly, and also help pace the individual postures without getting obsessed with precision time constraints (as when setting for individual asanas).
4. Leave aside what you don’t need. One of the blessings of solo practice is not wasting time on asanas we don’t need. When I went to a studio, I found myself working on postures I was too good at. At home, I can skip these and do the work where I need it most.
5. Keep studio rules. Keep the same rules while going solo as you would have in a studio. Make whatever calls you might anticipate before you start your yoga session, and turn off your phone when you begin. If you keep your yoga time consistent, friends and family will also know to call before or after.
6. Periodically take selfies. Once a month or so, bring a camera and tripod into your yoga environment and take some shots or video. These will help keep track of any sloppiness creeping in.
7. Avoid distraction. The studio uses music because people like it, not because it is suitable for yoga. Outside of yoga exhibitions, music was never part of traditional yoga. We can dial deeper into ourselves and our breath without musical accompaniment.
8. Don’t be fickle. Be consistent, and always show up for yourself.
9. Keep it private. Friends will want to join, but sporadically and without dedication. When friends asked to join me for a session, instead of saying yes, come over at their leisure, I gave them a specific time and date. They rarely showed.
10. Challenge yourself. One of the great things about a studio is that a good instructor will challenge us. We have to duplicate that when going solo. Go through a magazine and pick an asana you can’t do and work on it a little every session.
11. Stay on the mat. When doing yoga alone, it is easy to wander into the kitchen and make a tea or wander about a few minutes here and there, maybe put some clothes in the washer, or hang something to dry. Getting sidetracked can be far easier alone than in a studio. I try and stay on my mat the entire session.
12. Keep a good clip. Without a teacher’s presence, we must motivate ourselves. I try to avoid any pauses by moving between different muscle groups, rather than pausing between asanas to rest. When we don’t have our instructor to push us, we must take this responsibility.
I still pop into a class a few times a year to check myself, and I find the adjustments I receive very instructive. But aside from that, I don’t find classes necessary. Studio yoga is good to get off the ground, but once we are in orbit, we should go solo if we want to penetrate beyond the asanas and embrace the other limbs.
The inner discipline that Patanjali’s path presents requires that we muster all our physical and mental resources. The privacy of our own home, a space in a park, or a seaside, where we can be alone with our thoughts and free of any external stimulus will challenge us in a beneficial way because of the self-discipline a solo session requires. But, finding unsupported peace and bliss is the name of the game, whether a Buddhist meditator, a Hindu yogi, or any other spiritually bent seeker.
Author: Richard Josephson
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis