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

Personal Retreat Reflections

Personal Retreat ReflectionsI’m on a personal retreat right now and have been diving into my practice. I’ve wanted to take an inner-teacher sabbatical during the holidays for years. I feel blessed to have an abundance of uninterrupted practice time. It puts me back into alignment with my own rhythms. And my inclination is to find ways to share this bounty with others. So here goes…

Winter is a time for hibernation.

The life-giving source of energy that comes from the sun is in short supply. Winter is also the season when apana, the downward current of energy is most prevalent. Apana is the force of energy that governs elimination in the body (excretion, urination, menstruation). Psychologically, it’s best described as a state of introversion. In nature it’s the force that draws sap down into the tree’s roots.

The holiday season presents an interesting counterbalance, which typically requires a great deal of output – emotionally, socially, financially, and physically. These cultural pressures don’t necessarily align with the laws of nature. Being extroverted can be very challenging when we’re disconnected from our natural rhythms. And with so much emphasis on externalization it’s easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking that we are not enough.

We might try to power through the season like a marathon runner but that’s a great way to make ourselves sick. Eating foods that we don’t typically eat, drinking excess amounts of alcohol and running around in the cold can take a significant toll on our physical health. Over stimulation and stress can make us feel like we’re wearing an invisible suit of armor.

While it is possible to cultivate energy through the holidays, it’s very important that we have enough gas in our tanks. So how to do this? Here are some simple suggestions of ways to practice “refilling your cup.”

  • Stay hydrated – drink plenty of room temperature, filtered water.  Add a little fresh lemon or lime juice if you have them on hand.
  • Eat the most beautiful food.
  • Be mindful of CATS (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sugar).
  • Turn off your television.
  • Avoid violent movies and fear-induced media hype.
  • Go outside and spend time in nature.
  • Don’t read the news when you’re eating.
  • Go to bed when you’re tired or take a nap.
  • Slow down.
  • Meditate. Light a candle or sit by a fireplace (the ultimate television).
  • Exercise. Move in ways that your body enjoys.
  • Breathe. A lot.
  • Relax in the sunshine.
  • Play, laugh, love.
  • Drink tea.
  • Sing your songs.

What are some other ways to nourish your spirit during this time of year? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.