When I was new to yoga I did all of the things that typical newbies do -- I read books, I listened to CDs, I watched DVDs. Once I felt somewhat familiar with the practice of yoga, I attended my first class. Back then, my first choice for home practice was DVDs because I could listen to the instruction and see a pose being demonstrated if I got confused.
As time went on I became disenchanted with DVDs and classes. Why, you ask? Because of all of the talking. It always amazes me how some yoga teachers recite a monologue (complete with inspirational quotes, Hindu tales, and a little dash of yoga history and philosophy thrown in) during class. In the beginning I didn't really notice. Instead I thought my way through my practice. I was focused on what the teacher was saying and trying to get the poses right. I always seemed to be thinking about how my body parts were arranged.
Even though this is typical in classes and on DVDs (after all, they are instructional DVDs), it felt wrong to me. After all, is yoga really about listening, trying to get poses "right," and thinking? I didn't -- and don't -- think so. I think it's about feeling and breathing and tuning into the moment and how you are in that moment. How the heck are you supposed to do that when the teacher is talking non-stop or directing your attention to things or pulling your internal focus outside? It was my disillusionment with this type of yoga practice that led me to search for something different.
Now I practice in a different way -- I practice in silence, I focus on my breath so that it supports my movements, and I count the number of repetitions I do of each posture. This isn't to say that I don't still go to classes, attend workshops, or practice with DVDs every now and again. Yet when I do any of these, I find myself thinking one predominant thought -- "shut up, shut up, shut up." If I wanted to go to a lecture, I would have. I go to the mat to practice. When I practice I'm tuned into my body and my breath, not to something or someone outside of myself or lost in thought (of course my mind does wander every now and again as minds often do).
[Note to all of the yoga teachers out there -- I'm not criticizing you for teaching in an instructional style. I realize that teachers want to teach. That's their job. Still, I wonder whether constant chatter serves the student. What is the goal of the teacher -- to instruct, yes, but to pull a student out of his/her own experience? I think not. Of course every teacher has a different style. I tend to prefer a quieter, more internal style. This is my opinion. That's why this is my blog and not Yoga Law.]
It took time to make this transition. At first, when I wasn't all that familiar with the poses, it was difficult to practice on my own. I made a concerted effort to learn the postures and feel them in my own body. From there I worked on stringing practices together.
I recently found an innovative practice system that can support folks who want to have a practice that goes a little deeper. My Yoga 2 Go includes a deck of over 70 posture cards, a very cool multi-pocket display tote/carrying case, and 7 different suggested sequences ranging from beginner to advanced. The system was created by a yoga student -- Beth Siegel -- who yearned for a way to practice at home without being pulled out of the moment by distracting DVDs.
What I love about this system is that the cards are thorough without being too wordy. The front of the cards display a picture of the pose along with the Sanskrit and English name of the pose. The back of the card keeps things short but sweet -- time (how long to hold the pose), directions (enough to ensure safety but not so much as to confuse), variations, and benefits. The funky plastic card holder has 30 clear pockets that can display up to 60 posture cards at once. It can hand on a wall or door knob. No more trying to turn the pages of a book (ever notice how yoga books have a habit of closing up on you in the middle of your practice?) or having cards from a yoga deck scattered on the floor in front of you (one fast "run by" by Fido or Patches and your practice sequence is no longer a sequence).
If you're a yogi on the move or you want to establish a regular home practice, I highly recommend My Yoga 2 Go. It retails for just under $30, so you won't break the bank. And best of all -- you dictate the pace, length and tone of your practice. That means you can focus on what's really important -- feeling rather than simply following directions, which is done with your thinking mind.
One of the other cool offerings by My Yoga 2 Go is a yoga practice journal. This journal encourages you to be your own teacher by helping you track your progress in your practice. You can log information such as time held in the pose, number of breaths per pose, effortless poses and poses to strengthen in your next practice.
Am I saying abandon yoga classes and boycott yoga DVDs and CDs? No. I'm simply suggesting practicing in a different way. A way that's more conscious. A way that requires you to be your own teacher. To do that, you have to tap into your intuition and build your yoga practice to meet your needs. Teachers are invaluable, yes. But so are you and your wisdom. Tapping into yourself and that wisdom that resides within can help you receive yoga in a whole new way.
Try it, you just may discover something wonderful.