As we transition from a time of isolation and distancing back to gathering as a community, it’s a good time to give some thought to the balance between alone time and community time in our practice. Having watched many students grow in their practice over the years and speaking from my experience in my own practice, I think the ideal for long-term sustainability of yoga practice is a balance between time spent connecting with others in practice and time spent practicing alone.
When I first practiced in a city with a studio that offered Mysore classes, I also worked full time and left the house very early in the morning for work. So although that studio offered morning Mysore classes M-F, that wasn’t an option for me at the time. I was already at work when class started. My first Mysore teacher offered evening Mysore twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday. So very early on I established a routine of seeing my teacher two evenings a week and practicing with the class. Then on the other days I established a habit of practicing on my own at home.
There were benefits and challenges to both.
Benefits of a teacher and community
When I could be in class and practice with my teacher, she was there to help me direct my practice. She helped me understand the postures, she gave me guidance when I needed to modify a posture that wasn’t working in my body, and she gave me encouragement to keep going with practice, because Ashtanga can be challenging! There was benefit to practicing in community too. Although each student was working on their own individual practice, there was also a sense that we were supporting each other on that individual journey through our collective presence.
Benefits of home practice
But, practicing at home on my own also had benefits. My concentration was often deeper because there was very little to distract me — just me and my mat. I also learned to become more closely aware of the sensations in my body. When I knew no one else was watching, I became more accountable to myself for staying aware of how the practice felt. It was up to me to make small changes in a pose if something didn’t feel right.
Practicing at home alone taught me how to practice from the inside out, by feel rather than by how I think something looks. When I practiced with a teacher I got feedback from someone more experienced than me as I was learning the practice. Practicing with the community of other Mysore students helped me feel like I was part of something larger than myself.
Finding balance between studio and home practice
When my first Mysore teachers stopped teaching, they introduced me to David Keil, who has been my teacher ever since. David knew the benefits of maintaining a balance between practice alone and practice with a teacher in community. To support students in finding that balance, he didn’t teach classes on an ongoing schedule. Instead he taught 5-day Mysore “weeks”. Small groups of students registered for a 5-day practice week and had the benefit of a teacher and community. When the week ended, they were empowered with a new understanding of their practice and ready to practice at home again, taking time to integrate what they learned from the week.
Since my first 5-day Mysore week with David, that is how I practice. A couple times a year I practice with David and other students for five days in a row. I get guidance from David on specific aspects of my practice and support from the energy of the community. The rest of the time I practice on my own integrating what I’ve learned.
Opportunities to practice balance
With that in mind, you’ll see some changes to the schedule as we move forward with resuming in-person classes. In June we’ll be back to a M-F class schedule, but you’ll see that most months there will be a few days when classes in Asheville are cancelled. On those days I’ll be away, offering traveling 5-day Mysore weeks for groups of practitioners who don’t have a local teacher in their area. On those days, when there is no class here in Asheville, I encourage you to practice at home and enjoy all the benefits of solitude and home practice.
If you are one of those practitioners who lives somewhere without a local teacher and would like to bring the teacher to you, get in touch! I’d love to talk with you about how I might be able to support your practice and local practice community.