ME, MYSELF, & YOGA: THE REAL MAGIC HAPPENS AT HOME
It’s Friday night at my apartment. I light some candles, throw on some tunes, and strip down to my skibbies. Things are about to get sexy. It’s yoga time, baby.
I used to strictly think of yoga as a group thing. I loved the variety of trying different styles with experienced and trustworthy teachers. Gimme that Vinyasa, that Hatha, that Yin! I was also addicted to the joy of meeting like-minded classmates who lived life on chill mode. I rolled out the mat at home once in a blue moon, but practicing solo didn’t make me “ooh,” “ahh,” or “OH. YES.” like it does now.
THEN ALONG CAME AN ENCHANTRESS …
In 2014 while living in Thailand, I took a Vinyasa class with an instructor who was everything I’d ever wanted in a yoga teacher. She was knowledgeable, skilled, and had a glittering personality that radiated playfulness and compassion. I was hooked immediately as a regular student, and leaped at the chance to take her 200-hour yoga teacher training course the following year.
Two of the most important things I learned from her over the years were, first, that meditation is a serious game changer in disguise, and second, that self-practice is the bee’s knees, only better. “Be selfish,” she said, “about putting aside time for your own practice. Don’t let yoga feel like a job just because you teach it.”
Boy oh boy, she was spot on. Since then I’ve developed an at-home solo practice that fits me like a little black dress, and I encourage all yoga lovers to do the same. If you haven’t developed a close and intimate relationship with your yogic “me time” yet, I feel compelled to inform you that you are missing out on a transformational experience. I’ve heard a few excuses from fellow yogis for eschewing self-practice.
“I don’t have the self-discipline to practice solo.”
“I need the guidance of a teacher.”
“That sounds kind of boring…”
OH. YES. YOU. CAN!
Now, I’m not advocating that anyone ditch classes taught by certified teachers. You need to know what you’re doing to avoid injuries and get value out of practicing alone, and it’s always good to learn new skills from the pros. Once you’ve got the basics down though, it’s time to supplement your yoga hustle with a customized routine, I say! Why should you? Ooh goody, I’m glad you asked…
1) CHOOSE YOUR MOVES.
We all have a handful of poses we love. I could tree and triangle all damn day. When you practice alone, you can liberally sprinkle your sequence with poses that give your body the good stuff.
We also have poses we personally loathe, and there is solid value in challenging oneself to grow by doing them in class with an instructor. (You never know, those hated postures could morph into favorites in the future!) But YOU are the President of Self-practice Land and have executive authority to leave any pose out, just because you feel like it. Bam! Frustration banished.
You can also use your solo practice to hone the poses you haven’t quite grasped yet. Carve your warrior two until it resembles the stance of a glowing Greek god. Stick that handstand, carry it to class, and nail it for all to see. The satisfaction of perfecting something you’ve consistently worked on lasts forever.
2) CUSTOMIZE YOUR VIBE.
I used to teach private Vinyasa lessons to a friend. One day I threw on Nine Inch Nails as background music to motivate the mood. Trent Reznor’s growl injects me with invincibility. The drums make me want to push, sweat, and grind my yoga into a deadly weapon. The guitar has me sweeping up and back into reverse warrior like I just Beyoncé’d my way to the top of a frickin’ mountain. Get out the way, I came to SLAY!
My student, apparently, did not feel the same way. “Could we, uh, listen to something with less screaming?” Oh … right! Fair enough.
Your self-practice is a Bob Ross painting. It’s your happy little world. Design it just how you like it, because mistakes do not exist here. You can choose to keep the ambiance quintessentially Zen. Light candles, set out some rosy aroma oil, and whip out exquisite poses while Enya sets you off on an epic eargasm. Or, you can go full Arnold Schwarzenegger on a death-metal practice packed with power postures. It is your vibe and you decide!
3) TAKE YOUR TIME. OR NOT.
I once took an Ashtanga class that made me want to break things. The teacher was trying to win some sort of invisible race, instructing us to fly through poses in half-second increments. I had no time to check my alignment or melt into the full extension of each stretch. “I just got here, let me enjoy this!” my soul screamed for an irked 80 minutes. This instructor’s Speedy Gonzales approach was not for me. I discovered that day that I prefer to practice yoga in the same way I like to kiss and eat chocolate cake: slowly and sumptuously.
Whether you like it fast or slow, timing can have a huge effect on your yoga experience. We’ve all felt the panic of being instructed to hold a difficult pose for what feels like an eternity, or the awkwardness of trying to match the pace of our breathing with the inhale/exhale prompts from the teacher, only to end up blue in the face. As I mentioned before, challenges are good, but too much difficulty can make yoga feel like torture instead of a beautifully wrapped gift to oneself. None of that stress is present in self-practice. You can take as much or as little time as you like with your postures and breathing. No one will mind.
