Home practice vs studio classes

I’ve been so busy lately that getting to the studio for a yoga class has been impossible. For ttwo weeks I’ve relied solely on my home practice, squeezing it in haphazardly around work, teaching, and myriad other responsibilities.

I’ll admit, after only a couple of weeks out of the habit, finding the motivation to gather up my mat and towel and drive the twenty minutes to the studio was hard. But I picked the day I’d go back, and committed to it.

And wow.

I’d forgotten just how much I LOVED being at the studio. The energy created afters years of classes, hundreds, maybe thousands of students, is palpable. It’s a mini-home-away-from-home, oasis of calm amidst the buzz of Prahran.

Driving home afterwards, aglow with an almighty yoga buzz, I started thinking more about home practice versus studio classes…and thus this post was born.

Home practice

I love, love, love my home practice! I practice more at home than I do a studio, always have. Not least because it’s free! Let’s face it, some of those yoga classes out there are getting pretty expensive. The studio I go to is very reasonably priced, but there are some out there that charge $25-30 per hour. I understand that teachers have to pay rent and eat like the rest of us, but really?! (Anyway, that’s a whole other blog post).

Then there’s the comfort factor. When I go to class I might wear my fancy Lulu tops, but when I’m at home, well, let’s just say I’ve been known to bust out a downdog in my pyjamas.

And, you know, we’re all so busy. It’s nice to be able to unroll my mat at a time that suits me, to practice for as long or as little as I want. I know a class might only be 90 minutes out of your day, but when you factor in travel time, finding parking, AND you want to be there a bit early to get your favourite spot (or is that just me?), not to mention getting home again, it can easily take up to a couple of hours.

But the main reason I love a home practice so much is the fact that I can do exactly the practice I need and want on the day. – sometimes a strong vinyasa, or a quiet, restorative practice if my energy is low. I can spend a bit more time on my “challenge” poses if I so choose, or focus on a particular theme for the whole session.

Of course, maintaining a regular home practice requires a fair degree of self-discipline and motivation. My secret is not giving myself time to think about it or talk myself out of it. The second I get home from work, I get changed and get on the mat. No hesitation. Just get on the mat and the practice will take care of itself.

Studio classes

Glorious as my home practice might be, there is nothing like the feeling of walking into my regular yoga studio. As I mentioned earlier, hundreds, thousands of students have walked through those doors, practiced together, created an energy that you feel the moment you step inside. It’s intoxicating.

Regular attendance at a studio also helps to make you feel like you belong to a community. I’m the lone yogini within my circle of friends, so talking with my teachers, catching up with old teacher trainee friends and just being surrounded by so many others who love yoga as much as I do, makes me feel like I’m part of something much bigger than myself.

One thing I noticed, on returning to studio classes after several years break, is how many bad habits I’d fallen into when only doing a home practice – hyperextension in my knees and elbows, over-arching into my lower back and sinking into my hips were the main ones. I had no one to pick me up on it, and so it took quite a while to train myself out of them – but with the help of my teachers, I got there!

Sometimes I find myself stuck in an asana rut, practicing the same poses day after day. Going to class gives me the opportunity to learn something new – a pose, a sequence, an entry or exit in/out of a pose, some words of wisdom – something that will inspire me to shake up my home practice.

Having kapha as my predominant dosha also means that sometimes I need my butt kicked.I know exactly which teachers will do that, who let me get away with taking the easy option, who’ll push me to go deeper – and while I may be silently cursing them, I also love the fact that they remind me that my body can do a lot more than what my mind tells me it can.

So, studio classes versus a home practice – which is better? All debate aside, I think it all comes down to whatever the best practice is for YOU. The main thing is just to get on the mat – do that, and everything else will fall into place.

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Hitting the reset button

Oops.

It’s been, what? Nearly two months now since I last blogged.

I’d like to say that it’s been because I’ve been CRAZY BUSY and just hadn’t got around to it.

And it’s partly true – starting up two yoga classes a week, whilst working full time, doesn’t just happen on its own, you know.

But the real reason?

I’ve been so exhausted, I barely have 2 brain cells to rub together, let alone the energy to pick up a pen.

Working full time, starting up and maintaining my classes, looking at buying a house, attending workshops, maintaining my own yoga practice, making time for family and friends and writingmy blog…one  or more of the balls was going to drop sooner or later.

Oh, and I’m also planning on going back to study later in the year. Because I am insane.

I finally had my lightbulb moment a few weeks ago, when I complained to a co-worker for the umpteenth time about how tired I was, and how I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this way. She observed that in spite of my yoga-loving, healthy-eating lifestyle, I’m constantly tired, whilst she’s a happy little omnivorous yoga newbie and mostly feels fine.

Hmm. Time to check in with myself, methinks.

