The difference between doing yoga postures and having a yoga practice.
It’s been great to see more yoga teachers speaking out about the importance of a home practice. Yoga International and Kara-Leah Grant make some important points about the power of a regular ‘home’ practice.
I loved Yoga International’s comment about the wonderful value of coming together in a group and connecting through Yoga. It’s important. And how your own home practice can deepen the most important connection, the one with yourself.
I know it could be bad for business for yoga teachers to shout from the rooftops about “going it alone, no need for general yoga classes!”. But there are many teachers out there who understand the value of a personal practice and want people to experience the full spectrum of what yoga has to offer, beyond what they can share with students in general class.
My observation in much of what I read related to personal practice, is a key factor that’s missing – one the ancient yogis already spelled out for us – the concept of viniyoga.
The system of Yoga was intended to be practiced according to viniyoga – the specific and continuous linking of practice to the individual and their particular circumstances.
The discipline of a regular personal practice has many benefits, mentioned in both articles. The ability to move at your own pace, with your own breath, without the distractions of 25 other people in the room. This, in itself, can be powerful. But there is more…..
Personalised Practice: Key Factors
Have you ever borrowed a pair of shoes from someone else? Never feels quite as good as your very own, moulded to your foot, intentionally chosen style, shape and colour of shoe, does it? Then how do we expect our Yoga practice to be a ‘one-size fits all’ solution?
Age – the practice of Yoga is about being in tune with the natural process of life and living. A suitable practice for a 15 year old, is unlikely to be well suited to a 50 year old.
Gender – there are many similarities and infinite shared capabilities in both sexes AND we are different. Our anatomy is different for a start and our experience of moving through the world can vary greatly depending on our gender.
Physical & Mental Health – each of us has a unique history and has faced different physical, mental and emotional challenges in our lives. These factors are highly individual and incredibly important in determining an appropriate practice.
Aims – what is the goal or aim of your practice? Is it to relax or is it to energise? Is it to strengthen or to stabilise? Is the intention to connect with unexplored parts of yourself or develop the confidence to communicate effectively with others? These questions are essential when designing a personalised yoga practice.
Time – Do you start work at 5am or have a young baby? A morning practice might not work for you. Choose a time that works for your lifestyle and develop a practice that is suitable to the time of day.
Length – a busy mother of three, a high-level executive and a retiree may have very different levels of ‘free time’ for their practice. This must be taken into consideration, you don’t want to make it another thing on your list that you can’t find the time for.
We are multi-dimensional beings, therefore we need a multi-dimensional solution, taking all these considerations into account. I recently saw three people in one day who were all looking to help relieve the symptoms of insomnia. They all walked out with very different practices. Their symptom was the same but their circumstances varied greatly and required a different approach.
“Three people experiencing insomnia, all required very different practices”
Finding a suitable teacher
There are infinite possibilities for a yoga practice and you, as an individual human, will need one that is ‘just right’ for you. This requires an experienced teacher (keep an eye out for the article: How to find a good Yoga Teacher).
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras reminds us in the very first sutra – atha yoga anusasanam – of the importance of experiencing yoga for yourself. This indicates your experience will be different from other peoples.
Yoga is about changing the habits and patterns of how we think and live. One of the great challenges in self-understanding (svadhyaya) is that you’re using the mind to try and understand the mind. It’s a closed system and it can be hard to see your own blind spots. That is why having an external reference of a teacher to guide you through those blind spots in your own mind, is very helpful.
There’s no doubt that having a guide in the form of a suitably trained and experienced teacher is one of the keys to an effective personal practice.
With the focus of teacher training programs on group classes, teachers specifically trained to design, teach and connect with individuals can be hard to find. Yoga teachers are often taught to teach in a particular “style” which offers a “way of doing yoga” or a standard set of postures and practices, that don’t take into account individual needs.
My offering to you is ‘be discerning’ and ‘do your homework’ in selecting the right teacher to help support and guide you in your personal practice.
(and continue to go to general classes for amazing benefits!)
Written by Natalie Bowcutt