Friday 7 August 2015

The perils of self-practice

As a yoga teacher, I expect myself to set a good example to my students - both on and off the mat. So when I set off for a two-month trip around Asia, I intended to keep up a regular practice, even in areas with no studio. I had visions of myself looking serene in lotus pose on sandy beaches, catching a beautiful sunrise as I finished a morning meditation, and holding tree pose as I looked out over glittering seas.

None of that happened.

I suppose I should have known that my plan was doomed from the outset, when I tossed aside my yoga mat to make more space in my backpack for bikinis and flip-flops.

But I had good intentions - in Thailand I had booked myself in for a retreat at Island Yoga on Koh Yao Noi, whose seclusion promised to be conducive to deepening my practice. And wouldn't the hot weather in Thailand be perfect for doing the Bikram sequence outdoors, followed by a dip in the pool to cool off?

The retreat fulfilled expectations: every morning was spent in a powerful two-hour class, afternoons were spent swimming in the sea, before a relaxing yin practice in the evening to unwind. It was bliss. I didn't want to leave.

But after our four days were up and we moved on to Koh Lanta, I was left to my own devices - and dependent on my own willpower. We checked in at a gorgeous resort on the beach, where we stayed in a little bungalow hut with an outdoor terrace just large enough to roll out a yoga mat (if I had brought one). Each morning I hauled myself out of bed and attempted to re-create the magic of our Island Yoga classes, but to no avail. I wasn't patient enough to hold poses for a decent amount of time, skipped the ones I found the most challenging, and found myself thinking more about the breakfast buffet that awaited me than which pose I should do next.

Still, I was practising, and that's something, right? We even noticed that our resort had its very own yoga shala which wasn't being used in low season, and we were welcome to practise in it. So for two days I tried to lead my travel partner through a morning flow sequence, trying to ignore the smells of bacon and croissants wafting from the kitchen directly below and focus on finding that independent inner yoga goddess who IS within me, somewhere.

We did it - but at times it felt more of an effort than a natural pleasure. What was holding me back? I decided - if you'll pardon the expression - to go with the flow, and only practise as and when I felt I wanted to. Freed from the obligation to do an hour's worth of stretching each day, after a few days I actually began to want to settle back into a routine practice. I even - and this is a first for me - felt able to meditate for some time afterwards, placing absolutely no pressure on myself to do so. For someone whose mind never switches off and is almost constantly active, this was quite a momentous change.

It was during this time that I realised how attached I am to committing to organised yoga classes so that I know I won't back out of practising. My type A personality needs to know exactly when, where and what I will be doing: I had booked the retreat well in advance; and before I'd even left Thailand for Bali, our next destination, I was googling the schedules of the various studios there.

The thing is, here in Asia the concept of organisation doesn't quite work the way I'm used to back home. Time is a flexible entity, classes can be cancelled at the last minute, or an opportunity can arise out of nowhere which forces you to re-arrange your schedule. All of the above scenarios have arisen while I've been here, and I've been forced to adapt my plans accordingly. At first I got frustrated: why didn't our driver show up on time, so I could make the class I'd been looking forward to all morning? Soon, however, I realised the futility of letting this get to me, and instead tried to embrace the opportunities it afforded.

For instance, having missed my planned class, I attended a later one in a different style of yoga, and my mind was opened to a multitude of approaches I had never encountered before. On another day, I was invited to a masterclass that clashed with when we were due to leave the city we'd been staying in. I was able to shift a few bookings around and stay for it, and had such an incredible experience that I'm now considering undertaking another teacher training with the instructor. Had I bound myself to my original schedule, none of these things would have happened.

When I get home, I'm going to start work full-time at a yoga studio. My working hours won't allow me the same flexibility I had as a student to attend classes pretty much as and when I pleased. But rather than let that frustrate me, I'll try to seek out the opportunities in the changes I need to make. Who knows, I might even find myself unrolling my mat at home after all, where the only thing that could possibly get in the way of my practice will be myself. Wish me luck...

No comments:

Post a Comment