Getting Personal

Yoga is full of challenging poses and sequences.

But, for me, there is really nothing more daunting than this:

If only there were a few other yogis and a teacher.

Did you notice how no one else is in the room?

This is a personal practice. Me, myself, and the mat.

There are days when I would rather attempt tripod headstand (a pose I don't even do) in front of a group of 1000 strangers than do downward dog by myself.
Ever think that yoga teachers just get up there and mostly wing it? Try "winging it" on your own. It is incredibly difficult. To my teachers - near and far - I honor you, admire you, and appreciate what it takes - not just to put a sequence together - but to remember it on both sides, and to have it roughly come out evenly as far as timing.

About six months ago, I decided to really get serious about my personal practice. My primary motivation was the amount of travel that I do. I was really tired of the same DVDs all the time, and I felt like I had no creativity in my practice whatsoever when I was away from class. When you are rationalizing why you aren't "going to the do the abs portion this time" or decide to take a blackberry break during "the meditation part" - than the video route isn't working.

My other issue was that I had previously used my personal practice mostly for restorative: give me a bolster and I'll hug it for 30 minutes. But that wasn't what I was looking to improve. I wanted to learn how to play and work on poses that were interesting and challenging to me. I also wanted to do it safely - which meant making sure that I warmed up the right muscles to attempt the fun poses. A personal practice that led to injury was not going to be sustainable.

I realized that I needed a plan. I would need to be thoughtful about what I wanted to accomplish and sketch out what I wanted to try.

I started small. I alternated different pranayama exercises and did lots of Sun As and Bs, and abs. I quickly realized that if I wanted to have a strong practice, than I first needed to figure out how to get warm enough in rooms that weren't heated.

If I liked a sequence in a class, I would write it down right after the class was over. I amassed a cute stack of post-its and receipts with random things written on the back like:

"eagle, archer, all in warrior 1 and then switch to 2 for interlock prep, then interlock - afterwards do pigeon"


"standing series, but do humble warrior for a longer time, then after - chest opener on the wall, shower pose"

Some of my scribbles were hilarious - "its like scissors but your leg doesn't come up" (that would be scissors prep) or "it's that pose where you lie back but i like to do it with blocks" (hero pose) or - a personal favorite - "it's not really a pose but you sit against the wall and breathe and press on your thigh."

We'll work on the Sanskrit next.

Eventually - these crazy lists turned into outlines. I am still hopelessly type A. I compared what I liked with my collection of yoga books, and added and took away items. I found that if I really liked what I was doing, the timing and remembering seemed to somehow take care of itself after a while.

And then I started to play with when I practiced and where- highlights included a before work and before sunrise candlelight practice in my bedroom (try it) and a lunchtime practice while working from home. Sometimes I add music (hip hop to classical and everything in between). Sometimes I practice in silence. I try not to get too attached to anything (harder than it sounds).

Slowly, but surely, I have moved from trying to have a personal practice, to just having one. 

And this past weekend, I felt like I finally had a really strong, complete, intense practice - that I did all by myself. It was 75 minutes, based on a rough outline, in tandem with what I lovingly refer to as the pose bible. More like the new testament. I'll give Iyengar "Light on Yoga" as the Old Testament and I'll let Ana have the new section. The Forrest Yoga companion book that comes with the intensives has absolutely made a difference - I just refer to it when I can't remember how to do something.

And while I still practice at a studio most days, I am slowly starting to crave the personal practice that I do during the week.

One of many practice outlines I've used. And in the background, the Forrest pose bible.

You may not be able to see it through the scribbles - but the first line of the outline above is "intention."

My intention is to continue to grow into this relationship with a room that has just me and my mat in it. Because, while yoga is amazing on so many levels, our practice is a testament to what you can do with the one thing you always have: