Many people say yoga has changed their lives, myself included. I started practicing in New York City, a place that has the potential be a yogi’s dream. There are expensive studios with a view, free yoga in the park, donation based studios, and celebrity instructors. You can find Kundalini, Bikram, [Ashtanga]/style/ashtanga-yoga}, power yoga, etc. You name it and New York probably has it. It’s something of a phenomenon there, often marketed as the preferred method of escape from the crazed city lifestyle.
I'd be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time in the fancy studios. I did. I looked forward to drinking my eight dollar green juice while heading to the studio that I paid an exorbitant amount of money to every month. The lululemon was on, toenails painted, and hair in a proper ponytail. In class I would try my hardest to nail that handstand, to remain in crow for longer than five seconds, and to ensure my stomach was constantly sucked in. At times I pushed my body passed where it was ready to go. While I knew this was a result of my vanity and my own issues, and not the fault of the studio, I was missing the most important aspect of yoga. I lacked the connection to self, the willingness to let go and just be and observe. While I knew there were people in my class who were able to block the outside world out (and I salute them for that), I also knew there were others who had experienced, and continued to feel the same fears and discomfort, that I felt.
How I Discovered My Home Practice
About six months ago I moved to China to teach English. I had no interest in inhaling pollution while running outside or in joining the rather unsanitary gym in my neighborhood, so I started looking into home fitness programs. This is what led me to discover online yoga videos. My home practice was the turning point for me in yoga. Almost everyday after work I turned off the lights, lit some candles, chose a video, unrolled my mat, and lost myself in my practice.
There was something simultaneously comforting and liberating about moving through the asanas in complete solitude. Nobody could see what I was wearing or what my hair was doing, and most importantly I wasn’t competing. I was completely in tune with my body, flowing through asanas the way it wanted; I was open and humble. My brain was turned off and my heart was speaking.On days I felt homesick, this process cured it all. Loneliness doesn’t exist when there is a strong connection to self.
If you’re totally in love with your group practice I’m certainly not suggesting you stop going, but adding a home practice once or twice a week may give you a different kind of connection to yoga, and to yourself. For me, I think it was the lack of outside stimuli that forced me to notice every bend of the knee, every transition and breath, the feeling of each vertebrae rolling onto the floor, the beauty of spinal twists. I stopped caring about how many people were still in crow. I was able to let go and ultimately improve my posture and asanas more than I ever had.
It’s important to mention that safety is the most important part of yoga. If you’re a beginner, it may be best to take a class with a professional instructor to ensure proper alignment, and to assist with any knee, back or shoulder issues you may have. There are also wonderful benefits to practicing with others, particularly the positive energy in the room and the sense of community.
Yoga, like life, is a journey. There is a lesson to be learned from every feeling and experience, good or bad. Group classes forced me to examine why I was turning yoga into something superficial. Nobody cared what I was wearing or how long I held a pose. That was all me. Ironically, I wasn’t able to figure that out until I practiced alone. Both solo and group practices have something incredible to offer each individual. If one scares you, all the more reason to try it. You’ll most likely discover something about yourself you didn’t know before.