I’d like to start up a new thread on the blog focusing specifically on the challenges and rewards of developing a self-practice. If you have ever tried to do yoga on your own, you must know the tremendous difficulty in (a) motivating yourself to even get on the mat, (b) pushing yourself to the same degree that you would be pushed by a teacher in a class, and (c) sustaining the self-practice from one day to the next. There are, of course, tons of other challenges that make self-practice so difficult. How do you sequence poses? How do you do know if you’re doing the poses correctly? How can you give yourself an assist or adjustment? How do you stay on the mat for an hour and a half and not get distracted, say, by the ringing phone?
Now that I’m no longer living in Los Angeles, where I was blessed to have practiced with many great and inspiring teachers, I’ve found that in order to continue my yoga practice with any kind of seriousness, I have no choice but to develop a self-practice. This has been a tremendous challenge, and, from time to time, I will post my relevant thoughts, musings, triumphs, failures, etc. as my self-practice continues to evolve.
The topic I’d like to discuss this week is how the heck you’re supposed to even get started. That is, how do you motivate yourself to just step on the mat in the first place? There are several techniques that I have found quite useful.
1) Yoga Time: Set aside a time that is your “yoga time”, just as you might set aside a specific time for practicing the piano, say, or studying, or even eating dinner. If you just leave it up to your whim, the entire day seems to go by, and frequently you end up never getting on the yoga mat. The thought “I should do some yoga today” may linger in the back of your mind all day long, but for some reason, it rarely materializes unless you also set a firm time for doing your practice.
2) Baby Steps: Another helpful mechanism for me has been setting a small goal, and just seeing where it takes me. For instance, you might set the goal of just doing 4 Surya Namaskara A’s and 4 Surya Namaskara B’s, preceeded perhaps by some breathing exercises and some stretches. This is a much more modest goal to get your head around than, say, trying to convince yourself that you’re going to do 90 minutes of intense, sweaty yoga, especially when your body is tired from a long day, or you’re just feeling sluggish and not in the mood to work up a sweat. Inevitably, once you do get through the Sun Salutations, you will feel invigorated and compelled to go on to more asanas.
3) Relax: On those occasions when you’re not feeling up to it, maybe stop after the Sun Salutations and go on to do a more restorative practice. There is great benefit in this too. If you do some breath work, Sun Salutations, and 20-30 minutes of restoratives, this is still infinitely better than having done no yoga at all that day.