Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Personal Practice: Respect for our Sacred Selves

Winter has arrived and with it this strange new sense of "need" for home practice. The mornings I see the moon set and the evenings I see it rise, so the result being I only ever see the sun on the weekends. It's a very strange feeling to open the door at the end of the day at work and it being just as dark as it was when I entered at 8am.

Thank goodness for Yogaglo, as it has been a nice alternative on those days that I don't want to "lead" a class (either just myself or with friends) and has allowed me to experience new styles and sequences without paying 18$ for a studio class.

Challenges remain for the home practice adventure, which have cropped up since I have been practicing at home more frequently. Prior to my "yoga budget" a few months ago, I had finally attained a mental space of focus while on my mat. It was like magic, as soon as I stepped on that rectangular green rubber *most* of the outside world stopped. It was easy to acknowledge and move on from erroneous "life" thoughts and simply be present.

The past few weeks this ability has completely disappeared during my home practice. For a while I chalked it up to stress, emotional whatevers.... but finally yesterday I figured it out. It's combo of Pavlovian triggers and accountability.

One of the reasons that we spent some time talking about creating a visual/scent/auditory yoga space at home was because of our tendencies to create associations. A yoga studio is always going to be the space where "practice" occurs, which makes it easier for your mind to get into "yoga" mode. Unconsciously set neural pathways are immediately set into place to encourage what "usually" happens cognitively in that space. 

Which is fantastic, except it doesn't encourage generalization of skills in any way shape or form. That's ultimately what we want- right? To take our sense of "zen", of Presence, of Yogic Joy out into the big wide world with us. With any set of learned behaviour (whether conscious or not) the more practice in varied settings, the more likely our brain will be able to generalize that skill. With something as subtle and immeasurable as mindful awareness, it is even more important to start building the neurological base for increased likelihood of a more "yogic" response in the hectic everyday life.

Practicing at home is a nice next step in the journey of Yoga as Life and not simply Asana (physical). Except, all of a sudden my mind zipped right back to anxiety, Type A, GO mode. I'm surrounded by visual reminders of what I think I "need" or "have" to be doing. The phone rings and disrupts my practice. The oil burner sizzles as the water was boiled off. I'm hot, or I'm cold.

Why not simply ignore these distractions? Other than the fact that it's a LOT harder to do than in the studio, personal practice has almost no sense of external accountability. No one can see me pause to blow my nose, open the window, answer the phone or take a drink of water. No one will know if I (gasp) fast forward the *boring* (read: difficult) part of meditation at the beginning or end of the online class.

(ocean waves on Barrington Street during Nocturne; Art by Night)  

Instead of being essentially "stuck" in a studio for an hour or 90 minutes, I am virtually free to stop practicing any time I want. No one will frown if I end the class early, skip savasana or fidget and chat. It actually took repetitions of "where else are you going to be for the next 60 minutes? In this class- you've committed. So use it to focus on the "now" as you aren't leaving any time soon" for my focus to strengthen during class. They were right- during a studio practice you're committed and there for the next set period of time. All the thoughts of errands, job, life-partner stuff need to be acknowledged and let go as there is nothing you can physically do about them during the class.

Except at home you could...

During our friend yoga practices at the apartment we've really taken to chatting during the online class along with beginning and ending much to late/early. It's partly my fault, as I set that tone. Unfortunately, the result has been a decreased sense of personal respect for the reason why we were there, ourselves and our practice. Instead of creating a space where we can nurture our practice and our learning, we have been half-heartedly attempting postures and "punking out" prematurely. "Instead of attempting a pose or moving into the modifications I can simply sit back or straighten into standing." Essentially cheating myself of achieving the potential.

Now this doesn't mean that yoga at home can't be lighthearted and playful. I think that balance of sincere and fun is what I'm trying to find. 

So here are a few things I'm going to try to do differently over the next few weeks during my solitary personal practice and when friends come over:

- Light some of my beeswax candles to set the tone
- burn some essential oils
- turn the ringer off the phone
- When alone or without yogaglo- play some "yoga" music
- inform myself and friends of start and end time
- stop chatting during "class"
- stop skipping postures or gawking at crazy examples of flexibility. Instead I'll do the modification or child's pose
- renew our "ohms" at the beginning and end of each practice

How is all of your Personal Practice Adventure going? I know Jamie from "On the Mat" had some concerns re: pets invading the yoga time. Since I don't have any pets I was just wondering if any of you had some suggestions for her :)


article and photo copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Great blog. Good luck with your quest to find the right approach.

