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Why Going to Yoga Class Will Never Be Enough

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home-practiceby Jay Fields

Let’s say you’ve subsisted predominately on processed foods and one-step meals for most of your life. You’ve had a few stellar meals out at restaurants so you know what is possible with food. And though it’s those memories of the best meals of your life that sustain you on a deeper level, for the most part your daily relationship with food is utilitarian at best.

And then one day a new building goes up in your neighborhood. The sign above the door says “Cooking School,” and in the windows are posted pictures of the most beautiful meals you’ve ever seen. You can actually taste them in your imagination. Your curiosity and appetite awaken. You want that.

Soon after the cooking school opens you get around to signing up for classes. They start with the basics. Scrambled eggs. Pasta. Learning how to chop vegetables without chopping your finger off.

Even for as elementary as it is, your world is rocked. The flavors! Your excited envy when you watch the teacher pull the perfect looking pie out of the oven. You can’t even quite articulate it, but you know your life will never be the same because of these classes.

You get hooked. You’re there almost every night. “Thank god I’m here,” you think to yourself, “because if I were home right now I’d just be eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

A year into your culinary journey, you can chop an onion like a pro. You feel inspired, challenged and supported by your teacher and fellow students. You own a dozen aprons. You post pictures on instagram of the amazing meals you’ve made. And you’ve experienced moments of such deep nourishment that you can feel how this food you’ve made moves beyond the feeling of fullness in your stomach to a feeling of true sustenance in every cell of your body. You’re eve considering quitting your day job to teach cooking.

But when it’s just you at home you still eat handfuls of cereal out of the box…for dinner. Your fridge is empty save for a collection of mostly outdated condiments. Just the thought of cooking a meal at home fills you with shame and leads you to whatever distraction is closest at hand. And to be honest, you use your kitchen more as an office than as a kitchen. If you want a real meal, you’ll go to a cooking class.

This is precisely how many people relate to their yoga practice. Yes, it’s life changing and they’re committed to their practice at the studio, but they miss that it’s ultimately about integrating it into their life at home and taking ownership of their own practice, and thus their own life.

I’ve written a book called “HomeBody Yoga” on overcoming the real obstacle to practicing yoga at home. The real obstacle isn’t that you don’t know enough about the poses or that you don’t have a good enough place to practice. The real obstacle is that it’s hard to show up by yourself, as yourself, to yourself. No guide. No external feedback. No container other than the one you create for yourself.

Why do it, then? Why is it so important to have a home practice?

What’s wrong with going to the studio for community in your practice? What’s the problem with seeking out guidance from a teacher? Why can’t you meet your intention for personal growth through going on yoga retreats?

Like becoming passionate about cooking and dedicating yourself to learning and growth solely through cooking classes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with only practicing yoga with teachers. But there is something inherently and tragically limited.

Ultimately the practice of yoga is one of becoming most fully yourself. For as counterintuitive as it may sound, becoming ourselves is so hard for so many of us that we need other people to help us, inspire us and remind us of who we really are.

But there comes a point where you need to take all that you’ve learned with and from others and become your own teacher, your own friend on the path. Still seek out learning and community, yes, but it’s immensely important that you don’t entirely outsource your growth and development and relationship with yourself to another.

There’s something about going to classes and workshops and retreats, no matter how wonderful the relationships are that are created there, that remains transactional; I pay you and you give me an opportunity to experience my best self. A home practice, on the other hand, is purely relational. It’s about you relating to you as best and as fully as you can. And like any committed relationship, it reveals itself to be hard and scary and uncertain and confrontational. But it also is reveals itself to be transformational in a way that is impossible to imagine from the vantage point of the cooking-class yoga student.

There is something innately different about cooking in a class, eating at a fancy restaurant and cooking for yourself at home. When you cook for yourself at home you come to appreciate what you really know. You see your tendencies and the places where you trip up. You mix in intuition with your skill and create things you’ve never been taught about. You learn to give yourself exactly what you need, no request for substitutions necessary.

It’s ok if you burn every third meal. Don’t judge yourself if you feel like making the same damned thing every day for weeks. Be willing to be creative on the days where it seems as if the contents of your cupboards could not possibly be thrown together to make anything of substance. Half the nourishment comes simply from stepping into the kitchen with the intention of truly feeding yourself.

