The Practicality of Personal Practice

“I’ll let you in on a little secret. Your practice should make you feel better, not worse.”

I’ve heard my teacher Gary say this phrase more times than I can count and it’s often in response to someone talking about having some kind of physical pain after their āsana practice or beating themselves up for not practicing more.

Of course we all know this, but do we really know it? I mean deep within ourselves, actually embody it, know it? I don’t think so. We are often so caught up in our culture’s language of not being good enough that we fall out of practice, or more often than that, have a practice that isn’t really serving us because we think it’s what we’re supposed to do then beat ourselves up for not doing it everyday…but how is that actually helpful?

For many of us, we set up these unrealistic goals of thinking we need to practice for 90 minutes every day!

This could be partially because of the length of yoga classes in studios and also because of the length of certain styles of yoga āsana practices (which shall remain unnamed here). Then we get into this all or nothing thinking and when we don’t have space for 90 minutes of practice we just do NOTHING because ‘what’s the point if I can’t do it right?’ But the reality is, most of us don’t have an hour and a half to dedicate to our practice every single day. It would be cool if we did, but we have partners, families, jobs, and other responsibilities.

We are what TKV Desikachar referred to as householders. We aren’t living in the mountains. We aren’t wealthy folks with servants to care for our homes. We have lots. of. shit. on. our. plates.

So how does yoga practice work for us?

Well, in short, we find a tailored practice for our particular needs at that specific time. And guess what! Those needs are constantly changing.

Sometimes we need to work on stabilizing our SI joints. Other times we need to counteract the kyphosis we’ve developed from sitting at a desk all week. Often we may need to focus on appropriate prāṇāyāma practices because we are so damn stressed out. Maybe we need to dive more deeply into chant and mantra to connect with ourselves. More often than not, it’s some combination of the above and more. We work with practices that are realistic for us to actually do. We find the correct time of day that is practical for us. We determine the appropriate length of time that is realistic for our schedules. And we practice.

And y’all…your practice needs to be something that you want to do. It should feel good.

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but if you are looking at your practice as something on your to-do list that you have to get done, you’ll begin to resent it. Then what’s the point?

If you have 5-20 minutes that you can dedicate to your personal practice everyday, that is enough. It just requires some fine-tuning so that you’re doing the appropriate postures for your needs (more importantly in the appropriate sequence so as to avoid injury), the best prāṇāyāma to support your mind and nervous system, and incorporating the other parts of yoga practice that are relevant for you. Not everything is right for everyone at every time.

The big question you have to ask yourself is what’s your intention for your practice? Do you feel like you need to perform fancy āsana?

Or is it more important to you to support your nervous system so that it is regulated at the beginning of your day? Do you need a practice to help you fall asleep more easily at night? Or help you through your midday slump? Maybe it’s some combination of things, but what I can tell you is that it needs to be right for you each day. To me, practice is about creating stability in the structure of the body, clearing the mind through prāṇāyāma, and using chant and mantra to connect more deeply with oneself. The ways in which that is done change depending on what exactly is going on at the time and the practice should be adapted to fit your needs…not the other way around.

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