Yoga has come a long way from the days when you had to travel far and wide to places difficult to find and hope that a teacher would dispense wisdom and unlock the secret of life for you. In some cities, there’s a yoga studio every few blocks and you can take yoga classes online in your living room. You can even have a private lesson via webcam without ever leaving your home! What is the best balance of home versus class practice? What is the best way to structure a home practice? And do you need a teacher?
Home practice and yoga classes are highly complementary, and your optimal results will come from combining the two. If all else is equal, time and money no object, many people would elect to take a yoga class every day or every morning. While this is a disciplined and structured way to engage your practice, you might miss out on the self-discovery fostered by a solo home practice. Svadyaya, or self-study, is one of the observances described in the Yoga Sutras as central to the practice of yoga. On the other hand, if you learn from books and videos and never commit to one teacher for a length of time and don’t benefit from interaction and the give and take of instruction, you’re likely to to miss out on some of the truth, or Satya, of practice as well as have your inner fire, or Tapas suffer - both Satya and Tapas are other observances central to a full practice, described in the Yamas and Niyamas or the first two limbs of yoga.
Daily practice is ideal for reaping the rewards of your practice. Even 15 minutes a day is deeply beneficial, and some studies even say that a 15 minute practice every day is preferable to one or two hour long classes a week. Having a regular daily practice creates a foundation and a framework which can support your steady observation through the ups and downs of life. Anyone who has practiced regularly for any length of time will tell you that some days are just better than others. One morning you show up and can’t focus or quiet your mind to save your life, and the next morning you are settled as the deep blue sea. The quality of your practice from day to day is not important; your ability to observe those vacillations from day to day and to identify with consciousness that embraces them all is key.
So why wouldn’t it be best for every yoga student everywhere to show up at their yoga studio at 7am every day for an hour and a half practice with their teacher? Because when you practice alone in your own environment you encounter different challenges and conditions. When you enter a yoga studio, the teacher creates the beginning, middle and end of class, fills the time and paces your movements. You can focus on their words to the exclusion of your inner sensation. When you unroll your mat at home, you will experience nuances of uncertainty and revelations of sensation and experience unavailable when practicing with a class. You’ll gain confidence in your ability to know when a pose is finished for today and your intuition about what comes next. And you’ll be able to sit with revelations about poses, instructions and self in a way that allows you honor and integrate them differently than a classroom setting.
In every yoga practice we learn to face the challenges and integrate the lessons and joys of everyday life in skillful ways. We learn through observation how we respond to feelings and challenges and we learn to care for ourselves in ways that make us more available to others. By cultivating a home as well as a classroom practice, you can deepen your ability to work with these observations and feel the poses in whole new ways. Practicing yoga with a class gives you a community and a teacher who will challenge you to do what you might avoid or not even see on your own, who can support you simply by breathing and moving together. One without the other is like having to choose peanut butter or chocolate; they’re both delicious, but together they’re better!