Am I doing enough practice?
For the Yoga Teacher: Am I doing enough practice?
In my mentoring work and in conversations with yoga teacher colleagues, I notice that many teachers carry around a guilty mantra in their heads: “I am not doing enough practice, on the mat”. Guilt is not a great foundation for our work as a yoga teacher. How can we align our practice with our personal needs and find an affirming relationship with our practice? Here are some ideas.
Stay in the present
When we say we are not doing enough asana practice, we are usually comparing to how we practised in the past, or how we think we should practise in the future! Let’s get present-centred, by booking times with yourself for this week, for your practice on the mat. Look at what you can realistically and happily fit into your week. For most people a routine works well. Commit to this. Then try out the new mantra: I am doing just the right amount of practice for my current life.
2. Examine your expectations of how much time you spend in practice.
Yoga teachers can suffer from an unrealistic expectation of the amount of time they “should” be practising. I have been practising yoga for 30 years. I have gone through happy years of 10 hours a week of practice and happy years of much less. Currently, my self-practice is three booked in time slots of half an hour each. I am in a busy phase of my life being a mother, teacher, writer, dog-owner and with creative projects on the go, time for my mat-practice is limited. This is a choice I have made and I am completely at ease with this. These times of practice are gold for me and have wonderful spill over effects into my life. And yes, it is 1.5 hours a week of self-practice - that’s it.
More than twenty years ago a swami (whose name I have long forgotten) gave a talk about the importance of daily yoga practice. He then demonstrated one of his practices in a very busy phase of his life: he stood up sat down, chanted one long slow OM, then stood up, practice over. It was wonderful to laugh together and free ourselves of the weight of ‘shoulds’ about our practice.
3. Make your practice designed specifically to your needs
A short practice that is specially designed to your needs will feel deeply nourishing and will bring great benefits. This is the beauty of self-practice, you can choose what and how you practise. A general one-size-fits-all yoga routine is less useful and satisfying. What do you specifically need right now from your practice? Currently your needs might be more physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Take time to design a very unique practice tailored to you. You could get help from an experienced teacher or yoga therapist to help you find this. However, I think many yoga teachers can discover their unique practice if they approach this with curiosity and a willingness to plan. A few examples: a yoga teacher practices only restorative yoga to heal from a chronic health condition; a daily 15 minute meditation practice each morning helps a teacher with very stressful people-oriented work; a specific sequence helps a teacher with a back injury and so on. Those shorter practices can then become deeply nourishing.
4. Keep your practice seperate from your teaching preparation
It is tempting - and I have done this at times - to use your practice to create sequences for yoga teaching. This is fine, but call this what it is: teaching preparation. You will still need time to immerse in your own practice. While you are doing your practice, you can have a journal nearby to write down ideas for teaching and as a way to put aside the thinking-teaching mind, so you can return to immerse in your own felt experience.
5. What is practice anyway?
Over time we realise that our practice develops ways of being that start to infuse everything we do in life. The heart of practice is an increased capacity for self-awareness which can then permeate our relationships, our work, our eating choices, our leisure, our self-identity. This enhanced self-awareness enhances so many other qualities - self-confidence, strength, wisdom, compassion and others - and then these qualities permeate our lives. An increased sense of self means we can contribute more positively in the world around us. Then it seems that the essence of our practice is in everything we do. So perhaps you are ‘practising’ yoga a lot more than you think you are! When practising turns to living - we are doing the highest practice of all.