In the Ashtanga yoga tradition there are two different methods for how the Ashtanga practice is taught: Led (guided) classes, and Mysore (self practice) classes. Now, with this current pandemic outbreak, many Yoga studios around the world are closed, and communities and classes have pivoted online, which is great and certainly important in this time of physical distancing, offering students a greater sense of connection.
Yet during this time I am reminded again of the beauty and importance of practicing alone, without people, without voices or screens.
Although dreadful for some, I am an extreme introvert by nature, and practicing alone is nothing new. I started my Ashtanga practice alone in 2000. Back then, living in Croatia, there were no Ashtanga classes yet. Practicing with a teacher and a bigger community was a luxury. Maybe once per year I could afford the time and money to travel and study with my teachers. For the remainder of the year I was dependent on my own will and commitment to show up on the mat every morning, with no one around.
This is not so easy. Some days it is just hard to wake up; to rise from the warm bed while it is still cold outside. Some days there are body aches, or you are just lazy, and there are no external factors to motivate you, like payed membership, coffee appointments after class, or friend’s waiting in the studio.
After all these years of practicing alone I have became quite a cave person. I love to wake up when it is dark outside and immerse myself in my mind and body while the world is still sleeping. It is my sacred ritual, along with the quiet cup of coffee I religiously have afterwards.
The more you keep showing up, determined to practice, the more you get hooked on the beautiful silent moving meditation that is Ashtanga yoga, and the post practice bliss keeps you returning to the mat. Internal intelligence eventually awakens through this practice, and you can hear the body’s wisdom more clearly with time and silence.
Ashtanga yoga, when learned traditionally, equips us with an amazing tool for self inquiry. But how we use this tool is up to us. As with everything in this world, the Ashtanga practice can be used as a medicine or as a poison. We are the one’s whom are responsible for delineating dosages and intelligent usage.
Practicing alone is a great opportunity to explore our inner landscapes, while no one is around. To be with oneself, our own truth. To sit with whatever arises. At this moment in time It feels like it is necessary to pause , create a space, and just feel whatever we feel, instead of overtly reacting to the urge to be busy.
We can use this time to contemplate upon different aspects of our practices, and the contents of our minds. To explore and hopefully expand beyond our preconditioned stories, and above all to know ourselves a bit better.
During times like this, among the many other health benefits that yoga can give us, one important benefit is that it can make us grounded in our bodies. To be aware and present in our bodies, and make them a safe space, a safe home within the uncertainties around us.
Below are a few questions that can be explored and reflected upon considering the practice:
1. Is our motivation different when there is no one watching us?
2. Is our motivation different when there is no one watching us?
3. What emotions are bubbling up now at the surface?
4. How do we react when practice is pleasant, unpleasant, or natural?
Usually we tend to gravitate and cling to more pleasant experiences when something uncomfortable arises, like a physical pain, or emotion’s we tend to get absorbed by. When practice is neutral we can easily get bored or unexcited. The art is finding a middle way. To stay equally curious, without the judgments, blame, sluggishness, craving, clinging or anger, no matter what is going on.
5. How do you talk to yourself during the practice?
6. Can we talk to ourselves in a more loving and kind way?
7. What does self compassion mean to you, and how can you work on that even outside of your mat?
8. How is the energy shifting during the practice?
9. How can you find more tenderness and openness when there is stiffness (in body and mind) ?
10. Can you discover playfulness and curiosity during your practice?
11. How we are entering our practice space, and how do we act after the practice?
12. How can we extend our practice and use these lessons throughout the day?
It is very helpful to keep a diary, or make daily notes about your practice experiences. Journaling is a good way to track down your thoughts, and to ground yourself by transforming your thoughts and emotions into an art form.
All we need to do is to show up and do it. Every day. Even if it is a short practice or just a resting pose. Some bit of practice is often better than none at all. Many of us are navigating homeschooling, working at home situations, and lacking personal space right now. Times like this are calling us to be creative and flexible with our practices, and creating a necessary “me” space and time. Sometimes even crying in the car or hiding in the bathroom and eating cookie alone is also a way of self care.
In a great hope that we will all find more tenderness during these hard times, here are few tips that can help to establish your home practice:
1. Set up your practice space
Find the place that is safe and spacious enough for your mat. If your living space is small then maybe you will need to get creative and adjust some of the postures so you can fit, and maybe even skip some. And that is OK. Even a shorter practice, like performing Surya Namaskar A and B, is better than none, and it can help you to stay grounded in your body.
2. Try to air out the space before and after practice.
3. Keep it clean and tidy up.
4. Clean your mat and practicing clothes regular.
They can get really stinky sometimes.
5. It is nice to build an altar.
It can be a small box or just a cloth on the floor, that you can decorate with images that inspire you or you feel strong connections with. You can add some candles, crystals, incense, whatever speaks to you. Be creative, and create a space that you are happy returning to.
6. Move it around.
Sometimes we need to even move furniture around before and after practice to create space. make that a part of the practice also. It can be done as a moving furniture meditation. Remember, you are building your own sacred space, a temple, a practicing fort.
7. Set up the time for practice.
It is good to make the practice a regular part of your routine. Some of us are good with schedules and some of us are not, and many of us are somewhere in between. So listen to your body. I had years of consistent 4:30am practices, and it was a very special and useful experience for my chaotic mind, but now I prefer to wake up naturally without an alarm clock and jump on my mat when it suits me. If there are other people living with you, perhaps try to find a time when there is more silence and less moving around in your living space. Even if you get disturbed you can always pause and start again. It’s OK.
8. Find what works for you.
It is nice to have a shower before practice. Sometimes I even have a cup of coffee when my blood pressure is low and I need more time to wake up. Experiment and see what is working for you and what is not working.
9. Rest after the practice. Rest is important.
10. Stay connected.
Reach out to your yoga community or your teachers if there are things arising that you want to share, or simply need some motivation.
11. Use online resources.
If you need a primary sequence poster you can find it here.
12. Be good to yourself.
Try to cultivate tenderness instead of rigidity, and curiosity instead of expectations.
13. Stay playful and patient
By maintaining our balance and peace of mind, finding our self compassion, we can become a part of the greater solution, and show up for others in need. We can offer the benefits of our practices to all sentient beings, for the greater good of us all.