Yoga: Should You Do Your Own Thing?

I’m digging deep in my yoga practice these days. And it’s not just about the yoga poses or becoming stronger or more flexible. I’m digging deep in self-study, or svadhyaya. Svadhyaya is a favorite of mine, but I must say, the self study of getting back into public yoga classes after years of personal practice is pretty challenging (and interesting) work.

Since the start of the 40 Day Challenge on February 1st, I’ve attended 8 classes (compare that to the 8 public classes I attended in the whole of 2014!) with a total of 5 different teachers.

A lot of *stuff* has come up for me in these classes and I’ve been trying to sort it out in the back of my head, both in and out of class, these last few days. I think writing this post will help me sort my thoughts out a little bit more.

Here are some of the questions that have come up for me:

Should I do only what the teacher teaches? My personal practice is completely tailored to my needs. Which is great, but there’s so much more available in yoga. Some of the poses teachers have taught in my classes these past few days have been totally awesome - I’m inspired by all the new tips and tricks I’m learning for how to address the issues in my body. On the other hand, some of the poses have had a really unsettling effect, which brings me to…

What if the practice doesn’t feel right for my body? I’m really torn on this one, which is interesting because when I’m the teacher I always encourage my students to do what feels right for their body. But now that I’m the student my perspective is a little different.

Now I think that sometimes it’s a good idea to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Even if you’re skeptical at first, you just might find lots of awesome outside your comfort zone. Just be open, be patient, breathe, and give your body a fair chance to try the new thing.

But if you’re open and patient, if you breathe and give yourself some time, and you still don’t like the new thing, then it’s time to let it go and either find a version that works better for you (your teacher will be happy to help) or just take a break.

Wow, it sounds pretty simple now that I’ve organized my thoughts in writing, but let me tell you, in the middle of a class when I’m trying something new that doesn’t feel quite right for my body, my mind has a medium-sized freak out.

Full Yoga Class

Will I make the teacher uncomfortable if I do my own thing? Years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, I taught yoga at the Dell Fitness Center. One day a new lady came to class and when I was teaching a wide legged forward fold, she took it a step further, rested her head on the floor between her feet, and brought her legs straight up toward the ceiling until she was in headstand.

At that time, it kind of freaked me out. Why was she not following my instructions? Why was she showing off? Was my class not good enough for her?

But now I realize that when people know their bodies and their bodies’ needs, they modify. Maybe this woman was tired and needed to raise her energy, maybe she had a big meeting in the afternoon and really needed to focus her mind. Who knows?

My point is, the teacher might be uncomfortable if you do your own thing, but it’s really none of your business. It’s the teacher’s business. Let them do the work to figure out why it bothers them.

And so my learning here is, after I’m patient and try out what the teacher teaches, if it still doesn’t feel right for me, I’m going to do my own thing to find what best serves me. And I’m not going to worry about the teacher.

I am getting so much more out of rejoining public yoga classes than I expected. I’m remembering the magic that happens in led yoga classes and why I wanted to become a yoga teacher to begin with. It’s a whole new cycle and new level of learning, now with the benefit of a few years of teaching experience.

Yoga is so much more than just the poses. It’s not just about how far you can stretch or how strong you are or how well you balance. It’s also a study about what’s going on in your body and in your mind and in your heart, and it’s a practice in managing your reactions to everything that comes up when you’re on your mat.

Man, I love yoga!