So roll out your mat today. At home. Become your own teacher. Go on your own journey. Make the discoveries about yourself that you can’t make when you’re being guided. You think going to yoga classes changed your life? Wait until you taste home practice.

~

Jay Fields is a yoga teacher and writer with over 14 years of experience teaching nationally and internationally. With an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology and a master’s degree in Transformative Education, her approach to yoga is as intelligent as it is relational. For more information on Jay’s book  and the Home Body course please visit www.graceandgrityoga.com.

image via graceandgrityoga.com

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47 comments… add one
  • Lucy

    Tragically limited?! Um…. drama queen much?

    • jay

      Well I will admit that I’ve definitely been called a drama queen before…Is it actually tragic? No. Is it seriously and sadly limited? Yes.

      • Lucy

        I feel like telling anyone that their practice is “sadly limited” smacks of arrogant condescension. Are you really the judge of everyone else’s practice? You can promote home practice without insulting people.

        • Vision_Quest2

          It’s not an insult to her target market. She successfully plays the edge on that one.

          She only might insult the old-timer who, unlike THIS old timer, has successfully and continuously home-practiced gentle yoga since she picked up some dog eared yoga book back in 1972 …

        • Richard

          Looks like this article hit you close to home Lucy…If not why not relax? He isn’t insulting anyone by saying their practice is limited. If your own instructors are to scared of hurting your feelings to tell you when your practice is self limiting you need to go to a different studio, they aren’t doing you any favors.

          • Vision_Quest2

            I think Jay is actually a female. This probably might change the collective reaction to her post, gender politics being what it is. I, myself, am an older woman. Whether or not my yoga instructor is doing me a favor or not, they probably think they are (irrespective of the fact that worldly emoluments are part of the picture, of course!)–anybody who teaches or sells something they believe in, most certainly think they are doing the client a favor. I can accept or reject their opinions of themselves and the spirit in which they put forth their offerings.

  • Andy

    The majority of yoga studios do not promote a home practice. With the exception of Ashtanga, there is no real “syllabus” that you are encouraged to practice from. How would the average noob know what sequence to do on their own?

    • jay

      It’s a shame that more studios don’t promote a home practice. And it’s a valid point about noobs. There are different ways to approach that…a great place to start is to have a private session with a yoga teacher and ask for them to work with you in crafting a sequence that meets your interests and your body’s needs. Another way is to get a book or follow along with a video or online class just to start to explore what feels good. Another way is to get on your mat and simply do whatever feels good without it needing to be “buttoned up” yoga. If you want more ideas, you could check out my book, Homebody Yoga, which has 28 days worth of suggestions for what to do when it comes to building a home practice. 🙂

    • Vision_Quest2

      Hatha fans can always take from any studio that teaches in The Himalayan Tradition. They are one of the few studios that are primarily home-practitioner-friendly.

      AND, they are extremely alignment oriented, giving Iyengar a run for his money. Not needing your rope wall (okay, classes don’t tend on the advanced. Not all who care to/could afford to practice at home ARE advanced.)

      INSIST before you sign up that YOU HAVE NO INTENTION of GIVING UP your home yoga practice. Also ask if they are “middle path” enough for you and your practice …

      That separates the wheat from the chaff right away

  • Thank you Jay. Your analogy with cooking school is brilliant.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you on the home practice. I’ve learned much from my yoga teacher and done things in class I never would have on my own, at least not for quite a while, I’m thinking of dropbacks, for example. But, I’m much richer for what I do at home, even though I go through periods where practice consists of a few sun salutations.

  • Ed

    A home practice means less money for studios/teachers. It is very difficult to establish a regular home practice if I go to more than one class a week. The only books that lay out very useable home practice sessions are by Mira Mehta. “How to Use Yoga” for beginners. “Yoga the Iyengar Way” after about 9 months practicing 3 times a week.