Time for a little lifestyle examination.

And wowzers, do I not like what I see.

Too many nights spent on the couch watching My Kitchen Rules. Too many nights spent eating out or getting takeaway because it’s more convenient/too hot to cook. Not enough yoga. No meditation. No writing. Too many wasted hours on Facebook or Walking Dead memes.

Two recent workshops I attended (one on Yoga Nidra, the other working through the chakras) have rattled something inside me, reminded me of that feeling I got last year after I returned home from a yoga retreat. Feeling like my outer world is not quite aligned with my inner world. And how discontented that makes me feel.

So this post is not just a public whinge about how busy and tired I am. I actually LOVE being busy. But I need to take care of myself so that I don’t run myself into the ground.

This post is, in fact, a public declaration that I am going to clean up my act. And what better time than now, over the Easter weekend, when there are four long, blissful days begging me to do something productive and meaningful with them? What better time to hit the reset button? Switching off the telly. Getting back on my mat, my meditation cushion, and back into the kitchen. Upping my face time with friends and family, not my Facebook time. Trying out new yoga classes. Promoting and building my yoga classes. Living simply, fearlessly.

Happiness…

Let it all go…

And just be…

buddha wisdom

A love letter to Hanumanasana

Dear Hanumanasana,

I still remember the day I first saw you, several of you, in fact, from across the dance studio. Back then, you had a different name. We all called you “the splits”. It was a comfortable, casual name, although the images it evoked for some people were anything but.

My dancer friends, most of whom had stepped into ballet slippers from the moment they could walk, knew you intimately. I, on the other hand, having come to jazz and funk in my early teens, still had many years to go before I dared even hope that, one day, you would grace me with your presence.

In my late teens, I left the dancing behind. Yoga beckoned. In the ensuing years, I delighted and amazed myself at some of things my body was capable of. My flexibility increased dramatically, while, I’m so sorry to say, my strength did not (although I have worked harder than ever before over the past 18 months to get it up to scratch).

And yet, you remained elusive. There were a few moments were I – almost – had it, but then my hips would shriek in protest, and I would curl up my legs, defeated.

Years passed. I decided we needed some time apart, that all my neediness was pushing you away. I sought out other asanas instead. Backbends soon become my pose of choice.

And then one day you came. Seemingly out of nowhere, Hanuman’s giant leap was finally in reach. My hip flexors were still tight, but not screechy, and supported by my hands I was able to stay with you for one, two, three, four, five breaths.

As we got to know each other better, I became more comfortable with you. I didn’t need to always support myself, knowing that you would be there for me. This in turn allowed me to go deeper, to start to know your little quirks and idiosyncrasies. With my hands in prayer position at my chest, I begin to slow, to settle deeply, to find stability and strength within the expansiveness. Once, in class, my teacher assisted me to take hold of my back foot and come into a backbend. You were exhilarating! The intense focus required, intoxicating.

But by far my favourite of your idiosyncrasies occurs when I raise both arms overhead, shoulder-width apart, and turn my face up to look at my hands. I feel limitless. Most times I feel a gentle sensation at my heart chakra as my chest lifts and expands. Energy is offered up through my fingertips. I feel nothing but love coursing through me, and I almost weep with joy.

So, Hanumanasana, this letter is to say thank you. For you have shown me the true meaning of devotion, trust and dedication. You have taught me to be patient. You have shown me that it is possible to go beyond the limits that my minds imposes – in fact, to know that there ARE NO LIMITS. I see now that if we, together, are brave enough to take that giant leap, we might just change the world.

For, in the end, only love can create real and lasting change.

So, with grace and humility, I honour your presence in my life.

Hanumanasana, you will always have my heart.

Why do I write?

I write because I have a voice that won’t be silenced.

I write because it makes me feel alive and connected to the Source, the Universe, to others.

I write because I can, and because I don’t know how else to express myself as authentically as I do in prose.

I write for the sheer joy of seeing chaos take form…and then to watch it dissolve into chaos again.

I write because words have power.

I write because words could change the world.

I write because words and books and blogs and status updates and newspapers and quotes are all I think about, all day long.

I write to share myself with others, to communicate and connect.

I write because I love it.

And then I write some more.

Yoga as social activism

As a social worker, social justice, compassion and challenging the status quo rate pretty highly on my list of core values. I’ve spent seven years on the frontline, working with people experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental illness. It’s very much about being “out there”, in the world, focused on others and on alleviating suffering in any possible way.

So as a social worker AND a yogini, I’m absolutely fascinated by the way the aforementioned values manifest themselves in the yoga world, in a practice that is, ostensibly, deeply personal, inward looking and with a focus on inner transfomation.

