"Ultimately its about connecting with how you feel and actually listening to you and to your body."
Within your practice do you ask yourself the questions, what should a self-practice look like? What should it feel like?
Does it require routine and structure? Can it be flamboyant and scattered? Can I fail? Am I ready?
I have asked these questions, in fact many more questions have been asked by myself to myself during my last 5 years of practising Yoga.
I would say that I have had a personal practice, or my definition of, for the last three years.
For me it has been several things but what I have found is; the best way for me to describe what my self-practice is like is this... it's an exploration on the superficial plane within my physical body and then, with practice, finding myself going deeper into the subtler planes where my emotions, my mind and my inner truth is exposed.
Superficially the difference between a self-practice and a class taught, lead session is that you can give yourself time to explore and enquire the restraints, the issues, the blockages and build-ups within YOUR own body. Of course, in a lead class some of these things will be highlighted however no one will know better than you what is going on with your body.
No one will know better than you what has your body been through; If your body is holding onto issues deep routed from your past and what they are - its only you that knows. You are the one that knows better than everyone else if you are you going through a stressful time; if you have self-confidence or too much confidence; what your insecurities are; what you have been through; what you believe or what you have been told to believe in your lifetime thus far...
In your self-practice you can ask yourself specific questions instead of having the teacher give you a general query for your reflections.
In my opinion I think it’s safe to say either a self-practice or lead practice (if the intention and understanding isn't already there by the teacher or of the self during self-practice) could lead to either you are pushing past yourself and find benefits or pushing past yourself and finding you've pushed too hard.
One of the nice qualities of a lead class is a teacher will uncover something within you that you weren't aware was there. A good teacher could push you a little more than maybe you would push yourself on a day.
Ultimately, it’s about connecting with how you feel and listening to your body - You can have every self-practice but in a communal space anytime you like but it takes practice within itself to really understand what it is that you truly need and what it is that you truly want.
With experience in self-practice we begin to listen and understand well to what it is that we need, what it is that is beneficial for you and not just what you want to focus your attention on on a particular day or a time in your life.
In our subtler practice we again have an argument that we could, in a lead class, get pushed 'too far too soon' as here you are confronted with your mental and emotional states without being aware of what they are before you find yourself being exposed to them in a guided session - This is sometimes found happening in a lead class if the teacher requests that you reflect on certain emotional issues or reflecting on events or actions of the past in a negative sense.
And coming back to highlight this, from our personal practice perspective, if again we do not listen to what our subtle bodies are trying to communicate to us with an awareness and with an observer like manor.
Back when my practice first began I would think that I was a practitioner of Yoga just because I took time a few hours a week to attend my teachers’ class in the nearby town.
I used to think that stretching my body and providing my mind with that little bit of relaxation was a Yoga practice. And guess what? I was right! It was my practice of Yoga at the time. It was enough for me for that time as a beginner.
If people would have mentioned some of the things one could do with their bodies or minds in a more advanced practice I would have never believed them because at this time I was not open to see this potential.
One of the most beautiful things about a Yoga practice is that it is adapted and accessible to any individual, no matter the age, colour of their skin, background, life history and individual unique experience. Yoga is open to anyone open to receive the practice.
The more open you become and the more knowledge you gain through your practice and the more you will begin to understand your requirements.
When this starts to develop, and you find you are beginning to grasp this then it’s a perfect environment and safe place where you can begin take on a personal practice.
A space where you understand yourself and therefor trust yourself to guide and lead you through.
When one practices Yoga change happens, when one is resistant to those changes (examples of the types of resistance one may experience would be that of outlook; habitual reactions; current non-shifting and stubborn perceptions) then your practice will not blossom but remain the same.
On the other hand, if one is open to the practice, open to the change and new understanding then the practice grows and along this journey Yoga actually provides the practitioner little 'gifts' and 'glimpses' throughout.
My practice is not always consistent but something I do find myself doing is ensuring that if it has been a couple of days that I make time to get onto my mat even if the practice is short and possibly not full hearted (due to time constraint or busy schedule).
I know that with this commitment I am, at the very least, working through the Karma's I've accumulated over maybe only that day alone. Working out some of the creases of my present actions so when I am ready to come to my mat for a deeper practice I have already eliminated a few of the constant build-ups of Karma since my last real, self-practice.
After a few years of watching my practice blossom I find that when I have time to really delve deep into myself, I can now actually feel me working through deeper routed issues or actions, some that occurred months or even years ago. This is the time I really feel the shifts - not only in my body but in my mind and emotions also.
"When I have time to really delve deep into my self practice I can now actually feel myself working through deeper routed issues or actions."
Discipline is very important and something that one should practice every single day. Maybe at first it is not the discipline of having a daily practice each day but rather starting with small disciplines like waking at a certain time every day or ensuring that you have a Yoga class that you attend at least three times a week no matter what your schedule is looking like.
This will train the quality of discipline into your routine helping to aid in more disciplined practices like that of a daily self-practice.
With a self-practice you will quickly find that you are giving your body what it needs and not listening only to a teacher telling you the things to do within the practice (whether in the physical form or where it is that you channel your focus, energy and attention within the session), Through this discovery path a group session can sometimes result in not being your personal practice but a collective group practice - Now don't get me wrong, the lead class is at times what is necessary, required and sometimes needed by the practitioner at this time on his/her path of Yoga but its about being aware of this and knowing how to find your personal practice within that collective space.
