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Flying Solo

Dear friend,

I hope you are enjoying the warm and long days!

The theme of this month's newsletter is self-yoga-practice. I will be offering a special workshop on the fundamentals of self-practice and thought I would briefly share some of my thoughts on the topic.

Looking back on my 17-18 years of practicing yoga I cannot imagine it without my precious self-practice. It took me a while when I started out to feel comfortable practicing on my own, I went through a process of gradually taking ownership of my practice which evolved along the years and has been invaluable to me in so many ways.

On a practical level, being able to lay a mat on a floor in any kind of space, wherever I am, and do my practice, whether I only have a short time or more, has been a consistent companion and a delightful sanctuary. This means that every day can potentially be a yoga day colored with an underlaying mindful quality which allows me to move through life with more clarity and peace of mind.

It also fulfils one of the most important concepts in the yoga tradition which is that yoga should fit the individual and not the other way around. Unfortunately not all schools of yoga align with that notion even though some may claim to be in theory and yet at the same time demand that practitioners conform to their particular structure, set of rules, and other themes that the main guru came up with. From my experience, for yoga to be effective in the long term we must develop the skill, knowledge, and most importantly the will to adapt it to our needs, capacity and circumstances. It can be of great benefit to us if we are able to stay flexible and open not only in our body but also in our mind so that we are able to change things, even dramatically, when needed.

From another point of view, we can easily be misled by our conditioned mind which tends to pull us in directions that are not always serving us very well. We can be highly affected by Samskaras which are deeply rooted patterns of thinking and reacting that filter our experiences and tend to distort reality. Very often following whatever comes up spontaneously in our mind or body will not lead us to an effective practice but rather feed these habitual tendencies and keep us stuck in our comfort zone or familiar patterns.

So what do we do?? How do we know what is the best way to practice on our own?

No easy answers there! We need to patiently develop our ability to observe ourselves in a way that bypasses our biases. Yoga practice can help develop that ability and at the same time for yoga to be effective we need to be able to see things more clearly. This is a bit of a conundrum ;-) so we take it one step at a time and maintain infinite patience. We can expect a non-linear progression with many setbacks and breakthroughs, hills and valleys, and also plateaus.

I love to do my practice early in the morning, the air feels fresh and crisp, it is quiet with occasional sounds of birds and wind as the city starts waking up. Time moves slowly around the dawn of day which is perfect for a seated meditation practice, after which I start my Asana practice, listening to the sound of my breath as I move on my mat and hold some postures with the residue of the meditation session carrying on. Sometimes I catch myself lost in thought which is a wonderful moment of realization, seeing the nature of my mind as it is. Repeating the same postures for many years gives me an opportunity to explore the deeper layers of experience they can offer, the internal forms and subtle patterns of movement and intention, the texture of sensation that arise with every breath. I can take my time, move in my own pace, sometimes hold for longer, sometimes move more quickly, maybe even take rest or do a posture twice or more if I need to go deeper. So much freedom and independence that can be expressed through the practice with self-compassion, joy and curiosity. I usually finish my practice with Pranayama that offers a pleasant transition for the rest of the day.

Staying tuned with the breath is vital. The moment we feel restricted, when it's hard to breathe or we get anxious in any way, we need to slow down or even take rest for a moment until things gets settled, it might even be a good idea to end the practice and come back to it another time when we are ready to start again. Facing challenges during our yoga practice is a delicate matter that requires lots of patience and acquired wisdom so that it actually takes us it the right direction and doesn't feed some ambitious goal-oriented cycle. It may not always be clear how much effort one needs to make and what level of intensity is appropriate. Having a teacher that pushes us outside our comfort zone can have some benefits but may also distract or lead to injury. No one else besides us can really know what it's like to experience our own body and mind at any given moment. Using some external guidance and inspiration can be incredibly useful in some stages of our journey but eventually we might discover everything we need within us and become our own best teachers.

Yoga has been passed from teacher to student for many generations in a one-on-one setting. In recent decades yoga became vastly popular all over the world and therefore led group class became the main mode of transmitting its applied wisdom. In the old days a student would meet their teacher once or twice a week and receive teachings and instructions then they would apply what they learned on their own the rest of the week, very similar to the way people learn how to play a musical instrument. It was a process that was based on a close relationship between student and teacher which meant that the practice was truly adapted and personalized according to the student's personality, capacity, goals and needs so that the potential to progress is maximized and the essence of the teachings is not lost.

Led group yoga classes can definitely have their benefits, they can be educational and insightful and lead to useful experiences, but relying on them exclusively means that we are missing a substantial ingredient which is the time and space we can intimately have with ourselves to breathe, move our body and pay attention to what comes up at any given moment in silence. These times  of practicing on our own allow us to process what we learned, assimilate it, come to some realizations or moments of clarity, and let everything sink in.

From my experience, an optimal yoga routine is joining a group class 1-2 times a week and adding a self-practice for another 2-3 times. Our self-practice can be anything which is possible for us, whether only 20 minutes or longer, in any form, sequence or structure, in any intensity level that is appropriate. This way we can get the most out of yoga while integrating it with our daily responsibilities and activities. If we're lucky we might be able to go on retreat once or twice a year or maybe take some time off to study in-depth or do more intensive practice, but even if we can't find the time for that we can still enjoy the many benefits of yoga as part of our daily routine. 

What do you think?

Write back if you have any thought or experience you'd like to share, or a question that comes up.

If you find yourself curious about these kinds of topics - join a workshop, a retreat, or any other event on offer.

Looking forward to sharing space, breath and being present with you in July.

With love and gratitude


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