For a lot of longtime yoga practitioners, the final frontier of yoga is learning how to practice at home. It’s not entirely clear why it’s so hard to practice alone, but there’s no doubt it’s a tremendous challenge. I certainly have a long way to go in building and maintaining a consistent home practice, but I have made some progress recently. On average now, I practice at home twice a week (and about four times at the studio). This is certainly no great accomplishment, but it’s much more than I’ve been able to do in the past.
One thing that has aided me through this process is a new appreciation for the difference between “self practice” and “home practice”. In the past, I’ve sometimes used these terms interchangeably. However, I’ve found that making a distinction between these two notions has helped me to better understand what it is that I’m doing when I roll my yoga mat out in my living room. I’d like to articulate that distinction a bit more clearly today, with the hope that this discussion might help others who are also learning to practice yoga on their own.
To me, the defining feature of self practice is not that you’re doing yoga all by yourself; it’s really about self-direction. That is, in self-practice, a yogi makes active choices about what to do on the mat. This doesn’t have to involve an overly active mind — in fact, it probably shouldn’t — but it does place a practitioner squarely in charge of her own practice. In self practice, there is no reliance whatsoever on the immediate guidance or instruction of a teacher. In effect, self practice requires a yogi to be teacher and student all at once, simultaneously leading and following, and in a manner that is unified, coordinated, challenging, and perhaps even elegant at times. This is no easy task!
A home practice, by contrast, is a yoga session that takes place at a yogi’s home, as opposed to some other space like a yoga studio. Yes, a home practice will usually involve just one person practicing alone, but this practice is not necessarily self-directed in the way I described above.
So, to put the distinction between “self practice” and “home practice” in another way, we can say this: the term “self practice” has primarily to do with how a person practices yoga, whereas “home practice” is more about where a person practices.
Why is this distinction important? For me, it helps to clarify some of the challenges I face when I try to practice yoga by myself in my living room. Sometimes, it’s a struggle primarily because I’m feeling mentally and/or physically lazy, and I would much rather go to a class and just let the teacher tell me what to do. In other words, it’s not really a matter of practicing at home vs. the studio. What’s at issue is whether I’m prepared to direct my own practice, or whether I need someone else to tell me what to do.
When I see the challenge in this way, the prospect of practicing alone is much less daunting, because I know that practicing at home does not require me to come up with the entire routine myself. That is, I can practice at home with the assistance of some external guidance — e.g., from a yoga DVD, podcast, or CD. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of products out there that would fit the bill, and most of them are pretty cheap, about the price of a single drop-in yoga class. I’m partial to the Ashtanga Primary Series audio CD by David Swenson. Of course, it’s not quite the same as having a live teacher there, and it’s certainly not the same as having a master yogi overseeing your practice. But there’s still something comforting and reassuring about being led through the Ashtanga Primary Series by David Swenson, even if it is only his recorded voice.
I realize that a pre-recorded yoga class or routine is perhaps something of a crutch. It can be a very useful tool, though, in building up a home practice. This, in turn, can set the stage for developing a truly self-directed practice.
The idea here is not that we don’t need teachers, or that we should strive to get to a point in our yoga where we can be totally independent. However, in cultivating a genuine self practice, a practitioner can develop a new relationship with yoga, one in which the power of yoga is not some elusive magic that only a favorite teacher or celebrity yogi can unleash, but something readily accessible within each individual yoga practitioner. This fact should already be evident each time we go to class — the teacher may encourage, inspire, and instruct us, but ultimately it’s our own effort and engagement with the practice that makes it what it is.
- Beyond Asana in 2013 (yogaisforlovers.wordpress.com)