    • Vision_Quest2

      You are at a point of very stable equilibrium. Needing them as much as they need your money. For my part, I’d spent all I was gonna spend on commercialized yoga. I took a two classes a month on average while kicking my own butt with yoga at home (this had been the stereotypical New York hatha yoga studio which taught power yoga in disguise), and the studio had given me a very hard time. I repeatedly told them I do not have the money. They just recently personally emailed me telling me “They Miss Me”. This article was written years too late and should have called out studios like these …

  • Dwayne

    Good point, but what’s the big deal? After the first two to three months of yoga, my practice evolved mostly at home (I take one class per week, the rest at home). I actually thought the point of classes was to develop your practice so you can continue at home! With some experimentation and evolution, it was fun and pretty straightforward to develop a home practice using books like Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” (for coverage of many postures), David Swenson’s “Ashtanga Yoga, the practice manual” (for modifications), and maybe D. Life and S. Gannon’s Jivamukti book (for principles of sequencing). As it’s turned out, I practice a far wider menu of postures at home than I encounter in most non-Ashtanga classes. Honestly, I’ve never understood the yoga “culture of the class” (well, there’s the obvious profit-maximizing principle…). Granted, I came to yoga from endurance sports (running, cycling), so the discipline of individual training was no problem.

    • Vision_Quest2

      Wow! Well, that does make a difference in the level of discipline. But I credit my blogsite for giving me the rest needed, so far. I too, had had a baseline of sorts. Frustrated seniors step aerobics instructor with the internally rotated hips which are perfect for that discipline but sneered at by those who would proffer commercialized yoga (they could kiss ’em now for all I care … lol)

  • Ed

    Jay. Apologies. I meant to say that up to now the Mehta books have been the most useful.

  • Jenna

    Great analogy. I always try to encourage my students to practice at home and regularly offer 1-3 asanas, a specific meditation or nidra practice or pranayama practice specific to any student who inquires. I do find most seem inspired to do what I suggest but many do not follow through, or do so with irregularity despite feeling positive results when they do implement it. I understand the principles of habit forming and do not offer too much at first, instead asking that they explore the one or two things I’ve given and we’ll go from there. Some apply the techniques and continue to ask for more, but honestly most ask then struggle to actually do their home practice. I’m fine with this. I think sometimes people feel a lot more comfortable with a teacher present and they’ll come to their own practice or applying the teachings themselves when they are ready. I wouldn’t call it “tragic” or even “limited” frankly, it is often the place where we all begin so those assertions seem judgemental to me. I don’t think you intend it that way (I love your blog posts), but I think you could present the same information without it coming across as judging anybody else’s experience with their practice or stage on their journey.

    One more note – several students (many I do privates with) derive tremendous benefit from simply giving up control to me, allowing themselves to let go of control and expectation and get out of their heads and into their body. Some may find the selection of poses and sequences to involve their intellect or executive functioning and have more trouble allowing the poses to flow intuitively especially if they are newer to practice and/or spend a lot of time activating their prefrontal cortex. I know a few students who are very busy and highly intellectual who prefer when I offer them no choice at all so they can finally let go and give themselves a break from having to discern and choose. For these students, home practice seems to be yet another item on their activity timeline or “to do” list and they may be more suited to a guided practice.

    Bottom line – yes there is much to be derived from personal home practice but that isn’t to say guided work is always limited or intercepting the work that may need to be gone to clear the way for a more personal intuitive experience. Great article 🙂

  • Lauren

    We out in rural areas are at the other end of the spectrum – we don’t have ready access to teachers and classes. So it home practice all the time. And several of the people in my community taught themselves out of a book back in the 60’s when there were very few teachers or even yoga mats. We approach yoga from a self taught home practice discipline first. Then if we are lucky, we get a tune up from a teacher. We are our own yoga teachers, like someone else said. I prefer it because one really gets to know their body. Your body often tells you what to do, and best of all, your mind-body integration can be very deep because there is no outside voice talking. Which I thought was the definition of Hatha Yoga.

  • Vision_Quest2

    “It’s ok if you burn every third meal. Don’t judge yourself if you feel like making the same damned thing every day for weeks. Be willing to be creative on the days where it seems as if the contents of your cupboards could not possibly be thrown together to make anything of substance. Half the nourishment comes simply from stepping into the kitchen with the intention of truly feeding yourself.”

