Practice, Practice, Practice Alone

Practice Alone Do Not DisturbI just completed a month-long Personal Yoga retreat so I thought I’d share a few insights while they’re fresh in my mind. I still had my day-to-day responsibilities to attend to but I managed to raise the bar of my practice. I also did a social media fast (well, except for Pinterest – does that count as social media?)

Taking a month to withdraw gave me a much needed break. And it helped to raise my awareness of the challenges of being a modern day sadhaka. A sadhaka is a Sanskrit term for someone who follows a particular sadhana (a spiritual practice or way of life).

Practice Alone Flowers

According to B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most famous yoga teachers of all time, a sadhaka uses yoga to gain knowledge, light and liberation. It also helps to purify the body and soul. – Yogapedia

Challenge #1: Practicing at Home

Some of the obstacles of maintaining a home practice are a result of, well… being at home. Home isn’t the gym, or the studio, or any other designated place for exercise. So we have to consciously make it into one, which takes work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started my practice only to have a “to-do” flash through my mind.

“Oh I forgot to change the laundry over, put the leftovers away, etc.” 

“Darn it, I meant to turn off my cell phone.”

“Oh man, I really need to shave my legs.”

It can be tricky to navigate the transition from housework or home office work to doing our home practice. My best advice is to stay on your mat. You’ll be able to take care of all of these things afterwards.

Challenge #2: Shared living spaces.

If you have housemates or family members around you may have to work at communicating your boundaries.

“I’m going to be practicing from now until such-and-such a time. Do you need anything before I get started?”

“I’d like to practice for the next hour. Could you please use headphones if you want to watch TV or listen to the radio?”

Practice Alone Purple FlowersChallenge #3: This path can be lonely at times.

We may or may not have a community (sangha) of practitioners to support us in our journeys. It’s okay though – you’ll feel far more connected, centered and whole after you practice.

Challenge #4: Interruptions

It’s very important to choose a practice time when you won’t be interrupted. The people you live with may or may not realize what you’re doing. I’ve had people walk in and start talking to me when I was in a extraordinarily expansive meditation. It’s incredibly jarring to the nervous system to be disrupted when you’re in that state.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “Useless Talk” is one of the 6 Destroyers of Yoga Practice.

Hopefully you’ll remember to turn your cell phone off. You can also minimize unexpected guests or workmen by telling people you work from home and can’t be disturbed.

Practice Alone MandalaIf you’re thinking about doing a personal retreat or just want to start a home practice, my very best advice is (to echo the words of the master himself) – practice, practice, practice alone. Try to practice when you won’t be disturbed. You can avoid many of these obstacles simply by making good use of your alone time.

As someone who used to dread the idea of being alone, I can tell you that practicing alone is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. And when you do your sadhana (translation – good for you) you’ll have more than enough energy to extend to others.

Practice Alone Tea Cup

Self Teacher Study – Freedom Yoga Immersion

Self Teacher Study Freedom Yoga Immersion

I just completed Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Yoga Immersion on Yoga Anytime. This online platform is “a community of yogis dedicated to the global sharing of the teachings of yoga.”

Erich Schiffmann is an American yoga master who has been called one of the innovators of modern day yoga. When this series came out in 2015 he had been teaching for 42 years and practicing for 48 years. His primary teachers include Krishnamurti, Desikachar, and Iyengar. Schiffmann is one of my yoga teacher’s teachers and his book “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness” is a personal favorite.

I’ve never studied with Schiffmann so you can imagine my excitement when I saw a coupon code on his Facebook page for a 30 day free trial of Yoga Anytime. I jumped at the opportunity and signed up for his five day immersion. It took me three weeks to complete the seventeen hour course.

The immersion was divided into philosophy discussions, guided meditation and asana practices, as well as Schiffmann’s signature Freedom Yoga practice. I skipped the silent Freedom Yoga sections and just observed the first couple of asana practices (videos are not my favorite learning style for asana).

Whenever you’re starting with a new teacher it’s always best to keep an open mind. If the “cup” of our minds is full it can be difficult to absorb new teachings. And when it comes to learning yoga use what works and leave the rest. So let’s start with what worked…

My favorite part was the guided meditations. Schiffmann is an expert meditation teacher. He understands that meditation is the main practice of yoga, and that meditation is what promotes and facilitates the realization of what yoga is about. Some of the meditations were absolutely delicious. I enjoyed his directions to “snuggle” parts of my body into the mat and to “squeegee myself clean” when doing body scans.

Schiffmann emphasizes the idea that yoga is a lifestyle – that it is so much more than “metaphysical P.E.” (love this!) Regarding the asana portion, I appreciated his preference for the “simple stuff.” He describes the asana practice as being very easy although the mindset is very advanced. The sequences are effective at opening the channels (nadis) in a gentle way that is suitable for all levels.

I enjoyed his stories about his yoga journey. He described a turning point of when he felt like he was always doing someone else’s yoga. After years of disciplined practice he said that his yoga felt like a dud. It was only when he learned how to channel lines of energy through his body that he became empowered with his own practice. This marked the beginning of Freedom Yoga.

Goof Off with Purpose

Schiffmann is an advocate of learning how to channel our own practices. He recommends beginning with systems of your choice. The discipline of learning established systems is important as it helps to “get you in the game,” but being dependent on a teacher is kind of a drag. Once you’re trained the practice begins to teach you and that’s when it becomes fun again. Otherwise it can feel like you’re stifling yourself. As you dive deep and allow free form movement to occur eventually it will flower as an intuitive practice.

Getting Online

The main technique (discipline) of Freedom Yoga is listening. Schiffmann describes this process as “getting online” or cultivating an intuitive connection with the infinite. He recommends beginning just by getting curious and presenting the question:

Something’s going on here , … ,

Stay tuned for Freedom Yoga Immersion Part II.