When yoga teachers get together, inevitably someone will ask “do you have a Personal Practice?” The Personal Practice is A Thing. (With a capital T.) Typically this refers to a time that you dedicate on a daily basis to do yoga by yourself, probably at home. Many teachers say that they teach from their personal practice—this is where they find inspiration and moments of insight that they can bring to their classes. The personal practice has always seemed to be this nearly-holy experience (which, honestly, it is meant to be) where one can connect to oneself and the universe. It feels private, deep, creative, almost soulful. It’s intimidating as hell.
When I started practicing yoga in my tiny Rochester apartment it was just me and a Rodney Yee VHS tape. Within a year, I had upgraded to DVDs, and was consistently practicing for 30 minutes each morning. It was glorious and grounding. I felt renewed and centered and remembered marveling at how strong I felt from this simple practice.
After moving to Brooklyn, I started practicing at a studio. Once the initial intimidation faded, I was able to find teachers who I felt connected to and trusted, and got into a routine of attending class once or twice a week. Going to class became something entirely different than practicing on my own. In class, I could give myself over to the experience. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to drive. It felt freeing and welcome.
In class, you don't know what to expect; only the teacher knows what's coming next. At home, I did the same two DVDs for years and basically memorized the sequences. In class, you learn to go with the flow and trust your teacher and yourself. At home, I would second guess myself. In class, I might push myself to work a little harder, or to take extra care of myself. At home, I might lay on my mat and watch Gilmore Girls. In class, I felt motivated by the presence of others and learned to let go of competition. At home, I stayed in a comfortable routine.
I don’t have a personal practice right now, and it's become something I struggle with. It’s something that I want, and more recently, truly need. And yet, I can’t get past the fears and barriers between me and my yoga. This month I’ve been talking about it more, attempting to practice on my own, and really digging down into how I feel about this thing called a Personal Practice. I found a couple of things...
I don’t want to be alone. Being in a quiet room, with the door closed, on my mat, alone. That’s heavy. It’s hard. It’s, frankly, terrifying some days. I desperately don’t want to feel lonely. I miss my community. I need my teachers. I can feel my heart yearning for that connection, and then I am left with stillness. Sometimes, it feels overwhelming.
It's so easy to be lazy. If you know me, you know I am a pretty motivated individual. I don't back down from a challenge and I'm happy to take on a big project and see it through. But with my personal practice, I let things slide constantly. I will sit and gently stretch when I know I need more. I'll spend five minutes on the mat and then check my email. Without structure, I flounder.
And, of course, I’m putting too much pressure on it. I have this expectation that I will unfurl my mat, close my eyes, and suddenly this gorgeous, soulful vinyasa will innately flow from my mind, heart, and body. I will move with grace and fluidity, and achieve amazing poses. I will work on headstand and fallen angel and forearm balances and full wheel and reclined full lotus. I will have moments of discovery and meditation. My pranayama will build fire. IT WILL BE AMAZING. I mean, that’s what happens to everyone else, right? RIGHT?
Probably not, I guess.
So, for now, I am going to try to be ok with simply getting on my mat every day. Well, almost every day. Most days? Some days. Whatever. I’m going to get on my mat. I am going to release myself from expectations of what that is supposed to look like. I will build comfort with stillness. I will find a place where I feel safe challenging myself. I will remember that I am enough and my practice is enough. I will practice practicing.
Last night I was on my mat with Gilmore Girls on the iPad and texting my friends to stave off the lonely feelings. That’s not a failure. But it is a crutch. And right now I need a crutch, and that’s ok. I will have faith that I am enough, and that this will evolve. I will practice aparigraha (non-grasping), satya (truthfulness), and ahimsa (non-harming) with myself. Because I deserve that care and discipline as much as my students do. I will try to stay strong and face my fears in a gentle, loving way, and allow this Personal Practice to unfold.