Some days I wake up and want to do some yoga, but can’t decide what to do. Should I do some strong standing pose work, some slow forward bends, some vigorous back bends – or lie around on bolsters for a while? But increasingly, when I get the opportunity to a have some uninterrupted yoga time, I really enjoy just ‘getting on the mat’ and seeing what feels good for my body there and then. One pose leads to another and a thread starts to materialise from the ether. When the intellect is quieter, it is the inner-self that guides, directing from an intuitive place.
Of course, having been to countless hours of well taught yoga classes over the years, I discover some of the lessons or ideas coming back to me. I remember once my old teacher saying that you had to let the instructions you receive in a class ‘percolate’ into your cells – in fact this sounds like the sort of thing Iyengar would say. And so years after you hear an instruction, it’s effect may suddenly blossom into being, adding to the depth of an asana.
It can be also good to challenge habits – if you have various set sequences and routines that you tend to do when you practice, what about starting off in your usual way and then asking where else you could go – what does the experience of being in a certain pose make you want to do next? It can also be a really good exercise to focus on one area of the body – maybe the tailbone one day. What is my tailbone doing in Adho Mukka Svanasana? In Trikonasana? In Sirsasana? By linking the poses like this you may get ideas for other poses – if you are thinking of your tailbone (maybe you are focussing on moving it in) in some standing poses then can you carry that through to some back bends with the same focus? Such practice starts to take on the characteristics of the sixth limb of Yoga – Dharana (concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness).
It is a shame when people fairly new to yoga don’t have the confidence to try things at home, but this is what really counts. It can be such a different feeling from taking part in a class. There can be an exploration of an asana; a pushing at the limits of one’s knowledge. Also the opportunity to go at your own pace and desired level of intensity. There is no one there to push you or cajole you except yourself and your own ‘Tapas’ (the discipline or striving towards your goals which is one of the five Niyamas). This is where I sometimes struggle and settle for the easy life, forcing me into awareness of the more tamasic (lazy) side of my nature. This is also an important part of self-practice; cultivating a better understanding of yourself.
Of course the biggest challenge can be the mental side – staying focussed, truly observing oneself in a pose. Distractions come and go through the mind from outside and inside; a telephone ringing, a shopping list assembling. A teacher once told us (I think we were in Savasana) that we should think of these thoughts as being like clouds drifting across the sky – let them pass by, and when one becomes aware that a cloud is in your awareness just let it drift away and return to ‘clear sky’. Try not to get annoyed by this happening – it is inevitable so don’t let it worry you.