    I must have “burned a lot of meals” … I used to have to practice with a bangin’ playlist. New York City may really, really rock. But in the tiny part of New York City I make my home, my yoga practice absolutely doesn’t have to. Heh-he ..

  • S.

    Nice post Jay! A home practice is the only way to take one’s practice from the Bahiranga to the Antaratma. Any yoga practitoner who is not concerned with this process is just playing around.

  • Fantastic. Love yoga books and will add to my collection.

    p.s. I am sure its frowned upon, but I love the Wii “My Fitness Coach” yoga.

    • Vision_Quest2

      After unexpectedly seeing a video of myself moving about, I certainly bow to the Wii’s approach with its balance board which will help you to move in three-dimensional space. Not a question of “it’s all good in/with yoga”, but a question of what fills your space and addresses your needs. It’s all fine and dandy if your “In-Class Private” tutor gives you a hand and prevents you from falling. But you work with what you have.

      You have to meet yourself where you are. No matter what.

  • Lucy Reynolds

    Excellent piece! My yoga practice started many years with a routine ripped out of a magazine and subsequently I’ve preferred using books and videos/dvds at home to going to class which i find just fosters competition (in me – which is not what i want to foster when practising yoga!). Can’t beat Rodney Yee and David Swenson, like Eoinn Finn dvds and enjoying Kathryn Budig’s Aim True at the moment too. Will definitely check out your book!

  • Vision_Quest2

    Oh, Cheeze Louise … must there be music ?!????

  • Elizabeth

    Wow this struck such a nerve with people. I think the article is thoughtful and I like the cooking analogy. I mostly do yoga @ my local studio because I have a monthly pass, I like the people and I don’t have to think too much. But when I do yoga with myself I am super creative and free. I get a little distracted, sure, but why not? I appreciate your encouragement. I’m going to make my home yoga an expression of my own wonder and delight. I’m inspired.

  • Dave

    I feel like this article is trying to shame people who don’t do home practice. I go to the studio 3-4 times a week – try all different styles and continue to grow and learn – I get energy and feedback from the classes I will never get at home. I certainly don’t feel “tragically limited” by not regularly practicing at home.

    • Vision_Quest2

      The thing is that you DO practice at home … you will wind up not liking the downloads and the streamings that you practice to after a while… you *may* – not guaranteed – wind up not liking the play list you may have; you may dislike the primarily shazam asana or the sun salutes or the lotus posture that you work on at home (amirite?) … it is a matter of time before you incorporate yoga into your non-studio-waking hours … There is no shame in wanting something more … and no shame in having this pointed out to you by someone …

  • I believe Jay makes several valid points, the least of which is the encouragement for students (and teachers) to cultivate/engage/pursue a home practice. It’s necessary for a serious student and crucial for any teacher.
    That having been said, I’d like to add a few things into the mix. While the anaology of cooking is effective there is an onus on a teacher of yoga, a level of responsibility likely not considered or embraced by a chef. That’s not to minimize the role a chef plays – some of my best friends are chefs:-)
    Jay says “…they miss that it’s ultimately about integrating it into their life at home and taking ownership of their own practice, and thus their own life.” As a teacher, there is a minimum requirement to reach as many students as possible. If students are not “cooking” at home it is not because they’ve missed something. It is because teachers take a 2oo-hour training and lack effectiveness in conveying the integration Jay outlines. Students, for the most part, get what we believe, teach, and emphasize. So the onus lies where?
    Jay also differentiates between a transactional versus relational experience, alluding that one is in the studio and the other is alone at home. This is absolutely true … when the offering in the studio is incomplete, hollow, or only asana. Class is an infusion of energy from the teacher and her/his lineage to the student, it also offers a refinement of alignment in asana that cannot be replicated at home AND becomes more critical the more ingrained (read: frequent) one’s home practice is because it is, in and of itself a reinforcement of samskara. That mandates a clean, clear view by a caring other – not a mirror, video, or guess work.

  • NJacana

    I relate deeply to this article. I approach life and cooking same, frustrates me. Anything I get into I BUY all the tools, source material, accoutrements, literature, upgrade instrument, listen to cd on sutras, podcasts from dharma seed all the time.and now that i do yoga 2 years and have learned so much about myself, go 5+ classes a week, completed teacher training, love my studio and teachers. But struggle taking to next level, reliance on self to come up with home asana routine and just do it. Cannot teach if that is not happening as an understood habit. It’s like the old tune Can’t Get Started. You can tell the great teachers do home practice still. What to do.

