Have you ever tried wearing someone else’s shoes? Have you ever tried wearing shoes that are “one-size-fits-all”? Have you ever felt (really felt) how good it feels in your own well-worn shoes? Just the right style, size and shape moulded to your own feet, after hours, days, weeks or years of well-worn use? Our yoga practice can be similar. We enjoy many benefits from attending group yoga classes, especially being motivated, inspired and the energy that comes from hanging out and doing something with like-minded people.
If the Shoe Fits – The importance of a personalised yoga practice
However, at some point we will feel the limitations of doing someone else’s yoga practice or a one-size-fits-all practice. A practice done at a pace that doesn’t necessarily fit our own bodies, breathing, emotional or energy states.
Just like the comfort of our own shoes. After a while, we can re-mould someone else’s shoes to a (sort-of) comfortable fit but they’ll never feel as good as a tailor-made or properly fitted pair!
Mostly, we (yoga teachers) learn to teach group classes according to a particular style, or a more generalised approach. And, most teacher training courses train teachers with this group class approach in mind.
Yet yoga practice is most powerful when you develop a suitable, regular, personalised approach, tailored to your own individual needs. This requires guidance from a yoga teacher who has the knowledge, skills and training needed to teach with a more personalised approach, that will bring real change in your being and to your life. When your yoga practice evolves to a more personalised approach, it takes your experience and the transformative benefits of yoga to another level.
The Difference Between Personalised Yoga & Yoga Therapy
This personalised approach for individual needs forms the foundation of yoga therapy, and people often confuse personalised yoga teaching with yoga therapy.
We call it yoga “therapy” if the yoga practice is designed to assist with specific injury or illness, whether in a group or one-to-one setting.
The difference is not between group classes or personalised practice taught through one-to-one teaching. Rather, the same foundations apply to both yoga teaching and yoga therapy, and we call it yoga therapy if the focus is on assisting individuals or groups with an injury or illness.
However, everyone can enjoy the health, healing and transformative benefits that come from developing a regular, personalised yoga practice, suitable for our own individual needs.
Developing a Personalised Practice
I remember when I was going to yoga classes regularly (and loving it!), and getting to the stage where I also wanted to do my own yoga practice at home each day. Generally, I just did whatever we were doing in classes, sometimes avoiding the things that were difficult or I didn’t like. However, I lacked the knowledge and skill to design my own yoga practice in a way that brought real change.
To gain real benefit, your personal practice needs to be suitable and regular. Suitable for your individual needs, ability, health, circumstances, and goals. Regular means you can do it (hopefully) everyday, perhaps in the comfort of your own home (no commuting, traffic or parking issues).
If you’re doing something regularly, you need to make sure what you’re doing is right for your needs. With guidance from a suitably qualified teacher, you can come to know what does and doesn’t work for you. Once you have an established personal practice, it costs nothing – apart from your effort, and an occasional check-in/review with your teacher.
Integrating With an Existing Practice
A personalised yoga practice to do at home (or wherever you like) does not necessarily replace the benefits of going to a yoga class – all that group energy and motivation! However, nor does going to a yoga class replace the benefits of a personalised yoga practice done regularly at home.
Both can be very helpful and in most cases people that include a personalised yoga practice in their lives experience a far greater impact on their health and wellbeing.
Yoga Comes Full Circle
This shift towards personalised yoga practice is similar to the shift that took place in the fitness industry in recent years. It wasn’t long ago that fitness instructors mostly taught group exercise classes, such as aerobics, and there was no such thing as a “personal trainer”.
Today, fitness instructors might still teach exercise classes but the fitness industry is now dominated by personal trainers, who take a more personalised approach to fitness. Their clients see better results from an exercise program that is designed specifically for them.
We are now starting to see this personalised approach in the yoga world. The truth is we’re returning to the way yoga was always taught. The introduction of group yoga classes is a distinctly modern invention. Traditionally, a yoga teacher worked with the student in a one-to-one setting, developing a practice tailored to their specific needs. We’re now finally catching on to this ‘revolutionary old’ approach.
Back to our comfy shoes…. our yoga practice is not as simple as just doing what is comfortable or what we like (though it is not a bad start, if we do!). Our practice often requires effort and discipline, and challenges can emerge, especially knowing that we a creatures of habit (and comfort). This is where the guidance of a teacher can be invaluable, especially a teacher who has the training, skills and approach to teach and guide you in the development of your own personalised yoga practice.
About the author:
Michael de Manincor is a Director and Senior Lecturer with The Yoga Institute.
Michael is passionate about educating the community on the benefits of quality yoga, and supporting the highest professional standards for yoga teachers. Michael is currently completing PhD research in the area of Yoga and mental health.
For more, see www.yogainstitute.com.au