There can be a lot of obstacles to creating a consistent self-practice, including creating the time and space or just not finding the same energy for your practice as you would in a class. However for most long-term practicing yogis, their self-practice gives them the opportunity to really delve deeper into the practice, to take time to explore poses, to listen to their bodies and to adapt their asana practice in order to support them through life’s challenges and transitions. And for these and many other reasons, it can be the time during which little golden nuggets of insight occur.
I didn’t have a home practice until I decided to undertake my teacher training and I thought it was about time I tried to practice by myself, plus I was travelling and didn’t always have access to a class or teacher. The only thing was I had no idea where to start. I’d been practicing yoga on and off for a long time, but had really started to focus on the Vinyasa Flow style and although I regularly went to classes with the same teacher and had found a sense of consistency in that, the vinyasa flow practice doesn’t follow a fixed sequence or structure unlike the Ashtanga style.
The freedom that this provides almost felt like a disadvantage. How do I begin? How do I know whether what I’m practicing will be physically intelligent or energetically beneficial? And if it all just feels kind of random, where’s the satisfaction? So I downloaded an app and followed the woman’s voice and the pictures of the asanas and I found it pretty dull and the voice gradually grated on me, but it got me started and like most things starting is the hardest part.
After not long of practicing this way, I started to realise that I knew the practice better than I was giving myself credit for. Many poses were ingrained in me and I was actually really familiar with certain sequences as I’d repeated them so often in classes. Classes often begin on the mat, seated or lying down with stretches to ease you in and to gently open and warm up the body. Then gradually we make our way to our feet for Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutations of some form and then we move through more dynamic flows until we start to wind down again and work back toward the mat for final relaxation. I could follow a basic structure that I’d practiced in class and start to dive in and put things together for myself and this was actually quite exciting.
Practicing on my own could also be at times less distracting as I wasn’t thinking about anyone else in the class and instead I found myself thinking more and more about how poses felt in my body both individually as well as part of a sequence. If I wanted to slow down and take a bit longer in a pose to really tune into aspects of the alignment I’d been taught or to focus on the energetic effect it was perhaps creating then I could. I had the space to play about on my mat and figure some things out for myself. I wasn’t ‘switching off’ which can be easy to do when you’re following instructions.
That’s not to say it isn’t educational, supportive or worthwhile going to a class. I love going to classes and still learn so much every time I’m led by a teacher. Any time my practice might start to feel a bit ‘stale’ or I feel like I’ve gotten a bit stuck in my comfort zone, I touch base with a teacher as it always re-ignites my curiosity and sparks new energy into my practice.
What I have found extremely valuable, however, and not just for my teaching, is having learned about sequencing. It’s helped me to think more about what and how I practice both at home and within a class and I’ve found a greater sense of purpose in my self-practice that has removed the element of randomness or of making it up as I go. This doesn’t mean I’ve lost creativity or the ability to practice intuitively, instead it means that I give more thought as to what the ‘big picture’ of my yoga practice is (see the first question below) along with what I might need that day – in short, what it is that I want to achieve both in the short and long term through my practice. Having an understanding of sequencing has made me feel more confident about how to go about bringing that into my practice. As a result I feel like this has actually provided me with more freedom.
As a teacher, I’m always looking to refine my sequencing, but whether you teach or not, there’s so much to sequencing that can shed a new light on your practice. For starters, have you sat down and really thought about:
‘What is at the heart of why you practice yoga?’ Why are you here on your mat? Why do you do this?
‘Where do you want to end up at the end of your practice?’ – it could be energetically for example, ‘more at ease’ or ‘re-energised’ or it could be something more contemplative such as ‘to increase your awareness of your breath/body’…
‘What’s interesting for you in your practice right now?’ What are you working with in your practice?
Being clear on these things gives you a sort of compass that helps guide, shape and ground your experience. Rather than starting with a selection of poses and then trying to figure out how to order and link them, it can be more effective to take a moment to consider these questions and allow your answers to be at the core of your practice. If you’re interested in going further into the topic of sequencing, I’ll be co-teaching a Vinyasa Flow training with Jo Ewen which can be taken as individual weekend workshops which will focus on this along with many other aspects of the practice to help you take your practice further.