Rather than handing your motivation to the group, develop the willpower to do it on your own
Yoga is something you do for yourself. No one else can do it for you, nor can you do it for someone else. In essence, it is an intensely individual pursuit. To this, add the fact that no one person is exactly like another in body and mind, and you see why classical yoga, was always self-practice done by individuals. Traditionally, the branch of yoga that explained and emphasised physical practices was known as Hatha yoga. The physical practices were intended to help in focusing the mind, either directly or indirectly; their purpose was not mere physical exercise.
One compelling reason to practice hatha yoga is the efficacy, particularly of asana and pranayama, in bestowing health upon the practitioner and warding off disease. After all, we are unlikely to succeed in taming our wandering mind if we are troubled by ill-health. Also, because the physical practices of hatha yoga can be done relatively easily, it opens the door to yoga for many people.
However, the format of yoga is quite different now. It is not practised in the caves of the Himalayas but in well-equipped yoga studios across the world. And it is practised not alone, but as a group and there are reasons. Practising yoga in a group is helpful. The energy of the group can support you and add to your motivation.
Listening to the teacher guide you through the practice means you can stop thinking about what you should be doing for that one hour. You can network with a community of like-minded students. But there are important reasons why you should also practice yoga in your own time and space. Motivation is key to transformation, and even if it is for a short time a day, stepping on to the mat and sustaining that motivation by yourself can help you discipline your wandering mind very effectively.
Practising at your own pace allows you to appreciate your breath and body better and to explore and expand your awareness. A flow of instructions from a teacher allows you to tune out and just follow along, diminishing your own alertness and presence in the practice. You are like no other individual; every person is different in countless ways in body and mind. Unless you practise on your own, you will never have the possibility of a practice that truly supports the needs of your body and mind. Further, it is only your own practice that can evolve intelligently with time and effort to suit you best. Everyone in a group cannot evolve at the same pace or in the same way.
Finally, the deeper aspects of yoga — mudras, pranayama and meditation — cannot be explored by synchronising your practice with a dozen others in a group. You can access these practices only by deepening your inner awareness in your practice. We are not advising that you drop out of group classes altogether.
Rather, we recommend that you work toward developing your personal self-practice as the main course of your yoga meal and the group practice as the garnishing that you add for taste. Only in your self-practice will you find the real depth of yoga.
This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.