The dreaded self-practice. You know how I talk about homework, and doing some of the stuff we do in class on your own? Well yes, I am talking to each and every ONE of you that I have ever seen in my class. at the yoga studio, the gym or anywhere near a yoga mat. In the Iyengar tradition, back in the day (many many moons ago), it was expected that you had a personal practice to supplement the classroom instruction. The teacher would give you a prescribed sequence of poses that suited your level of practice, and it was basically implied that you would at LEAST attempt some of those poses on your own. That’s how you learned the stuff.

Alas, people are lazy and would rather have someone else up in front of them yammering on about what to do. And I was one of those people, for a very long time. I would just go to class, practice whatever the teacher was teaching that day and go on my merry way. And I WAS teaching yoga. This went on for many years (I am embarrassed to say how many) until in the past couple of years, I realized that what the teacher was teaching the general public in class might not be exactly what I needed. I got tired of listening to someone else tell me to melt my heart, open my groins or whatever the hell was going on that day.

It was time to establish a self-practice.

Where to start? At this point, I had been practicing yoga about 10 years, 6 of them pretty diligently. I knew what to do. It wasn’t rocket science. I just needed to unroll my mat and get my ass on it. Which surprisingly enough, was the hard part. Because of all the other stuff that I could be doing. Like checking Facebook. Updating my status. Filing my nails. Checking FB yet again to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Plotting to take over the world. Procrastination and external distractions were keeping me from doing what I knew in my heart, would serve me most fully. I needed some dhrana (focus/concentration). Badly.

And so I slowly have come to understand that this self-practice IS time on my mat with myself free of distraction. It feels phenomenal to do the poses and practices that serve my body and my self fully in the way that only I need. It’s special, to have this deep connection to my practice. To recognize the power of breath, of movement and of stillness in each moment on the mat. It’s not to say that I don’t at times experience resistance or distraction. That’s human nature. And I recognize this and embrace it fully.  Some days, I practice at home on my own. Other days I go practice Mysore-style with my teacher.  I may crack open the computer and put on a Yogaglo class. Or I open up a book and try out a new sequence. Whatever it takes on any given day, I get to the mat and practice without fail. And this helps me not only be a better teacher, but a better person to all those around me. What gets you on the mat? Please share and PLEASE get your ass on the mat.

Here’s a few tips from Noah Maze, one of my favorite teachers.

My tips on developing a self practice (asana):

1) Do 15 minutes of sun salutations after you get the kids to school and before you start work to shift your energy and focus

2) Do 15 minutes of forward bends and shoulderstand/restorative at the end of your work day to shift your energy to the domestic fire.

3) Plan self practice into your week, in addition to the classes you will attend. Plan one or two practices when you will have more time and more energy. Practice for at least 90 minutes on those days.

4) Practice the sequences that you learn in class. Practice the things that are difficult for you from class. Dissect them, project them, practice the predecessor poses on things you cannot do.

5) On the days you need more motivation, use a Yogaglo class as a springboard to get warmed up and into your self generated practice. (Note from Jen: I also like YogaVibes, Gaiam, My Yoga Online and Yoga Download.)

6) Practice restorative poses at least once a week. Do some restorative poses before bed if you have trouble falling asleep. Do this instead of watching television.

7) When it is time for self practice, turn the phones and computer off. Minimize distractions.
If the baby is napping, get focused and get to it. You may not have long…

8) Use a timer for your poses. Don’t come out of the poses early because you are distracted.

9) Invest in props. Start with 3-5 yoga blankets, a strap, 2 blocks, and a backless chair.

10) Develop a yoga library. Cultivate your interest and motivation. Learn stuff.

11) Don’t guilt trip yourself if you don’t practice on a given day, or don’t practice to your expectation. Don’t make your yoga practice another obligation. Life is full of obligations. Do it because you love it, not because you ‘should’ do it. I have heard of a Senior Iyengar teacher answering the question ‘How much should I practice every day?’ with ‘Are you a parent?’. ‘Yes’. ‘How much should you play with your kids every day?’

(12) Many studios have a self-practice time. Do it! You get the support and structure of a studio and props, the energy of countless hours of yoga in that space, and the comradery and group energy (Note from Jen: tons of inspiration watching other folks with amazing practices. And when I see something that resonates, I try it out.)

(13) Practice a set sequence. This way, you are saved the energy and creativity of figuring out what to do, and focus on doing it. Practice the same sequence for a period of time, and you will learn a lot about yourself, as you measure yourself up to a consistent standard. I did this for years in Ashtanga Vinyasa, and it instilled a solid foundation and practice ethic within me.  (Note from Jen: I have been practicing with a group of Ashtangis since I moved to Seattle. There is DEFINITELY something to be said to noting the progress made from practicing the same sequence daily. Padmasana is actually feeling accessible these days!)