by 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 Your fridge is empty save for a collection of mostly outdated condiments.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