Attending a yoga class once a week is not a yoga practice. Attending yoga classes seven days a week is not a yoga practice. Yoga class, yoga workshop, yoga retreat; all wonderful but not a yoga practice. Yoga practice is a consistent regimen of you alone on your mat practicing what you learned in class. If you are not doing this then you don’t have a yoga practice. A lot of yogis have no yoga practice. They get by on going to lots of classes. They get fit. They learn new poses. They get better at executing poses through repetition. They practice performing yoga but they don’t practice yoga.
Yoga class is important. We still need to study with teachers. We still need guidance. We still need a learning environment. We still need help from those more experienced or specially trained. We still need a break from our practice. Encouragement, demonstrations, modifications; all good things provided by classes and teachers, but the yoga learning environment was never supposed to be the yoga practice environment. This is especially true for practicing Slow Yoga. The most obvious reason is that the teacher controls the sequencing and pace of the class. You may not be able to slow down. Get what you need from your teachers on a regular basis but do not confuse class with practice.
Even if we all say we are not competing with each other in yoga class, we are doing plenty of it. We compete with the pace of the class. We compete with the structure of the class. We compete with the mirror. We compete with our former abilities. We compete against our image among the other students. We compete against the teacher’s expectations. We compete against the fear of appearing unskilled, unfit, or unrefined. Believe it or not, yoga class is the only place we can learn not to compete in all these tiny ways, but this is still not our practice. It’s our rehearsal for our practice.
Let’s get one thing straight. You are the best teacher you’ve ever had. You already know your body better than anyone ever could. You know what hurts and what doesn’t. You know what feels good and what doesn’t. You know about consequences. You know your limits. You know your comfort zones. You know your triggers. If you’re already a yogi then you also know some yoga. You do. If you’ve been taking classes for a while you’ve been imitating your teacher successfully or you would have been corrected by now. There is no reason not to be brave enough to practice on your own.
The ancient yogis designed yoga to be a daily practice, practiced alone. It was never designed to only be practiced in the presence of a teacher. It was supposed to be an aspect our lifestyle that would evolve as we moved through the different phases of our lives, changing, adapting, and transforming over and over again. Why are there Eight Limbs of Yoga? Because yoga was designed as a style/method/way of living. We don’t live with our teachers. Teachers introduce us to the practice and then we make it part of our lives, but it can’t happen if we are never brave enough to step on the mat and go it alone.
I can hear the collective gasp going up as write this. Teachers are clutching their hearts in horror. No! No! People will get hurt! This is dangerous and irresponsible advice! Is it? I got hurt cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. I got hurt while playing with my dog. I got hurt as a passenger in someone else’s car. I got hurt during an argument with an ex-husband. I pulled a calf muscle on a run. I broke my foot while dancing. I rolled my ankle on a rock while browsing a farmer’s market. Going forward, am I supposed to only do these things in the presence of a licensed professional? Aren’t they all proven dangers once we’ve been hurt? Get a grip, people. We can get hurt doing just about anything. Lay in bed too long and we can develop bedsores. Poop too hard and we can get hemorrhoids.
Beginners obviously need to use some common sense and build a reasonable amount of class experience. However, one of the most important things we should be learning from our teachers IN CLASS is how to keep ourselves safe. If your teacher is not doing this you need to ask for it. If your teacher won’t do this you need to find another teacher. Any teacher worth his/or her salt will want you to grow and will encourage a personal practice. A teacher who demands that you remain completely and utterly dependent upon him or her is not a teacher. That’s a tyrant.
We build our practice by going to the mat and practicing what we already know. If that happens to be three poses, we practice three poses. We learn more poses in class. We add them to our personal practice, and we keep practicing. Over time we build more and more wisdom in the body, as my teacher Cliff used to say. Write down what you know if you need to. Follow your notes until you can move from one pose to another without panic or frustration when you can’t remember what comes next. Learn to trust that you likely already know enough to warm up, practice a handful of poses (hopefully slowly), stretch and cool down, meditate, and recline in Savasana.
More to come.