  • jay

    Yes, it does appear that this article has struck a nerve! Which is a good thing, because it means it’s an important topic of conversation within the yoga community. It was not my intention in writing it to sound as if I was shaming or judging people for not practicing at home. I was simply asked to write a piece sharing my opinion about why I think practicing at home is important given that I felt strongly enough about the topic to write a book on it.
    The use of the metaphor of cooking school was meant to evoke a feeling of recognition or a different kind of understanding for those people who may not have looked at why they would ever take their practice out of the studio. I tried to stay away from saying specific reasons why a home practice is important. I know why mine is important to me, but I know that’s different for every person. What I do know, is that the people who I have talked with/worked with who do sustain a home practice all agree about two things: it’s important, and it offers something totally different than what you receive from practicing at a studio.
    I stand by my comment that not practicing at home is limited in the grand scheme of the practice. Limited in the sense that you can’t receive the benefits from something if you don’t try it. Limited in the sense that practicing at home offers an entirely different set of teachings and takeaways than practicing with a teacher.
    Does it make you a bad person if you don’t practice at home? Absolutely not. Does it make you a bad yoga teacher? Well, not necessarily bad, but perhaps untrustworthy. I wouldn’t want to learn from a teacher who does not know the territory of home practice because it’s a huge part of understanding yoga–and one’s self–as a whole.
    If you have no taste for practicing yoga at home, that doesn’t make you a limited person. I’m simply pointing out that it’s an aspect of the practice that you are choosing to miss out on because there is no substitution.
    And if you do have interest in practicing at home, I hope you find your way to it. One of the ways that I find is a good place to start is by rolling out your mat and asking yourself, “What’s the most loving thing I can do right now?”

  • jay

    Oops…I accidentally posted that comment too soon before finishing. I also wanted to say thank you to everyone who has weighed in. I really do appreciate hearing your comments and having the discussion rounded out.

  • Dave

    Jay – Obviously you think home practice is very important. It’s understandable since you wrote a book about it and are convinced it’s important for everyone. I’m sure it does have many benefits for some people, however you need to accept that it may not be for everyone.

    I believe yoga is a personal journey and everyone is different. Yet you lay on the superior attitude and write things such as “tragically limited”, “missing out”, “yoga class(es) will never be enough”, “they miss that it’s ultimately about integrating it into their life at home and taking ownership of their own practice, and thus their own life.” – wow those comments are what I am upset about – even if it wasn’t your intention it does make non-home practitioners feel second-class.

    I’m have taken ownership of my practice and my life and I don’t need anyone saying I’m doing it wrong.

  • VQ2

    We ALL know the truth, DON’T we: it’s yoga only if it happened at XYZ Yoga Studio in Park Slope …

  • cathy

    Thank you Dave and VisionQuest. I was so upset at this article.. its implications, superiority and faulty logic I did not comment. I have since wroten a poorly typed gush of feeling sto your newsfeed which lies in moderation- fair enough . as the typing mistakes are phenomenal. You judged us wrong.

  • NJacana

    I had to reread the article. I did not feel judged or defensive, maybe because I heartily experience the cooking analogy, though never been to a cooking class. When I reread the article, I recall a banjo teacher who does the festival circuits, and she was saying in class how she sees the same people in the classes at music camps year after year and they don’t really practice. I thought, “True, but they enjoy it, it’s their money, and who cares.” I could have been offended but remembered the concept of ‘principle over personality’. The size of my practice is right for me and changing at any moment.

    • VQ2

      The size, the scope and whether you choose to “share” that practice with others.

      See behind the semantics. Unless you share that practice spontaneously, and a no cost to you other than the exertion, it is not “sharing”. Ditto: deconstruct the words “community”, “experience”, “celebration”, etc., etc., etc.

