Group Yoga Class Vs Home Practice Part 2: The Importance of the Home Practice

This two-part post is something I've been mulling over for some time now. However, this last week I've been especially inspired to reflect upon the home practice. Last week I received a message from a student who's currently in Chile. She had so many great questions and one was about developing a home practice while away from home. Earlier this week my favorite podcast, Yogaland, was all about the home practice. Jason Crandell shared some really insightful tips on creating and maintaining a home practice. I figured this was a good time to dig into the home practice. 

If you didn't have a chance to read Part 1 of this post, check it out. It's all about the importance of the group yoga practice. For Part 2 I'm going to look at the other side of the spectrum, the home practice. Before I dive in, however, I want to clarify my definition of a home practice. I put the home practice into two categories: 1) The Guided Home Practice and 2) The Self Created Home Practice. 

The Guided Home Practice:

It's 2016 and  yoga has never been more accessible. There's numerous online services to stream yoga classes in your home like Yogaglo and Gaia. All you have to do is move some furniture, roll out your yoga mat, turn on your computer and get your yoga on. It's quite easy and affordable. There's endless styles of yoga taught by well-known teachers all over the internet. This has been my primary form of practice over the last year. My schedule is so crazy that it's challenging to find time to get into a yoga studio and take a group class. With sites like Yogaglo I'm able to move through a practice guided by some of my favorite teachers for a monthly fee that's less than a drop-in class at a local studio. You just can't beat that. 

Frown upon it all you'd like, but it's undeniable that social media has become a powerful force in the yoga community. I've actually learned yoga postures through short videos posted on Instagram. I'm regularly inspired by the many yogis I follow on Instagram. Of course the videos and yoga selfies posted on social media don't even come close to scraping the surface of all that is yoga, but I will some day get my body into Visvamitrasana. Looking at pictures and videos of people getting into the posture on Instagram will continue to fuel that inspiration.

I must mention that the Guided Home Practice requires the student to take on more personal responsibility. Sure a teacher might pop up on a screen and ask  you to kick up into Handstand, but a teacher isn't actually present to help you with safety and alignment. It's not always the best or most safe practice for everyone. 

The Self Created Home Practice:

This is typically the more challenging of the two practices. Not challenging because of the physical demand, but challenging because it takes a lot of focus. I can't contain my envy when someone tells me they have a regular home practice. What discipline! What dedication! Whenever I tell myself, "Erin, it's time to work on your home practice" it usually ends up with me hanging out on some blocks for a few minutes until my dog decides he wants some attention and I cave. My discipline and dedication easily go out the window when it comes to my pets. 

While listening to Jason Crandell talk about the home practice on Yogaland I couldn't help but feel like he was talking to me and summarizing my last few years as a yoga teacher. (If you're not listening to this podcast, do yourself a favor and check it out!) When I first started teaching yoga I would make my home practice all about the classes I was going to teach that week. I would fine tune the transitions and work out the kinks in my sequencing. This type of home practice didn't really serve me as a student, but it did better prepare me as a teacher. With many years of teaching and practicing yoga I've now come to a point where I no longer have to physicalize my classes. Now my home practice, when I actually focus and get to it, has taken on a different shape.

I teach primarily Vinyasa yoga all day long so when it comes to my personal time on my yoga mat it's rare that I want to flow and do Chaturanga. Again, I tend to roll out my mat, grab a couple blocks, and do some supported postures and call it a day. It could be the heat and humidity from the summer, but my body has been craving slow movement. Give me Supta Baddha Konasana with a bolster, some blocks, and a strap and I'm a very happy camper. Of course in the back of my mind there's Visvamitrasana. Shouldn't I be stretching my legs, shoulders, and side body if I hope to ever get into that one? Meh. Right now, I'm supremely content with things that feel really good. Just like me, my practice will change and morph seasonally and  yearly and I'm learning to just embrace what feels good for me right now. 

I cannot emphasize this enough, yoga teachers, please make your practice a priority. Years ago a fellow teacher of mine was shocked when I told him I practiced a minimum of three days a week. He couldn't believe I taught so much and made time for my practice. I was deeply saddened when he told me he couldn't remember the last time he was on his mat for his own practice. This is not okay! Sometimes I wish I could carve out more time to take a group class with the community I've been in for years, but I know that my home practice nourishes me. Since I started to embrace my personal time on my mat at home I've seen my teaching move in a more authentic direction. I know the home practice is worth it. 

My advice to those who want to create a home practice: Start small. Sure it's nice to create a practice that moves you toward your Visvamitrasana, but most of us are busy people with short attention spans. Set a small amount of time aside, maybe just 15 minutes, and do postures that just feel good. Eventually you may be able to build up to a longer amount of time and amp up the intensity or dial it down as needed. That's the beauty of the home practice! It's only what you want it to be. Need some inspiration? Flip through your copy of Light on Yoga or, my personal favorite, Mark Stephen's Yoga Sequencing. The Self Created Home Practice definitely isn't for everyone. Some committed time in a group practice or with a private teacher will most likely precede a home practice, but I'm quickly realizing how critical it can be as a mode of self-care.

The Importance?

Although the Guided Home Practice and the Self Created Home Practice are two very different practices, they both have one thing in common: It's just you and your mat. It's your space to do and move how you feel. Although you might be encouraged to move as you please in a group practice, there's still a fine line between going rogue and sticking with the class that is being presented. When I'm taking classes on Yogaglo I'll find myself hanging in a posture longer than the teacher cues just because it feels good. In a group yoga class I'm more inclined to move on as I know the teacher has a plan and I want to respect the space that the teacher has created. 

Want to move at your own pace? Do you feel intimidated by those practicing around you? Do you have postures you just need to get in but the teacher doesn't seem to be receiving your telepathic messages? Yes, yes and yes?? Then a home practice might be more your speed. There's no one around so there's no need to compare yourself to others. There's absolutely no need to push yourself into Upward Bow if you're not feeling it and there's zero sweat flying onto your mat from the yogis around you. Not to mention weird smells coming from someone's yoga clothes.