It’s that time of year again: the weather is getting warmer, quirky suburban light displays are appearing, end of year Christmas celebrations fill restaurants and bars around town, and most of the yoga studios are taking a break or running reduced classes.
For the committed yogi who relies on their chosen class for any or all of yoga’s wonderful benefits, this can be a time of dread! This is, after all, arguably one of the times we need our practice the most. On their way out the door your teacher might mention something about Christmas being a great time to keep up your practice at home. What’s that, you might be thinking, do my practice at home by myself?!
Beginning and maintaining a home practice is probably one of the most difficult challenges faced by the average yoga practitioner. If you’ve tried, and found it much more difficult than various ‘how to’ blogs suggest, then you’re not alone, and there are some good reasons that are not often disused in yoga discourse.
Articles giving instruction on how to create a home practice often provide helpful tips like keeping it simple, setting realistic time goals, setting aside a special place to practice, trying online classes, invoking self-discipline, and so on. While these kinds of suggestions are certainly valid and necessary factors, what they don’t address is the idea that attending a yoga class is an embodied and social activity. Yoga in Australia is usually done in a group, in a variety of different locations (from gyms, to parks, to dedicated studios), where there is more going on than the practice of the yoga techniques themselves.
Yoga practitioners gravitate towards an environment that they feel at home in. This may be a fast paced gym, or it may be a quiet yoga studio. Some environments feel more spiritual or traditional, while others are exciting fusions of acrobatics or heat technologies. Whatever your preferred flavour of yoga environment, the place you practice in facilitates not just changes in the body and mind, but also changes in the emotional state. Yoga environments can allow you to feel like you truly belong somewhere, like you have entered a sacred space, or like you’re part of a fun club or community. They might simply feel like that one place in the world that is out of the ordinary everyday realm, which allows space for you to feel differently.
The combination of yoga techniques, done in environments which encourage these kinds of emotions can lead to a sense of empowerment. Yoga environments can foster a sense of trust with the teacher and fellow students, a sense of solidarity, a sense that you’re working towards your goals along with your community. As you observe yourself progressing in your practices, and you receive encouragement from those around you, your body awareness and self-confidence can build. Sometimes this is subtle and may not even be conscious, sometimes it’s overtly encouraged by the teachings or space itself. In either case, when you take your practice home, you can be left feeling like that sense of empowerment is somehow lacking.
So what can we do when our regular practice environments aren’t available? As a starting point, recognise that practicing yoga at home is different than practicing with a group. Embrace the difference in feeling. Try to explore the sense of empowerment that can arise from allowing your yoga practice to be completely self-guided. Experiment freely with music, movement, breath, length of time in poses and the space in between them. Let encouragement and recognition of progress come from within you. Essentially let it be completely about you and your body, mind and deeper self, however you perceive that.
For more home practice reflections and ideas, stay tuned for part two!