  • Amy

    I thought this was a wonderful article and did not feel like Jay was judging someone who currently doesn’t have a home practice. Perhaps that’s because I’m at a point where I really want to start one. I discovered yoga and how wonderful it can be through a great teacher and attending her classes – but after a year or so of consistently going to her classes, I started to realize that in order to take it to the next level (in many ways) I have to start practicing at home. It’s difficult, I always blame a messy apartment and yes, feeling like I don’t know what to do. But for me, it feels necessary. Thank you for this article, really appreciate it.

  • henrik

    I have to agree with Dave in that maybe (just maybe) home practice is not for everyone and maybe (just maybe) going to the studio 2, 3, 4 times a week is enough for them. I give lots of students countless exercises and sequences that they can do at home, but in the end, only a select few have the self motivation and interest to do them at home on their own. The majority of my students aren’t trying to become the most flexible person in class. They may have had a long work week/day, they just want to come to the studio, relieve some stress, maintain a healthy spine, etc and they like to have someone else guide them through it. Sure, a home practice sounds great, but it doesn’t fit everyone. At home, they have husbands/wives/kids/cats/dogs that all require their attention and many come to the studio to relax from all of that. Many regulars do it just TO get away from home. I agree that if you want to take your practice even further, become more flexible, whatever, then surely a home practice is a good way to boost your progress as you can tailor your practice to your body. But is it for everyone and do you have to? I think not. When I read the title of the article, I only clicked on the link because I thought it was going to be an article about meditation. Good read though. Thanks.

    • Vision_Quest2

      That is why I would go back to a gym for yoga (if I had the money for it, and the other components agreed with me). There are too few of any one style or type of yoga given at the gym. The offerings turn into a grab bag; and thus there were a handful who did practice yoga at home. Granted, the style these practitioners brought to the table was a little eclectic.

      But whether you have to keep little Fifi the cat off your back at home (hopefully the at-home distractions are not any worse than that), or some guru from the studio off your back and out of your psyche (everywhere!), I’d go with the monkey-guru off my back and out of my monkey-mind, forever ! And, ever ! Amen!

  • Barbora

    I much liked this article. In the end I found it inspiring. Although, is there anyone else who struggles with busting through the “whatever you do it’s not enough” mindset? Seriously, I manytimes freak out because whatever I do, there’s someone outside telling me “that’s not enough, you should also do this and that…” I realise that voice is probably not just the current setting of the media-environment but also a voice well settled inside, in my head. An always replayed song. I would really appreciate any comment, your experience, any form of help on this. Anyone? Many thanks. And also thanks to author of this article as well, very heartfelt writing foremost.

    • The answer, I think, is to keep doing yoga. Do what poses you can when you can and eventually the voices you hear will fall away. The only thing that matters is you on the mat doing your thing.

  • People and the internet. I never really got the impression that Jay was a condescending person or a drama queen. People like to nitpick on almost anything nowadays. Jay has a point anyway-I always encourage my students that studio and home practice go hand in hand. One can get optimum results when they are done together. Just like every other skill you’ve learned it’s always better if you practice.

  • I almost never leave a response, but i did some searching and wound up here Why Going to Yoga Class Will Never Be
    Enough. And I actually do have 2 questions for you if you do not mind.
    Is it simply me or does it seem like a few of the remarks look as
    if they are written by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are posting at other places,
    I would like to keep up with everything fresh you have to post.
    Could you make a list of the complete urls of all your
    communal pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter
    feed?

  • Carl

    Great and timely article.

    I would only add those times when your revered Cookery Teacher announces that a World Class Cookery Teacher is coming to your Cookery School, maybe even holding a World Class Yoga – oops sorry – Cookery Teacher Cooking Retreat with promises that you will be immersed into a world of flavours and dishes beyond your current perception.

    Yes it will cost a small fortune, but this is a Once in A Lifetime Opportunity to meet with a World Class Teacher and they are not going to be Around Forever.

    You sign up for the class where you are one in a room of a hundred, you cook your dish with instruction from the front, there may be Under Cooks hovering around to tweak a pie crust here, critique a meringue consistency there and, while you never really met the renowned World Class Teacher, you felt you were there and you post as much on your FB page.

    The next day? – back to eating handfuls of cereal (for lunch) – but a few hundred notes poorer and the World Class Teacher – where is he or she now? In another country leading another 100 student class and raking up the dollars.

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