I know many yogis who started practicing on their own, at home, with some books and video materials. All of them persisted on practicing alone for quite some time, feeling somehow proud that they are making it without a yoga teacher and the support of fellow yogis. But eventually, all of them discovered that there is something missing – a little touch from a yoga teacher and some love of the community spirit.
For me, it came the way around.
I’ve been practising yoga now for nearly 7 years and I tried and loved both ways – practicing in a yoga studio with a yoga teacher and fellow yogis and also practicing alone, without music, videos or co-yogis, only my mat and me.
Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about myself and this beautiful practice, but this is already a subject for the next blog. What I’ve understood is which are the three ultimate things (that are not things) that make me go back to my teachers time and time again.
Guidance of a Yoga teacher
The most important thing at the beginning of my yoga path was definitely having a yoga teacher – a guide and a motivator that would be there to lead the way and help me align my body with correct and safe assistance.
In the first few years of my yoga career, I did everything to be able to practice with my yoga teacher: cancel meetings, run from one part of the town to another, wear leggings under my pants at work and skip lunches. I simply couldn’t imagine my yoga practice anywhere else than in a yoga studio with my yoga teacher who knew exactly how to assist me and lead me through the combination of postures.
It’s so important to practice with someone who has experience in assisting people getting in and out of (complicated) postures and has a vast knowledge of anatomy. In the period of practicing without a teacher, I developed some incorrect patterns of movement that were damaging for my body – I even injured myself seriously entering a posture where the assistance of my yoga teacher was very much needed.
After a few years of regular practice, I moved out of the city where I lived and practiced for several years. I found myself in a small town where there were no Ashtanga Vinyasa or Yin yoga studios around. As a dedicated practitioner, I had no other choice but to keep practicing – alone, without my teacher and without my fellow yogis. Practicing at home was totally new for me. I suddenly felt alone and lost in a practice I knew so well before. Magic created by collective energy and vibration in a yoga studio suddenly disappeared.
I missed the so-called sangha – the community, which in Buddhism is, alongside with buddha (awakening) and dharma (the path), one of the three treasures – and the most important one.
For more than 2,500 years we’ve been part of this tradition of people gathering together to practice, to reunite their intention and create energetic connections and support. You will hear yoga teachers talking about raising vibrations or uniting the spirit – but unless you’ve practiced in a yoga shala full of dedicated yogis, breathing and moving as one, you can’t understand what that really feels like.
At the beginning of my solo practice, even though I’ve missed my teacher and a group of fellow yogis a lot, I somehow found my way through and actually started enjoying my time alone on the mat. But what happened after a while, it was that my drishti, my focus, was slowly fading away. I couldn’t find the right time for my practice anymore. I couldn’t decide where to put my mat. And when I practiced, I couldn’t disconnect from my daily tasks – seeing dust under my bed in the downward dog that had to be cleaned, noticing a pile of papers on my desk that had to be read or hearing my dog barking wanting to go for a walk. I realized that practicing in a yoga studio wasn’t only about having a yoga teacher and some people doing the same thing, but so much more. It meant being in a place and taking the time where nothing else mattered, but my practice. When I entered a yoga studio there was nothing to do and nowhere to go, nothing to be and nothing to become. This place and time was my focus that I needed to remember, even if only once in a while.
I believe that yogis on their solo path eventually and in different form start missing one of the things I mentioned above. As for me, I am very glad that I have truly lived and experienced both yoga realities – it was the only way for me to figure out that what works for me best, is the combination of both.
If I find myself in a situation where I can’t regularly attend yoga classes, I now check for workshops or retreats with teachers I like. Spending a weekend or a week with a yoga teacher and co-yogis for me is enough to get some good assistance and corrections, to fill myself with some community spirit, remember my focus and keep up with the practice!