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One day, I was in class with five other people. We were sitting quietly on our mats facing our teacher. Instead of leading us in a meditation as she normally does, our instructor asked if any of us had a home practice. There was dead silence. I was looking to my left and right to see if anyone would respond with an affirmative. Finally, someone did.
I’ve been going to yoga classes for less than a year. Sometimes I take five yoga classes in a week. I really enjoy these classes for many different reasons. They get my body moving in ways that it normally does not. I get to work on my strength, balance and flexibility. I also get to work with my feelings towards my body. Afterwards, there is a nice reward – the after class yoga high. I always feel like I can run a marathon or hike up a mountain. It’s a fantastic feeling. So that begs the question, “why I don’t have a home practice?”
Have you ever done yoga at home alone? I have. It starts out with me going into a room, clearing a lot of furniture away, rolling out my mat and then just standing there. At this point, I can definitely hear the crickets. After some contemplation about life, the universe and everything, I figure I can do mountain pose. I try to remember what teachers have told me about lengthening my neck but keeping my chin slightly tucked in. I try to bring my shoulder blades down my back and balance evenly on all four corners of my feet.
Then I’m bored. So I figure that I should do some warm ups. After slogging through two sun salutations on each side, my heart is beating faster and I’m hotter. I try to do some standing poses like triangle, warrior one and two. Then I might try something fancier like half moon pose or warrior three. Then I do tree pose because well, you have to do tree pose in every class, right? Then I figure it’s time to do some twists on the floor. Once I’m done twisting, I go into corpse pose. I have no idea how long to be in corpse so I get up after a bit and then tell myself namaste. After I’ve rolled up my mat, I look at the clock and see that 20 minutes have passed! I don’t feel like I can run a marathon or hike up a mountain. I feel lost and a little depressed.
My experience with home practice can be likened to going to a restaurant and eating a really good dish. After going to this place for what seems to be over a dozen times, I get them to give me the recipe. I go to the grocery store and get all the ingredients and follow the recipe to the exact letter. When I sit down to eat the dish, I find that the dish doesn’t taste anything like what I had eaten at the restaurant.
Well, there’s a reason for that. The yoga teacher, like a chef, has training and is a professional. They do this stuff everyday for hours. They know what they are talking about. You go to them to get the benefit of their expertise.
So why ever do home practice? I think that’s a good question. I think it’s similar to the question, “why cook at home?” Why not just eat out every meal out and receive the benefits of a chef’s expertise every time? Some people do just that.
I don’t know if most people long for home cooking, but I do. I like to cook at home and none of the food I make is probably fit to serve at a restaurant but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to eat it or that I don’t enjoy making it. Home cooking isn’t supposed to resemble what you get at a restaurant. Its value is not in the expertise or the training. I think its value is in loving kindness. When I cook at home, it is something that I do for myself because I want to take care of me. I can tailor my cooking exactly to my wants and needs. If I feel like I want to put an extra garlic clove in my pesto, I do.
Although my cooking isn’t the same as the food in a restaurant, I think it tastes just as good. I think having a home practice can be something you do for yourself because you want to take care of yourself.
So back in the yoga class, after the majority of us kept silent, our teacher encouraged us to start a home practice. She said that we can always take classes. She takes at least one class a week herself. Home practice doesn’t have to be an hour-and-a-half Ashtanga class. It can just be mountain pose, child’s pose and then corpse pose. The idea is that you do it at all. After all, it is called a yoga practice.
Ann Bui lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She hopes to one day do a hand stand away from the wall.