We all love a really great yoga class. Even teachers continue to go to classes with other teachers - it is an integral part of practice. The expertise of a teacher, the sequencing, learning new poses, alongside the energy of the group, are incomparable.
I have been practicing yoga for around 5 years. I went to a retreat about 3 years ago with the intention of improving my physical practice and the retreat changed my life.
Why? Self practice.
The retreat was, of course, amazing - everything I wanted/imagined it to be and more. Time away from the stresses, strains and distractions of everyday life to really focus on yoga asana, exploring deeper aspects of yoga such as meditation and pranayama, delicious vegetarian food, like-minded people, and long country walks for starters. However, the best thing I came away with wasn’t a better tree pose or the ability to do a headstand - it was the gift of self practice.
We were taught in the group classes, that happened twice a day, how to move through the sequence as a group but also to tune in to what was happening internally. How to take the body through the range of poses, moving in all directions; balancing; challenging our strength; meditating and chanting. Our teacher often used the phrase “enquiry” – everything we tried was just a simple enquiry to our body. Over the course of the week our teacher made us more aware of self practice and by the last morning we were not led – it was a teacher supervised self practice.
When I got home I was on a high – clear skinned, well rested and enthusiastic. The retreat wasn’t as intense physically as I had anticipated but something inside me had changed.
I started self practice tentatively. I wasn’t sure if it would stick. But it did - not everyday, but most days, and that grew over the following months until yoga became embedded in my life.
Occasionally I would (and still do) use yogaglo.com, an excellent subscription resource, if I felt bored and needed a new perspective or wanted to work on something specific. But 95% of the time, it was me, alone, on the mat. Connecting with my breath, noticing my muscles and joints, observing my thoughts and emotions with more attention- going within.
With time, my repertoire of asanas grew, and I started to experiment with different poses that I learnt in group classes. Self practice also gives you the space to work on the areas of the body that you want to focus on at your own pace and experiment in the privacy of your own home. No-one to see you wobble or fall!
I found that at different times of day, I would do different things. If I practice in the morning (not my preferred time as I am very stiff first thing and definitely NOT a morning person!) I find that I do things more intuitively. My body moves to its own rhythm, without much conscious thinking. If I practice later in the day I feel stronger and more flexible and more likely to follow a set sequence and really go for it.
Some days, even now, I don’t want to do it. I procrastinate - make another cup of tea, ‘prioritise’ doing something else. But once I’m on the mat, have done a few rounds of cat/cow and a downward dog…then inevitably I’ll end up staying.
So I encourage you to get on your mat, at home. Don’t get overwhelmed by thinking “I’m going to do 60 or 90 minutes” and end up not doing anything at all. Say to yourself instead “Just 5 minutes” - start small and see where it takes you. Just you and your own breath, no distractions. My experience is that self practice is where the real magic happens- the going deeper, and coming back to yoga - uniting the breath, mind and body in a totally organic way.