Doing yoga alone is very different than doing yoga in a class, taught by a teacher within a community of other yogis. This is stating the obvious, perhaps. Both have value. However, I see a lot of students — very dedicated practitioners — who are afraid to go it on their own. And I want to help assuage this fear. I want all students of yoga to learn and know that they can do their yoga on their own, that they have the body wisdom and capacity to take poses, to breathe, and to sit quietly.
Why? What is the importance of practicing on your own?
For you beautiful, obedient types, the ancient texts say to practice yoga alone. Okay. Off you go.
For the rest of us, there are more reasons. Here are 10 of mine:
1) Practicing at home removes many logistics, such as finding a class I like, traveling to and from class, paying for that class, procuring and wearing cool yoga duds, whatever they may be, and for some of us, finding someone to watch our kids while we traipse across town to get our yoga on. At home, I can practice when I can, when it works for me, in my kitchen or living room, in my nightgown, or like today, stripping off my blue jeans and practicing in my underpants. Heck, you may even want to practice in your birthday suit.
2) Practicing alone improves my practice. Repetition is a good thing. The more I practice, the better I get. A no brainer, right? Even a small practice, even one pose a day, improves my practice as well as my capacity to practice, meaning the more I practice at home, the more likely I am to practice at home. I engage differently, more consistently, with more focus.
3) When I practice at home, I get to practice what I want. I get to pick the poses I love, or love to hate, and have my way with them, uninterrupted, for as long, or perhaps, as short as I want to have them, and without some pesky or efficient teacher rushing me along to some more chaturangas.
4) Practicing on my own brings me greater awareness of my own body and what it feels like in a posture. For me, I am more able to think about the poses in a personal, analytical way. I consider things my teachers have said and wonder how or why that works. Apart from the guidance of my teachers, I have to figure some things out on my own. This often helps me see and feel myself, my body, my mind, and my practice in entirely new ways. I become more engaged in my practice.
5) Practicing by myself can help me stay more connected to my breath, the organic pulse of me, without forcing, without trying to keep pace with the class, but actually moving in response to my own breath, to where I am, organically, in my present moment. This begins to feel more like surfing my breath, than trying to move in unison with my breath as directed by teacher and in unison with the person next to me. Both have their place. But there is a sweetness to riding the natural ebb and flow of me that brings me home. To myself. That allows me to settle into all that I am. At that moment.
6) Practicing on my own teaches me what I already know. It can give me confidence in my practice and my ability to do yoga, both on my own and in class. For many of us who have attended a lot of yoga classes, we don’t know how much we know until we strike out on our own. For me, my first home practice was a clumsy, overachieving mess that ended in a pile of necessary tears. But it blossomed into much more. Very quickly. Within days, I felt more accomplished and powerful than I ever had in my years of taking classes.
7) Practicing alone helps me internalize what my teachers have taught me. One of my teachers, a particularly wise and beautiful man named Moses Brown, once told me the story of growing his home practice. For many months, he would move through the poses, the breath work, the sitting, hearing the voices of his teachers, telling him what to do. Then, after some time, there was a shift, and he began to hear a different voice. His own voice. Very clearly telling him how to do his practice. He gradually became his own teacher. And so can you. You can claim this ancient and powerful practice for yourself, with all of the bounty of wisdom you have about yourself, your body, and your growing knowledge of yoga. This combination can make you your very best teacher ever.
8) Practicing on my own brings some ease and softness into my life at home. Not all the time, of course. There is hustle and bustle constantly. But somehow, having yoga as part of my home life has changed the energy in our house and/or in our minds about our house. There are more moments of stillness in this busy house, even when I am not doing yoga. My mind can get still more often. My life feels a little quieter (even when my kids are blasting mumble rap). It is a little woo woo but true. It feels different in our house now that yoga is a part of it. Of course, where you practice matters. For a long time, I practiced in the middle of our kitchen until one day I had the brilliant realization our dining room was underused. We emptied it and now have a full-fledged yoga room. This surely has changed the nature of our house and the ease of practicing here, always having an open space available.
9) Practicing at home doesn’t always equal alone. If you live with other creatures, human or other, they often join you. I am almost always happy to have company, whether pesky little interrupters, of which we have many, wanting to draw me away from my practice, or those sweet moments when someone wants to participate. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out the way I want. And sometimes, it is extra special, and I get to share this beautiful practice with my growing brood.
10) Practicing alone allows more room for me to connect to myself, to some of those emotional of psychological layers I have going on within me. These are the pieces that can keep me away from my mat some days, when I just really don’t want to go there, or anywhere near there. But, really, avoidance is no way to live these beautiful lives of ours. So, I try to head bravely into my stuff, whether physical or emotional, or both. And keep on going.
Practicing alone can be hard. For so many reasons. I get it. There will be hard times for sure, where it is difficult to get there, a struggle while you are there, and/or not the big relaxing relief promised afterwards. But, without a doubt, it will make your practice better. It likely will make your body stronger. It may help you with your busy mind stuff. It possibly will reduce your stress levels. It may make your home space feel better, calmer. And, all of that will certainly help this world be a better place for you and for all of us, those closest to you, and those you may never even meet.
This beautiful practice has wide reaching arms, laden with centuries of wisdom and magic. Bring some of it into your home life.