After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little.
“Bowing,” Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
I recently began teaching a beginning yoga class at a community center. It’s a morning class, three times weekly. On those days, my personal practice is cut short. On one hand, I learn as much from teaching as from practicing. On the other hand, I miss my daily luxuriously lengthy practices.
“Home practice” is a popular workshop theme. Students, primarily novices but also longtimers, often need tips on sequencing or simply an impetus. Ultimately, one’s personal practice must occur organically. It can happen early or it can take two, five, or 10 years.
In my first year of yoga, I took three mixed-level morning classes and two noon intermediate classes (they were included in my gym membership at the university from which I’d graduated). They were a big priority and I made sure that my work schedule accommodated my yoga classes. Once, my classmate Ruth, who was also a new teacher, skipped one of the noon classes. She later told me that she felt like doing her own practice that day.
I was a bit incredulous. Our teacher was excellent. Miss one of her classes to piddle around at home?
But, during the next two or three years, while continuing the campus classes (plus more at yoga studios), I also felt compelled to practice on my own. I wanted to redo my favorite asanas, to master the impossibly tricky ones, and to explore yoga in solitude. My “home” practice was actually done at the campus rec center, as my apartment carpet was too cushy and my kitty too ferocious a distraction. I found a relatively untrafficked spot overlooking the gym’s weight rooms. It was still noisy, public, and not exactly pristine, but it became my little oasis.
Today I attend just one weekly class, partly due to inflation (paying $15 to $20 per class does add up) but mostly because I value my solo time. That switch (from avid class goer to regular home practitioner) marked a milestone in my yoga practice. It is also an example of kaizen, the Japanese concept of slow, steady improvement that I discuss in a prior post, “One Day at a Time.” To change a habit or start anew, a switch must click inside a person’s mind and body. It cannot happen merely by doing something because it’s the right thing to do.
My friend Elizabeth says, “It’s like salad. For years I’d eat it only because it was healthy. But now I actually like it.” Salad was once an obligation. Now it’s a delicious preferred food. While she might have eaten it either way, she is now experiencing salad in a whole different way.
Change cannot be forced. You must just live your life, making the right choices day by day. Small changes are afoot, but they might be imperceptible.
Home practice is the cornerstone of yoga. Iyengar says a good book is better than a bad teacher.
Class offers a place for students to take notes, to explore, but it is in home practice that they begin to really experience.
Unfortunately it seems that more and more students feel that if they attend one class per week, there is no onus upon them to do more. As a teacher, I offer to post each weeks sequences on my blog, which takes ages, but hardly anyone bothers to look, let alone practice. Yet I try to remain objective and supportive. Who knows what their path is and where it leads.
As a student myself, I do believe that sequence-building is a small part of what gets in the way of so many student’s home practice.
Often ability to carve out a reasonable time, space and motivation is difficult. Many individuals have children, work and distractions without the space to practice. Often introducing a new part of home routine takes time and thought- realistic and gradual growth will encourage. Instead of expecting 60 minute home practice, in a cluttered space with children running around, the tv on, a partner cooking etc when usually most people can barely find 10 minutes, results in failure… which results in feelings of inability.
Instead, nurturing a realistic expectation of starting at 15 minutes, speaking to partners and loved ones about no distractions during that time, making a space with music, scents, putting a screen up to ‘create’ a yoga room and committing to that practice each week will help foster success.
just a few thoughts from someone who’s also struggled to figure it out along the way. 🙂 we called our home practice a ‘personal Practice Adventure’ as opposed to ‘challenge’ or ‘commitment’ 🙂
I, too, began my personal practice at my fitness center, in the spin room when it’s empty. I still practice there. And I, too, post reminders and descriptions for my students on my website and no one really looks but I never know for sure if someone is getting inspiration there.
Oh, and I, too, have recently expanded my teaching schedule and am afraid that my personal practice may suffer a little. I will have to make more of an effort to ensure that I maintain a practice I am happy with, anyway.
It is always nice to hear that other teachers are having the same experience as I am. Keep up the good work!
Well put, Yogaspy.
In his book “Mastery”, based on the principles of Aikido, George Leonard says the key to progress in anything is to “embrace the plateau”, that is, the period when you seem to be making no progress at all, in spite of diligent practice. It’s just like you say above.
Home practice is talked about so much in the yoga community and so many students find it very challenging (we ended up having an entire ‘personal practice adventure’ over at EcoYogini! 🙂 ).
My home practice began out of necessity- add a few traumatic yoga class experiences (complete with hives and panic attacks) and you got two whole years of home practice. I think I cried when I found a nurturing class again.
Now that I’ve healed a lot of the emotional damage done by those previous classes, I find that I yearn for a studio class.. and cannot possibly afford them. So community classes where I often leave feeling dissatisfied (for some reason studios around here have students or less popular teachers for the community classes, which I think is sad) have become the norm this Fall.
Studio practice truly is for the most part for those who can afford it (here in the Maritimes anyway).
I still keep my home practice (twice a week at least) and have invested in ‘yogaglo’ which has been great so far. Hopefully that will supplement nicely. 🙂
Thank you for this inspiring post. It has given me more motivation to practice at home. I’m just starting out at teaching, and beginning to realize that if I want to stay engaged, I must challenge myself continuously. Thanks again!
Incremental is the adjective for me. Home practice took a huge hit over the last 5 years as my teaching load increased and I became a mother. But there’s hope…
I often think of one of my teacher’s beginning students, a very athletic-but stiff-middle aged man. To progress into uttanasana, he began by folding forwards to touch a phone book (thick one, this was Wash DC). Everyday he tore out a page and figured, in a couple of years, he could touch the floor.
I love that attitude. One page/day at a time…
The Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden book on women’s yoga has been invaluable to me in organizing my home practice. Yoga Spy, how do you handle sequencing from day to day? Do you have a plan for the week, or see how you are feeling each day as you begin?
Good question. I always begin with the same set of warm-up poses, plus sun salutations (which might be either the lunge version or the jumping version, depending on the rest of the practice and also my mood). Then I do either backbends, inverteds, standing poses, typically one of these three categories. I tend to wing it and to repeat the same overall practices. My goal is to establish a weekly schedule, with a lot more variety from day to day. When do I ever practice vasistasana, for crying out loud!
But I do find great solace in doing a set daily sequence, at least in part. There is little that is constant or reliable in our lives, so it is nice to start with the same pose(s), sequence(s), or sun salutations. (Some would find it boring, of course. Different strokes, etc.)
I will look for the book you cite. (Too many books, not enough time!)