Let's address some common doubts about a personal Yoga practice, or "sādhana."
Over the past 7+ years of teaching, I've engaged with lots of questions about Yoga. (Let me get this out of the way for you now - flexibility is not a pre-requisite!) During this time, I have migrated from offering public group classes to teaching mostly one-on-one. Meanwhile, the context of modern Yoga seems to have become increasingly noisy and confusing. Instagram's top #yoga posts display postures I can't hold with much steadiness or ease, alongside handfuls of questionably spiritual-adjacent products. It's intimidating! So I wanted to dig into the five W's of a personal Yoga practice, based on my experiences studying, practicing, and teaching. I hope this gives you more clarity, and I invite you to dialogue with me further about your own relationship to Yoga.
Who is Yoga for?
If you have a mind, Yoga is for you.
Yoga is one of the Indic Ṣaḍ darśana (the six Vedic schools of philosophy), and its definitive 2,000-year old text - Patañjali's Yoga Sutra - describes Yoga as the stilling of the mind. So if you have a mind, Yoga is for you. It's not just for flexible young white women, nor only for ascetics who have devoted their entire lives to self-realization. Yoga doesn't "belong" to any one group or person. It really can be practiced by anyone, even though not everyone will find it personally meaningful. And that's okay. But if you have a mind, and you're interested in helping it calm down, the next step is to find a teacher who does their own sādhana and is ready to help you do yours.
What is a "personal practice"?
Who can calm your mind but you? I could gather endless information about Yoga by reading books, watching videos, taking classes, and listening to lectures. I would increase my intellectual understanding of what Yoga means, yet how does this knowledge lead to my experience of a quiet mind? The key lies in practice: we actually have to "do" Yoga to experience a state of Yoga. I love the magic that can happen in group classes when we share a laugh or an "Ah-ha!" moment. But when I do my personal sādhana each day at home, I can better bridge the gap between knowing and experiencing.
A guide is needed for this journey. A skillful teacher will help you develop a practice that accounts for your goals, stage in life, health condition, daily routine, energy, constitution, breath capacity, occupation, interests, and faith. Your personal practice might include tailored āsana, prāṇāyāma, chanting, meditation, or rituals. It could also be adjustments to your habits, such as when you eat meals or how you prepare for sleep. In this way, a consistent personal sādhana is the most suitable way for you to quiet your mind. (And then once you understand how all this works together, you can get the most out of that group class.)
Where and when should I practice?
This one's easy! The ideal place for you to practice is a clean, quiet space in your home where you won't be interrupted or distracted, first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, every day.
...Okay, but really? Maybe it's your balcony, the kitchen, or a closet. You'll probably hear street noice, notice dust bunnies, and mentally loop your to-do list. (Is it just me?) It doesn't matter. Claim a space and ask your family to let you be for as long as it takes. Practicing on a mostly empty stomach does give us ample room to comfortably explore the body and the breath. And yes, do it every day, because consistency pays dividends. As my teacher likes to remind us: You eat, bathe, and brush your teeth every day, even Sundays. Let your practice be that regular, that habitual. Yoga isn't a pill you take once and see instant results.
One little caveat here - for the first few days of your lunar cycle (if you have one), it's generally recommended to rest and simply allow your body to do its natural work. This process requires the correct flow of apāna vāyu (the energy responsible for elimination and menstruation), which could get disturbed by your usual routine. Your teacher can help you explore appropriate practices around this time.
Why does this matter?
I suppose if you've read this far, you might already have a sense of why a personal Yoga practice is an important resource. For me, it's the nectar that sweetens each day. It's the magnet that orients my compass. And it's the ritual that cleans my mind's lens, allowing me to perceive life with greater clarity. My teacher's teacher summed it up this way:
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.” - T.K.V. Desikachar
Since 2012, I can confidently say that my relationships with myself and my partner have changed for the better. That would be enough for me to continue, but I've discovered a treasure trove of so much more - I feel less angry, more compassionate. I am a better listener. My choices are more purposeful. And I'll never know how many problems this practice has helped me prevent.
What's your "why"? How have you changed through practicing Yoga? What inspires you to keep going? If you feel motivated to take the next step in your Yoga journey, wherever you're at, reach out so we can explore the inner landscape together.