Five reasons why taking a break from yoga classes to explore your own practice is so important…
At the start of the year I uprooted from London with a one-way ticket to Cambodia to teach yoga for Song Saa Private Island, a luxury eco-friendly resort off the coast of Koh Rong Island.
I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay away for. I’d assumed 2-3 months, but at the time of writing this post I’m 8 months into the trip, sat behind my laptop in a beach bar on the coast of Kefalonia (the most southern Greek island) and the #TravelingYogini vibes are going strong.
I’ve purposefully given myself a lot of alone-time on this trip to focus on my yoga practice. And when thinking on where I have grown the most this year, it is without a doubt in the evolution of my self-practice ~ in particular the asana practice (poses), although pranayama, krias, meditation & journaling have definitely not been ignored.
In knowing just how nervous I was about being away from the support of my favourite teachers & classes in London, I understand that self-practice is something that even the most disciplined of yogis can resist exploring at times.
It’s natural that we would prefer the ease & sense of community that comes with attending a class. Not to mention having a teacher to do the thinking for you, inspire you, push you & support you in any of the poses you haven’t yet ‘mastered’.
I was worried that my practice would suffer while I was away, without any teachers to push me forward & with only a self-practice to rely on. I felt that without anyone around to inspired me, I would get stuck in what I offered students.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. During a period where I’ve spent the best part of a year on my own to self-heal & explore my practice, I’ve seen it grow exponentially. It’s been an amazing way to build confidence & self-belief, & while I occasionally have to give myself a proper kick up the arse to get on my mat, these days it’s always much more fun & experimental when I do.
THE BENEFITS OF SELF PRACTICE
You have the Freedom to Create
It may feel daunting to get on your mat without any idea as to what to do & how to move, but in this moment of uncertainty & a little vulnerability, you will find your most expressive creativity.
Occasionally I use my self-practice as a tool for lesson planning so I will have a methodology / peak pose in mind that I will be building up to. But I find that I get so much more out of my practice when I put on a playlist that I love, close my eyes, breath deeply & let my body guide me.
In this space of solitude, with only yourself to draw on as a source of inspiration, the most inventive sequencing flows freely. Moving with the pace of your breath you can flow seamlessly & with greater ease to pair asanas together in unexpected ways, explore interesting transitions & fine-tune how you are moving if something felt a little off.
My self-practices often get much more expansive than in some classes because I get down into my own body to work through tensions & create space where I need it. I’m also much more playful because I spend much longer working through poses that challenge me, I can be more fluid & dance-like in my practice & I can truly express myself in the way that I move.
At the moment I’m really loving creating A-symmetrical Sun Salutations & dropping Yin asanas in my flows so that I am always working into flexibility as well as strength ~ but above all to challenge the mind into stillness.
Facing Your Fears, Building Confidence & Self-Reliance
We know we’re not meant to attach emotions to the asanas/poses, but it’s likely that we all have those that we love ~ and those that we dread when they come up in class. For me this used to be arm balances & backbends. I struggled with the strength & confidence needed for balancing & I used to feel fear & constriction in my chest when it came to back-bending (aka opening my heart).
When self-practicing, the onus is on you to either leave these poses out of your practice ~ or have the self-reliance, courage & discipline to work through them yourself.
Within the last nine months, I have gone from ‘hating’ Bakasana / Crow pose (an arm balance) & Urdhva Danurasana /Wheel (a back bend) to facing my self-doubt & working up the courage to confidently include everything from Crow & Side Crow transitions, Flying Pigeon & Flying Split arm balances through to Chin Stands & Inversion variations into my practices on a daily basis.
With back bending I’ve faced the fear of the unknown when it comes to dropping back in Camel or Wheel. I’ve also used my Yin practice to open up my quads & shoulders to support me moving into deeper backbends.
It’s also helped when teaching because I can support students work through their challenges & self-doubts with total empathy.
- You Can Listen to your Body in Much Deeper Way
In class teachers should always encourage you to move with your breath & take Child’s pose if you need it, but ultimately you are always going to be governed by their breath count & what else is going on in the room, meaning we sacrifice both our breath & needs for the pace of the class.
When self practicing there is nothing else to move to but your breath, & you are completely aligned with the energy in your body so you can really listen-in to get what you need from your practice.
We know we aren’t supposed to put anticipation on our practice so that we are fully present in the moment, & your self-practice really supports this. Sometimes I get on my mat expecting to be slow & stretchy but a really dynamic & creative flow comes out of nowhere, whereas other times it’s the opposite. And this is the WHOLE POINT of this practice of self-discovery ~ to get out of your head, be fully present in whats going on & to move down into the body.
- You can Work to Support your Injuries
Part of my issue with back bending was a reoccurring shoulder injury & my self practice has allowed me to incorporate a LOT of yin into my flows so that I can nurture my body & work within my own needs at my own pace to progress in my own way.
Towards the end of teaching a full schedule for 6 months in Greece I injured my lower back quite badly. I’d been foam rolling & stretching out the muscles with my yin practice to try & heal it out, but it wasn’t working.
Before I had the chance to see a physio, I experimented with using my asana practice to work through the pain. The result was one of my deepest & most nourishing practices. The sequencing was way more creative than I could have imagines ~ & by moving slowly with intention I got really deep into the asanas. I avoided all of the poses that my ego wanted to play with (inversions & arm balances) & instead created space & some restoration in all of the areas of my body that had been feeling in pain.
Self healing at its best!
Your Practice Becomes an Energy Map for what is Really Going On
My self-practice has allowed me to be more in tune with my mind & body than I have ever experienced.
Thanks to some really inspiring teacher trainings where we have studied how the chakras & the elements manifest in our bodies, I know how to move when I am feeling a certain way ~ & (more importantly!) I can tell how I’m really feeling when I observe the way I move my body.
I know that when I forward fold, hold balancing poses for longer & generally get close to the ground, that I am really dealing with sadness & anxiety. It’s my way of pulling myself out of my head.
Hip opening for me is usually connected with some anxiety, attachment or confusion as well.
Similarly, I know that if I’m at my most inspired & creative, I will back bend & twist throughout the flow, with very few seated postures or forward folds.
In short my self-practice has given me an incredibly reliable self check-in & provided an invaluable energy map to what I am working though ~ or needs addressing. I love this because it serves as a reminder of the wisdom of the soul, that we are always our own best teachers & that we have all the answers within us at all times, if we make the time & space to listen in.
Dedicated to my teachers, Jonelle, Daniela, Bess & Jenny who have been beyond encouraging & supportive of my journey.
~ n a m a s t e ~