But take a look around and you’ll find more yogis engaging in social activism than you can poke a yoga mat at. There’s Seane Corn and Off the Mat, Into the World; Kathryn Budig and Poses for Paws; Jivamukti and veganism. We now have annual events like YogaAid, and yoga classes in which we’re invited to Do it in a Dress.

So how did it happen? How did yoga, once practiced by ascetics and spiritual seekers secluded in ashrams, become a legitimate force in achieving social and political change?

While I’ve got no hard and fast answers (are there even any?), I do have a few ideas.

Yes, yoga is a personal and inward-focused practice. But it’s also practice for the world “out there”. Lessons in equanimity, balance, impermanence and the dissolution of the ego prepare us for our life off the mat. They transform us, create space for us to discover our true Self, open us up to new ways of perceiving the world and our place in it. We learn compassion, empathy and unconditional love. We learn that we are, in fact, all one.

Is it possible that this experience of inner transformation calls forth a yearning for global transformation – as within, so without?

Could it be argued that the heightened awareness gained from our yoga practice is on par with the consciousness-raising amongst feminists in the ’70s?

If so, just imagine what the world might be like if everyone on the planet unrolled a yoga mat once in while!

I truly belive our energy makes a difference in this world – and this is magnified by the collective consciousness, when we are bound by a cause or belief. Whether it’s sending peace to your loved ones whilst chanting Om Shanti; fundraising through YogaAid; or volunteering your services, karma yoga-style, we can all play a part in making this wonderful, and at times strange world an even more beautiful place.

Om shanti, my lovely readers.

Om shanti.

 

Marichyasana D – My nemesis, my teacher

I love Ashtanga, I really do. I love the discipline and commitment it both requires and inspires. I love how it becomes a moving meditation, once you know the sequence. I love that there is a set sequence, because my control freak tendencies require that I know what is coming up next AT ALL TIMES. And, let’s admit it, when advanced Ashtangis get their yoga on, it’s pretty awesome to watch.

In the spirit of satya (truth), however, I must confess – I don’t practice it all that often.

It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s not because I get bored with the routine, or find it too lengthy.

It’s because of one asana and my desire to avoid it at all costs.

Marichyasana D. My nemesis.

I know I’m not alone in struggling with this pose. Google it, and you’ll find countless blog posts, YouTube clips and other sundry social media offering tips and advice for getting into the pose, sharing their success at finally binding (hurrah!) and, just as much, their frustration at not being able to bind/get into half lotus/twist towards the raised leg.

I can bind fully in A and C (A came quite easily, C was probably a good year of practice before the bind started to stick) and I’m almost there with B (can get one side most times, the other still only a monkey grip). I never thought I’d be able to bind in B or C at all, so when that glorious day came, it renewed my hope that, one day, just maybe, I might be able to bind in D as well.

Of course, the difficulty with Marichi D, for many (including me!), is not just the bind, but getting into the pose to begin with. Ardha Padmasana (half lotus) – check. Getting the lotus knee onto the ground – almost check. Twisting towards the raised knee and wrapping the top arm around said knee – Houston, we have a problem. The best I can hope for is hugging my knee towards my chest, encouraging a little more axial rotation of the spine.

I can’t work out whether the tightness is in my hips, spine or shoulders – or all three. Or maybe it’s those stubborn few kilos I gained this year that JUST WON’T GO.

The paradox is not lost on me – I can’t do it because I don’t practice it, and I don’t practice it because I can’t do it (and feel unco as all hell when I try).

Because of this, I’ve made a point of trying to practice Primary series more often, and with it, obviously Marichi D. And I’m realising that while I consider it my nemesis, it’s also a valuable teacher.

Ashtanga teaches this lesson anyway, but the Marichi sequence, and D in particular, have reinforced the importance of patience, discipline and commitment, as well as the courage to try again no matter how many times I fail. This time last year, I couldn’t bind in Marichi C, do headstand without a wall or practice Astavakrasana. Now I can. How? I practiced them. A LOT. Most days, if not every day. Marichi D is no different.

It’s possible that I may never be able to do Marichi D – and that’s okay. Binding in the full pose certainly looks pretty fancy, but it doesn’t make me a better person. There are lots of poses I can’t and probably will never do – but there are also lots that I can. But yoga isn’t about which poses you can and can’t do. Achieving a pose, whilst it may feel good at the time, is not the goal of yoga. The more we let our ego onto the mat and more we become attached to the outcome of our practice rather than the practice itself, the more we move away from the real aim of yoga – to surrender and unite ourselves with the Divine.

And even if one day I do, miraculously, make it into Marichi D, there’s always going to be another pose, another challenge to take it’s place – Supta Kurmasana looks like a good candidate.

This is why it’s called a practice. We practice until we get it right. And then we practice, and practice some more.

“Do your practice, all is coming” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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