    In answer to your question, my Yoga practice now centers around present moment awareness in everything I do. It has taken a lot of gentle practice and concentration, but it has transformed my life in the way I describe in some detail in my eBook. And now it's starting to become just a normal habit of mind.

    Sometimes it's just focusing on what's going on right now.

    Other times it's something more formal, like pretending my kitchen is a temple and each dish is a sacred icon, and chanting "Om Namah Shivaya" out loud while I do the dishes. (Not sure I should be telling anyone about that one. Oh well, I've already Tweeted it to #yogadork, so it's too late.)

    See my comment on Jaime's blog about going to the gym.

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. I struggle with many of the same accountability issues in my own personal practice. Glad to see I'm not alone. :)

    I shut myself in the basement so my dog doesn't try to get her yoga on too. If I didn't have that option, I might give her a Kong stuffed with almond butter to keep her occupied.

    I found the best yoga tops! Forever 21 (I believe they are XXI in Canada) has tank tops for $3.50. My yoga teacher wears them, and they are long enough to not ride up. Of course they're made Goddess knows where under what unethical circumstances, but it beats giving Lululemon $50 for a top made using similar practices.

  3. i'm glad you've decided to make some changes to our friend-yoga sessions. i was thinking of suggesting something a BIT more formal. i want us to feel safe enough to "try things out" and experiment with yogaglo to find out what we like/don't like. but a i also kind of wanted to complete a class, from start to finish.

    i've been leaving feeling sort of incomplete most nights. i'm looking forward to the changes you're planning to institute!

  4. Great post. I anticipate a lot of the same difficulties when I try my new approach with yogaglo and home practice. I think the idea I'll have to start with is that I'm essentially not "home". Even though I'm in my house, I'm "on the mat" and not able to answer the phone or the door or anything, so not actually "home". And if I were driving somewhere to class I would be away from home a lot longer what with the commute.

    Also if (when) I quit the gym, I'll be doing just a little more to save gas and Mother Earth. : )

    Thanks for the input!

  5. Thank you for coming out and "spilling the beans" about your struggles with a home asana practice - I feel the exact same way. I can also relate to the leaving for work when it's dark and getting home when it's dark. Urk.

    My home practice consists mostly of study. Of taking the time to read *something* yoga or buddhist related. After all, the study of yoga is also a form of practice.

    I do have two active dogs (lab and a setter) - if I'm doing a 60/90 minute asana practice, dogs are not getting any exercise. No exercise = squirrly misbehaving dogs. I can't practice in my basement (cement floor, small space, cold), and I really don't like to shut myself into our small second bedroom. I've tried putting a small gate across the door, but invariably one or the other will sit outside of it and whine (see no exercise comment). A whiny dog does not promote good yogic thoughts.

    So, my home asana practice must be timed to coincide on those days where the dogs have gotten plenty of exercise and I can practice early enough in the evening so I'm not finding myself wide awake at 1am.

    It is the way it is.

  6. I've not yet tried yoga, but have thought about it.

    I guess the home practice is a lot like any workout routine. If you go to the gym, you DO the workout. At home, it's easy to cut short, skip the hard stuff, and take a day off.

    That's my shortfall!

  7. The thing I like to work on the most is pratyahara - sense withdrawal - so it doesn't matter where I practice, or how I practice, it's the present sensation within my practice that matters.

    Thus the cats can come and go. Sometimes they are not interested, sometimes they practice with me. Either way it's all yoga!! :D

  8. I have to say, there is nothing that beats the mental set-up in a formal class. As you know, I'm kinda your opposite when it comes to practice - I'd rather be at home, and only just started going to classes (sporadically) last year. I was shocked by how instantly relaxed I felt, and by how the expectations and rules (all of which you mentioned in the post) set the tone for the experience. It forces you to let go of your life for those 60-90 minutes.

    I think I need to be more conscious about setting the tone at home. I don't usually have a problem with the physicality of the practice - except on certain lazy days, I usually push through and do the entire practice (whether a DVD or my own routine). But mentally, I'm all over the place. I've even noticed that I mentally throw myself into practice with little preparation, which has got to stop! I need to breathe, set an intention, and prepare my mind. No wonder it's all over the place!

    As for pets, I've been lucky - my dog is nervous around my mat, and when I practice, he'll just lie on his bed and watch me. When it comes to friendly, let-me-share-in-your-practice animals...I'd say make it part of the practice. Breathe, pause, give them a smile or a stroke, and make it part of your ahimsa.

    Other options: Put the pet outside, shut yourself into a different room, take the dog for a walk beforehand to tire him/her out, share doggie playdates with another yogi friend...

  9. Just found your blog. Love the phrase "ecoholic." Look forward to reading more posts. Best, Nathan


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