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Developing a personal practice - How long should I be practicing?

When it comes to developing a personal yoga practice, there's a lot of hurdles and obstacles you're going to run into.


One thing for me, has always been that I feel I should be doing "more".


I can be a very "all or nothing" individual. If I step onto my mat, then I should practice for a full hour at the least, and if I don't.. then I can a bit feel deflated and honestly quite defeated.


Now this isn't "yogas" fault because I didn't make it to the one hour mark, I'm just conditioned to be this way. If anything, it's a good thing that I can listen to my body and know that 30 minutes or so is enough for that day. It could be easy to point the finger and blame my earlier fascination with a strict full ashtanga primary series practice every other day, which would last between an hour to an hour and forty five minutes each time.


But that's untrue, it's not ashtanga fault either.


The point here, is that it can become hard and we can create our own obstacles when we focus so much on how long our practice lasts. Why does it matter in the end? we're still showing up for ourselves, right?


 

As humans, we are all indivudual. We all have varying abilities both physically, and mentally. Some people might find cultivating focus and attention easy and become hyper focused with a sense of ease. This is something I've been pondering recently, is how our attention can vary from person to person. When thinking of developing programs and classes for beginners, how do I know when is long enough for a class?


If me imagine a standard beginner level yoga class, and someone who has always had a laser focus all the way since childhood and school, someone who can spend hours studying or working without their attention waining. And then, the person sitting on the mat next to them might be someone who's totally scattered minded, through no fault of their own, also from their own unique conditioning. Someone who might find great difficulty in focusing for longer than a few minutes on one thing. We then bombard them with cues, words and a Sanskrit language they are completely new to while asking quite a lot from them physically and mentally within an hour.


Both of these people, are attending an hour long class. Now, you could argue that these people are both just at desperate stages of their yoga journey. But they aren't, let's say for the sake of argument, that they are both attending their first yoga class ever.


There's of course one person who's going to find understanding cues and developing their awareness much harder. You could almost compare this to someone being naturally flexible and someone who's got stiffer joints.


The problem here is, that the one who struggles to focus will of course really benefit from the class just as much as the other who can find focusing easier.


The question I'm proposing, and have felt, is that is an hour long class really the best option? Should there be more options in the length of a public yoga class? Is this playing a role in why there feels like a time pressure on our yoga practices?


What we hear all the time, or at least something I hope we hear a lot, is that every one is different, as I've said. I, myself, really struggle with staying focused when doing a home practice for an hour. There is of course, a bountiful amount more distractions in the home than there is in a standard yoga studio.



 


In todays world, it's hard to pay attention and be present when there is a multitude of things pulling our hands and tapping our shoulders and shouting our names. This is part of the reason why I believe yoga practice is so important, now more than ever. We need to be able to step away from our screens and distractions, be more present and look inside of ourselves more, as well as being able to look up at what's in front of us as we embark on life as we walk down the streets and the outdoors.


I personally love an hour long class in person. Part of yoga, is Tapas, discipline or austerity. We cultivate it over time as we show up for ourselves even when we don't want to. When we have faith in something bigger, in something deeper, or just in ourselves.


In my home practice however, I don't enjoy this feeling of an hour being the be all and end all. Since exploring myself more over the past few years through deeper contemplation, as well as through therapy. I've come to accept that I don't fit into the "norm", which Im also coming to love and have more understanding .


What I have really and truly benefited from, is to stop putting a time limit on any aspect of my practice.. as you can imagine, easy enough, right? In todays age, we seem to track everything, from how many calories we eat, what we watch, how many times we go to the gym, how heavy the weights we lift are, how long we walk or run for, how many miles, but, when do we just do something to enjoy it? To really just be with something and savour it as we spend time doing it, without tracking our immediate progress and assessing our pitfalls and where we might improve, almost seems like a new concept now a days.


That, for me, is something that's taken many years to discover. The answer was actually already lying within me. Remember when you were a kid, and you would run around in fields playing with friends, you'd spend your time curious and intrigued by the things that would eventually become completely mundane.


