What do you think is the hardest part of practicing yoga? Balancing on one leg? Having the strength to hold a downward facing dog for more than 60 seconds? Keeping your knees straight as you stretch into a forward bend? Or perhaps being able to sweep into a warrior pose on a single inhale?
Everyone’s different, and different aspects of yoga may be easy or hard for different people. But there’s one thing that I’ll bet almost everyone has trouble with – establishing and maintaining a regular personal practice. You may be thinking, “why would I need a personal practice? I come to class pretty regularly.” Or, “who has the [time/space/patience] for that?” Or, “my [dog/kid/spouse] would be in the way.”
Practicing regularly on my own is difficult for me, too, and it’s especially challenging right now because of many life changes that are disrupting my routine. But my aching low back and left shoulder have been urging me to get back to it, and a couple of recent practice sessions with some yoga buddies reminded me how good it feels.
There are lots of reasons for a personal practice. Here are a few:
What you need might be very different from what the person practicing next to you in class needs. Say your low back hurts and your class is doing one warrior pose after another – that probably won’t feel so good. Or maybe you’re curious about adding chanting to the practice but no one else in the class in interested in chanting. Or you really want to work on improving your balance but your teacher is focusing on hip openers. Wouldn’t it be better if you could tailor the practice to include only what would directly benefit and interest you?
You can practice on your own schedule rather than on your yoga teacher’s schedule. For several years, I taught a class for stress reduction to employees at a major insurance company. I often noticed that people would walk into class with obvious tension in their shoulders but would leave class relaxed, and I would tell them – it’s great that you’re here now and have been able to release the tension from today. But what about tomorrow? Say the boss slaps you with a new deadline, or you have to juggle staying late for a meeting with bringing a child to a doctor’s appointment. Can you wait an entire week for the next class to relieve your stress? Wouldn’t it be good to have something you can do to help get your equilibrium back, just when you need it?
A short, targeted practice done a few times a week is better than one long practice once a week. In a general class, you might have to go through a number of poses that aren’t so great for you before you get to the ones that really get at what you need. Also, repeating a practice that works for you helps to set the practice in your mind and in your body; it gets easier each time you do it.
Setting up a routine for your yoga practice is good discipline for the rest of your life! Will power is like a muscle – it gets stronger with exercise. It’s really hard to overcome habits, but with intention and determination, your will can get stronger. If you can set an intention to practice, find the time and space to do it, and keep it short and sweet, you can start to build that muscle, and then you can use that muscle for other things that come up in your life. I can help you develop a practice that works for you and then the rest is up to you! I’ll talk some more about how to go about doing this in my next post.