4) TUNE IN WITH YOUR INTUITION.
Albert Einstein once said the following:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Einstein, you’re a genius!
Our intuition is nothing short of magical. It is the inherent intelligence of the universe communicating from within us. It speaks the language of energy and can successfully guide us in ways that the logical mind will never be able to make sense of. Few things in life are more valuable than this tool, and it pays to get in touch with it.
To be a true yoga Jedi you must learn to use the Force, Luke. Leading your own practice will help you strengthen your connection with your intuitive nature. By following your feelings, you’ll begin to chain your poses together in the way that feels best. Your body knows what’s good for it, so go with your gut and your mood will follow. “I think I want to take this stretch a bit further … It’d feel so good to follow this pose with a backbend … oh god yes, witness this brilliance!” May the Force be with you, yogis.
5) GO FROM CONSUMER TO CREATOR.
Our bodies and minds are programmed for consumption. From morning to night we ingest food, water, double cappuccinos, and the thoughts and opinions of other people. It’s easy for the brain to go on autopilot in response to this habit. Creativity has become a precious commodity that doesn’t come naturally to most people, but it is the creators of the world who shape the way things are. Every (wo)man-made thing around you started as an idea in someone else’s head. By becoming creators as well as consumers, we become active contributors to our communities.
Experimenting with a yoga self-practice will help sharpen your creativity skills. Your brain gets a workout every time it jigsaw puzzles individual poses together into a cohesive flowing sequence. You may also choose to add your own flair to invent original movements or postures that have never been seen before! Use your imagination. Break all the rules and remake your own.
6) FORTIFY YOUR INDEPENDENCE.
Living life without a sense of independence is like driving with the parking brake on. How can you operate with flow and efficiency if you’re constantly looking to others for approval? To experience lasting satisfaction, you must feel comfortable doing what YOU want to do, rather than looking to others to guide and legitimize you. Make choices that feel good to you and have confidence in them, regardless of what those around you think.
Don’t limit yourself by craving the green light from a professional instructor at all times. It’s important to learn how to practice safely and efficiently in class, but depending too much on a teacher to guide your relationship with yoga can be a slippery slope into a deep dark pit of validation addiction. Remove neediness and insecurity from your yoga practice, as they defeat the point by turning a sweet thing sour.
7) PINPOINT YOUR YOGA PURPOSE AND ACCOMPLISH IT.
The class atmosphere can muddle our reasons for practicing. Most of us want to do the best job possible and look good while doing it in order not to mortify ourselves in front of our teacher and peers. If this self-awareness turns into self-consciousness, you’ll probably end up practicing for all the wrong reasons and be more likely to lose your zest. Taking a break from the sala setting to practice solo will make your true reasons for doing yoga immediately clear to you. Are you doing it mainly for the workout? To manage anxiety? To meet a sexy tribe of toned superbabes? (We’re onto you, Casanovas and ‘novettes!)
Defining and fulfilling this purpose will send you head over heels in love with yoga all over again. It will transform any hint of “I should do yoga,” into “I can’t wait to do yoga!” Big friggin’ difference.
8) HOME IS WHERE YOUR MAT IS.
Ultimately, a refined self-practice is a deeply intimate ritual to experience with yourself. There is a sense of familiarity present every time you step onto the mat that travels with you wherever you go. Of all the personal connections you form in life, few can be as consistently grounding and beneficial as the relationship you enter into with yoga. Making it work for you means that you will never feel lost.
“THAT SOUNDS PEACHY KEEN, JELLYBEAN! HOW CAN I CREATE MY SELF-PRACTICE?”
There are many ways to embark on this venture. An obvious starting point is to string together a few of your favorite poses from class and build on that foundation. You could also research yoga sequence design techniques, which will vary depending on the style you choose.
In my opinion, the very best way to solidify a strong self-practice is to take a yoga teacher training course, even if you have no intention of becoming a teacher. It ain’t cheap, but any YTT worth its salt will school you on how to confidently organize an infinite combination of poses into a seamless flow. This skill will stay with you for the rest of your yogified life, in addition to the knowledge you’ll learn and the friendships you’ll form with the other sexy superbabes taking the course.
So have no fear, friends! Go home, roll out your mat, and make some magic happen.
NEED MORE DEETS?!
Learn information about Vikasa’s yoga teacher training programs here. We’ll help you up your game from yogi padawan to Jedi master in no time. Join us along the sparkling seaside of Koh Samui for a month of empowerment and evolution.
About our Author
Peggy Holsclaw is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, voice actor, and certificate-wielding instructor of yoga and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). She strives to live a shamelessly awesome life and help others do the same. If you come to Osaka you’re likely to find Peggy at a café clickety-clacking away on her laptop, or on a dance floor somewhere cutting shapes in front of the stage. She thinks the world would be a better place if everyone meditated. Including you. So go forth, dive deep, and find your Zen.