So find that where it is that your practice takes place, no matter in communal space or alone, let it be that it is you that is the main conductor of your practice, make sure that it is you that has the final say and decides where you feel needs your attention before you even begin on your mat.
You work through YOUR issues, at YOUR pace, in YOUR time.
I must however highlight that there is risks with both personal and collective practice. Here the practitioner needs to approach carefully not to get into a comfortable routine, stagnant or lazy with what you choose to pay attention to during your time on the mat.
As your personal practice begins to develop you find you were only scratching the surface with a merely mechanical physical practice.
When its personal practice that is exactly what it is, personal. You can give yourself time to work through any physical or emotional or mental issues... and the result?
Your practice is constantly offering you gifts, whether it be in your body, whether it be throughout your next days and how you find yourself dealing with life around or maybe even weeks down the line when you begin to respond instead of react and upon reflection of your response you found it was something similar that came up for you weeks before while you practised on your mat.
Of course, if you attend a lead Yoga class you can obtain the many benefits that Yoga has to offer, especially for those who have a consistent visit to their local yoga studio, but I have found that a personal practice benefits are much more enhanced, richer and deeper.
I think that it is healthy for a practitioner to attend lead classes -
This is the place that we as students can learn alignment, new ques, pushing and testing our strength on a day where we are all feeling maybe a little weak or lazy.
It’s a supportive and community space where energy is shared and stored.
So of course attend classes to learn all the things necessary for your progression but also spend time with self-practice so you can make those progressions.
It’s about balance. Its maintaining that balance with the qualities of intention, with understanding and with consistency.
Regarding different styles of Yoga, you will or may have already discovered, is a topic all its own but I’ll give it a little mention in this article...
When I started my physical practice of Yoga I was extremely Yang within my approach. The very first glimpse of Yoga would contradict my previous statement as my first introduction to Yoga was in the style of Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga was my foundation but after a few weeks of dedicated gym studio classes of this style I was gifted, what would be to come over the following years a partner in crime when it came to friendship within the field, a just as passionate about Yoga friend who would swiftly be introducing me to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.
Here was where my practice grew immensely over the space of just a few short but extremely trans-formative months.
Once introduced to the style of Ashtanga I would attend many Mysore style practices and was dedicated, although would seem only for a short while, to my Ashtanga Teacher Matt Ryan.
It was force, drive, the fire in me that allowed my practice to accelerate in this yang manor for the first few years of my Yoga practice and this continued when I began teaching throughout Melbourne studios where one of the perks of the profession was to attend other teacher sessions with no charge. This enabled me to not only continue the accelerated practice but also lead me to discover very quickly the many styles of Yoga today.
Here I was introduced to the styles of Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Hot Yoga, Power Yoga, Iyengar yoga and Acro / Ariel Yoga.
So, I delved in and experimented with all styles. Here I discovered, through self-enquiry and reflecting as to what was working with my body and what was it that my body required.
I learned that of course it’s fun to be the base or the flyer in Acro / Ariel Yoga, sure its playful to be in constant flow with Vinyasa and Power styles and of course full focus on alignment within the practice of Iyengar is not only beneficial but necessary. But here was where I also discovered that I felt as though my body was "made for" the practice of Ashtanga Yoga.
Going deeper I also uncovered that if I was to put my body through vigorous repetitive Vinyasa's and intensive physical manipulation that my body and mind needed to find that balance or was to become imbalanced. Here I found my balance in the practice of, the complimentary to Yang, Yin Yoga.
"It was a force, the drive, the fire in me that allowed my practice to accelerate."
Depending on what is happening in my life completely depends on the style of yoga I practice.
If I find myself going through many activities in my daily life, many things are on my mind and I’m finding that quiet time just isn't in my schedule I will choose the practice of Yin yoga to counter balance my extremely, at the time, Yang style of living.
But if I find myself spending much of my time reading, writing, reflecting and I find things are in a place where everything is running beautifully slowly & almost slightly passively I will find myself, now naturally, urging for my Yang Yoga practice.
Currently in life I am finding myself with the urge for a Yin yoga practice. This maybe heightened due to the time recently spent leading several 50Hr Yin teacher training courses in Goa where grew appreciation for the practice, its offerings and its depth. Or maybe as, at this time of my life, my mind is slightly unsettled due to not knowing what the near future is going to hold for me and that's why the Yin practice can ground me during this current state of mind.
In the future all I know is that many styles will enter my practice.
The styles, like the practice itself, will come to me in waves and depending on where I find myself in my life.
When I liVe a Yang lifestyle I compliment this with a Yin practice and when I find myself in a Yin like life state Yang is where I find balance.
I hope that my self-practice continues with its pace. I hope my attitude remains the same throughout. I hope to always want to enquire and understand more about myself and the world around.
I hope to continue to discover under the surface of my deep ocean the remaining part of myself through my practice or at least continue my journey on the discovery of this.
"I hope that my practice continues with its pace. I hope my attitude remains the same throughout. I hope to always want to enquire and understand more about myself and the world around."
All I can tell you is that which I have experienced.
What I can tell you from my experience is with a little discipline, a little motivation, correctly channelled energy and correct prioritising, as well as a little curiosity an urge to grow and a want to be a better version of what you are today then keep going and along the way all these qualities will grow, they will become stronger and habitual within you.
The practice of Yoga will gift you for your efforts and your self-practice will continue to blossom.
So, I will carry on striving but be gentle in the process and no matter what, always maintain enjoyment within your self-practice in a communal space or in the comfort and company of yourself alone. Strive forth with gentleness. Find your self practice.