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For the love of self-practice: why I prefer self-practice over attending classes

For the love of self-practice: why I prefer self-practice over attending classes

Joanne Ewen is running our upcoming 50hr Vinyasa training alongside fellow Senior Teacher, Frankie Culpin.  Jo will be bringing her extensive experience of Ashtanga Yoga/Mysore practice to her Vinyasa training to provide a solid grounding in breath, bandha, alignment, flow and dedication to the practice itself.

By Joanne Ewen

How my self-practice started

Photo by Abi Ponce-Hardy

My self-practice developed through learning Ashtanga yoga.  The traditional method is to practice Mysore-style, which is self-practice with a teacher present.  The teacher is there to provide guidance and support whilst the student takes self-practice of the sequence.

When I started, I took beginners courses and then took led classes to learn the Ashtanga method.  Over time, I was introduced to self-practice, which in the beginning I really wasn’t sure about.  I felt unsure and a little self conscious of practicing on my own and with a teacher watching me.  

As I look back, I suppose I felt a little vulnerable in that setting.  But there was ‘something’ that I loved and something inside me that made me persevere and keep going.  It also gave me the confidence and framework to try practicing at home and try exploring what I was learning in class from my teachers.

The importance of experimentation

I also decided to drop into led classes with different teachers.   Over the years I started to experiment with lots of styles and teachers, from Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow styles of classes.  Back then, it was the start of people in Edinburgh starting to teach variations of what is so popular now: ‘Vinyasa flow’.  

One of my teachers was influenced and had trained with Shiva Rea.  I started to get to experience different postures, new ways of flowing between postures and of course playing music!  I had always been in a quiet room with only the sound of the breath as background music.  

Starting to self-practice was the key to my yoga practice and teaching.  Now my personal daily practice is the Ashtanga method, which provides me with the discipline and inspiration that I need to fuel my teachings.  Personal practice, whatever that may be, is your time where you can work with your body, play on your mat and follow your own breath.  

For me this is where the hard work is done and the basis of the practice.  You can take the time to ‘investigate’ postures and variations, taking time to work out what works for your body.  Personally,  the challenges that the practice brings helps me focus and take on challenges and obstacles that come my way.

Balancing my dynamic practice

Photo by Abi Ponce-Hardy

I try my best to balance my stronger practice with some restorative yoga.  I’ll get bolsters, blocks, blankets, and do a restorative sequence.  If I don’t have time, I might just choose something really simple and stay in it for 10-20 minutes.  I like to practice a guided yoga nidra (yogic sleep/guided relaxation) that I can play or listen to on my phone.  Or I might be in the mood for some background music; I have lots of playlists saved with my favourite tracks.

At the moment, I am also trying to incorporate a separate pranayama practice into my week.  This is separate to my asana practice: 10 minutes when I can sit and do my breathwork.  Not always easy for me to fit in, but I’m trying at the moment!

How I stay inspired

  • PRACTICE- personal practice, whatever that is, keep doing it! Teaching part time/full time can be exhausting both physically and mentally.  But the more I teach the more I realise that I need to fuel up on my own practice to keep my energy and focus.  
  • HAVING A TEACHER- this is constant inspiration.  Someone to have his or her eyes on what I am doing and me.  It’s easy to get into habits and comfort zones so to have someone that guides me and gently pushes me in my practice is key.  This is inspiration to me everyday and I am so grateful.  I appreciate that this is not always possible for everyone, depending on circumstances, but this may be as simple as getting along to another teacher’s class or trying a different style of practice.  Constantly learning and developing.  If you can’t get to a class, maybe taking an online class.
  • STUDY – taking time out to go along to a workshop with an experienced teacher or training.  Doing something that I can switch from being a teacher, I can relax and enjoy a different environment/community.  This is such a luxury for me to take time out.  Before I had Lola I would go all over doing workshops or retreats.  This year will be the first year of me leaving my daughter for 5 nights to go to a workshop in London.  I’m very excited to go and study and get time out.  However, there is a part of me that knows I will miss her so much – 5 days seems a long time but in reality it with fly by!
Meadowlark Yoga

Visit our studio on the edge of the Meadows, open 7 days a week offering Ashtanga Vinyasa and other styles of yoga. Contact@meadowlarkyoga.com 43 Argyle Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1JT 0131 2287581