Thursday, January 9, 2014

What Does Personal Practice Mean?

Sometimes I will hear my students say, “I practice with Peggy.” Using the term broadly to describe the doing of asanas in any context, this makes sense. However, I actually use the word “practice” differently, to distinguish it from “study.”

To me, practice means personal practice. That is, what I do on my own, away from my teachers. BKS Iyengar says we are not really doing yoga until we’re doing it on our own.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my teachers and mentors and value them tremendously. One of the reasons I moved from Milwaukee to Detroit in 2013 was to have access to a weekly senior teacher, the illustrious Laurie Blakeney of Ann Arbor. But no teacher, no matter how good, whether Laurie, my mentor Lois Steinberg, or Guruji BKS Iyengar himself, can replace my personal practice.

Why? My personal practice is where I tend to my particular needs that day. I don’t have to take anyone else’s needs or agenda into consideration. If I’m premenstrual and have low back pain, I can address this. If I’m cold and stiff, I can act accordingly. If I’ve had a poor night’s sleep or I’m feeling agitated, I can practice to alleviate these conditions.

Home or personal practice is where I sensitize myself and listen closely to my body and mind. Sometimes I have a plan or goal in mind as I approach my mat. I might be working on a syllabus for my next assessment, preparing for a class or workshop, or thinking about a student with an injury or ailment. But most times I ask myself what I am needing, and one pose leads to another as the practice unfolds.

Home practice is both artistry and discipline. As an artist, I take full creative responsibility for my sequence and how I execute those asanas. As a disciplinarian, I go through my sequence and create rigor of mind and attention myself without relying on anyone else. I have to “bring it” each and every time.

Does this mean my personal practice is always as good or better than a class I attend? Not necessarily. I go to class not to practice, but to study. When I study, I’m gaining insights and ideas to bring back to my practice. I get feedback, corrections, adjustments, and refinements.  My study informs my personal practice.

Some schools of yoga encourage daily class. But in the Iyengar tradition, we encourage daily practice, and classes to supplement practice, maybe 1-3 times a week. The personal practice should be at the heart of yoga, not reliance on a teacher. When I go for month-long intensive study at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India, we have the privilege of attending 6 classes/week. However, class does not replace practice, which we do daily in the hall each morning for 2-3 hours, alongside Guruji himself, who at 95 years old, still sets the standard for a sustained, intense, conscious, creative, sensitive personal practice.

Yes, please come and study with me. I have so much I want to share with my students. But also practice on your own! This will empower you like no teacher can.

To encourage personal practice, IYD hosts open practice sessions for members. Join me at any of these times, use our props and rope wall, get your asana moving! We will practice side by side, doing our own sequences without instruction.
Tuesdays 12-2pm
Wednesdays 8-10am
Thursdays 10am-12pm (teachers and apprentices, others welcome)
Saturdays 7-9am
Let me know if you would like to practice at any of these times.

Come to my workshop: