Think of a garden. It is your garden and you want it to blossom throughout most of the year. You want a variety of colors, blossoms and leaves; healthy and vibrant plants growing from one little seed or bulb in the earth.
You will need to cultivate the earth, plant the seeds at the appropriate time, water the plants when required, maybe also protect them from the cold if there is an early spring chill. It all takes care and devotion, patience and attention, as well as a certain level of discipline.
Our yoga self-practice is the same. We need to persevere and be patient with ourselves in order for our practice to blossom, like the plants and the flowers in our garden.
Students often ask me for advice on their self-practice. They truly want to start a practice, but when they get on their mat, uncertainty and self-doubt often kick in.
Questions will arise:
“Am I doing it right?”
“Is this what we did in class?”
“I can’t remember the sequence!”
“I have only filled 15-20 minutes! I am sure I must need at least an hour for this to be effective.”
Does this sound familiar at all? I know that I struggled so much at the beginning of my self-practice, and still do at times. Even just the act of getting on to my mat was a struggle. Suddenly, I needed to do all the things I had been postponing for days; the food shopping, the laundry, even my taxes!
So what is the secret? I have been teaching workshops on developing a self-practice, as well as assisting students with their practice, and I feel that there are a few things that can truly be of assistance:
– Set a reasonable target. If you start off wanting to practice every day, that might not happen. Being disciplined about practicing twice a week is better than an erratic and overambitious practice.
– Create a space where you can practice and go back to this regular space so that your practice becomes associated with it, and the space becomes associated with your yoga practice.
– Do not feel that you have to practice for the same amount of time as your yoga class. Practicing regularly for 15-20 minutes can be hugely beneficial. Research shows that it is the frequency of the practice that is important, rather than the length. Consistency is key.
– Learn your sun salutations. They are a practice on their own. A few sun salutations on a regular basis can do wonders. Do not rush them. Take time to get to know the different parts. You can spend 5 breaths in your down dog, in your cobra or in your lunge. There are many illustrations on the Internet and maybe check out some YouTube videos. Be creative and make up your own!
– Practice mindfully and with awareness. This is what makes it yoga, rather than just exercise.
– Most importantly breathe. Breath awareness is yoga.
– Let go of the outcome. Learn to just be on your mat, whatever the result. Some days your practice might feel amazing and other days it might be a struggle. Just be with what is; the bliss and the struggle, without judgment.
– Trust yourself and go with the flow. And above all enjoy and have fun!
It is through self-practice that our practice truly blossoms, like those plants in your garden. Through cultivating a self-practicewithout external guidance:
- We learn even deeper awareness.
- We learn to know our body, breath and mind more intimately. As a teacher or as a student, a personal practice allows us to truly experience and explore the postures, bringing us to a deeper understanding of them.
- We can take more time to understand our personal patterns, both in our yoga practice, but also off the mat.
- We can tailor the practice to our energy levels or to meet the demands of the days ahead of us and practice an energizing, calming or balancing practice if needed, or chose any other theme that is required.
- A personal practice is deeply nurturing if done with the right self-care.
- By developing a self-practice regularly and with awareness, we are more likely to take our yoga practice with us into our day-to-day lives.
Yoga starts to become a way of life, rather than just an asana practice.