But how do we tap back into that childlike curiosity? The answer, is in the very thing we try and cultivate through yoga, true unwavering awareness, and presence. When we can develop our ability to be present, while noticing what arises in the mind, we can start to rediscover those feelings of joy and childlike curiosity for the mundane again. Its our mental stuff that stops us from engaging with life in this way.


Sometimes it's easy to forget one of the things we try so hard to achieve, because we get distracted by the obstacles along the way. We spend too much time focusing on all of the things I've been talking about in this article, and less time trusting in our practice, and being dedicated and consistent with it. Through years and years of varying levels of dedication to practice, there's of course going to be distractions and obstacles we have to work through and endure. How much time we give these problems however, is within our control.


We can choose to let small things become mountains. For instance, when I used to live with my parents, there wasn't much room In the house to roll out my mat at all, or so I told myself. There was enough room, but there wasn't enough room for me to do certain poses.. so, for a time I became frustrated and completely fixated on what I couldn't do, which led my practice to a complete halt. The longer I wasn't doing my regular Sadhana, the more frustrated and touchy I became, the less focused I was, and less energy I had. All because I was so focused on not being able to do something, when in fact, there was a myriad of other practices and things I could be doing. This is just one, of many humbling examples of things we will encounter on our home practicing journeys.


I myself, have found that by brushing the surface of what's stopping us from practicing to see what lies underneath can be a useful technique to understanding that maybe, we're focusing too much on something we can't do, instead of what we can do for example.


For me, by finding shorter periods of time to practice each day, say 15 minutes here, twice a day, or a little burst of 45 minutes here, or 10 minutes there to sit and meditate or practice pranayama, works perfect, and I've come to rediscover the joy in my practice again.


Words I heard on a recent training from one of the teachers, Eddie Stern, was "leave enough in the tank, so that you want to return to the practice the next day with a sense of eagerness".


I hold this closely within myself each day. Play with our edge of capacity from time to time, but to develop and build upon the foundations of a strong habitual practice, don't be hard on yourself.


Just. Keep. Showing. Up.


If that's 10 minutes? Then fucking well done. You showed up, that takes effort, be fucking proud that you're trying hard. Let's build on that energy.


Another thing, is keep talking yourself up and having an optimistic outlook on your practice. This will help you keep on track while developing compassion, patience and acceptance with yourself.


As a teacher, and what I look forward to helping with, is a variety in class dirations when it comes to developing and filming my online offerings.


It's not something that's as simple in a studio, which Is maybe why varied class durations isn't as much of the norm, its much easier to just block out hour classes. ItItss much tidier and easier to organise that way. I do feel this might be something worth thinking about as teachers and people who offer classes.


 

When we think back to those two separate individuals in the yoga studio, how much more frustrating might the one who finds focusing much harder become compared to the other? Would they stick around with the same gusto? Or be put off by it? From asking around to various people I've met and had the pleasure of teaching at a beginner level, many would be open to a shorter class time which might develop slowly over time, as the person develops their practice and incorporates more.


There of course, is no definitive answer for everyone, its very individualised.


It is however, something I believe as teachers, we might be worth keeping in mind. As students and practitioners on the other hand, if you're someone who finds focusing and developing awareness really hard, or to anyone else who's showing up with their own stuff, then pat yourself on the back, well fucking done to you for showing up and doing the work, it's hard, acknowledge that.


Keep focusing on what you can do, and be patient. If you have your own practice at home, do you box yourself into a hourglass routine every time? Why not try just showing up and doing your practice without contemplating how long you need to do it.


This of course isn't always easy, as we might only have so much time spare. It might still be worth looking into. Are you draining yourself by practicing, or are you energising yourself and listening to your body? maybe your just doing what you feel like you SHOULD do?


The bottom line is, if you're trying to develop a personal yoga practice, don't cause more friction by being harsh to yourself over how long you practice, or over what you're doing, just ENJOY the fact that you're showing up and doing it with a sense of ease.

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