Some yoga styles, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, offer a fixed series of asanas and other practices that you should do with little or no variation. Others give you the freedom – and responsibility – to choose. Yet another, more and more popular approach is simply to mostly practice yoga with guided lessons and pick from the offering what one feels and pleases.
Yoga works in such a way that its results accumulate from repeated practice. Every yoga session helps us to awaken and strengthen certain, specific qualities. Thus the practice needs to be sufficiently consistent and well chosen – instead of being random and infrequent.
Here we have some analysis of the joys and pitfalls of the most common approaches for a consistent yoga practice:
1 Fixed Practice: the same program of exercises every time, in the class or at home
This is a common and sure way to reach success through practice. Yoga ashrams and christian monasteries alike have favored this approach: following the path as so many before will bring predictable and sure results. Also the knowledge and experiences deepen and accumulate in a steady way. It might not be an easy journey though: it takes proper abnegation and trust to follow with sustained enthusiasm and aspiration. Without them a repetitive practice tends to get boring, especially if there are no clear signs of success already present. Also before committing to such an endeavour, it is rather impossible to know if it can, and will lead to the goals one might have.
2 Yoga Surfing: varying lessons from different studios and teachers
Receiving lessons from many yoga teachers even from different branches will certainly give a wealth of perspectives that is comprehensive, even enlightening. Also the practice is then always preplanned, put together and lead by a more or less competent, educated and thoughtful yoga teacher. And, of course, the group setting generally makes the practice more efficient.
However, this jack-of-all-trades approach have some less evident limitations. The first results from the nature of yoga business: since everyone is free to choose from the variety of styles and teachers, there is also even a bloody competition of students between the schools. This by necessity affects the offering in two major ways:
There is a development of diversification creating trademarked yoga – yoga that underlines what a certain school or teacher does differently. This can lead to unhealthy or unnecessary deviations from what actually would be efficient and good, but will respond well enough to the market request of consuming new experiences.
The other clear direction of development is, surprisingly homogenization of the available yoga lessons. Since the schools and teachers follow each other closely they have the tendency to offer more or less the same thing. Also a reputable yoga teacher tend to list a great variety of gurus and instructors they have had as a proof for their competence. All this leads to strikingly similar offering of yin, vinyasa, hatha, hormonal etc yogas that, each of them, surely have their value, but instead of leading the student deeper into yoga, can actually keep her/him surfing the trendy waves of different yoga styles.
In addition to the risk of superficiality, another limitation of this approach may come from ourselves. We tend to choose ‘what fits us’ and in particular what we feel good with. However, transformation through yoga can also require from us things that are unpleasant and challenging. While surfing the yoga studios, styles, teachers and online sessions we can be amazingly skillful in actually avoiding that which would give us the best results.
3 Spontaneously Self Selected: practice what you like and feel
The yoginis / yogis who also choose to also do yoga individually at home will need to take care of wisely composing their practice. This gives the wonderful freedom to do exactly those asanas and other practices that one at that time feel most attracted to. Also their difficulty and duration can be best matched to the possibilities and aims. But surely, if we only approach yoga as a source of feel-good and relaxation we are unlikely to gain much more from it. (Not to say that feel-good and relaxation would not also have value as such.)
Thus this do-whatever-whenever-you-like approach is particularly prone to bring results that are good and pleasant, but not deeply self transforming. It’s greatest benefit is, that in this way one gradually becomes well familiar with the effects of each form of practice, especially if the practice is accompanied with attention.
4 Build Your Program: consistent program of self-selected practices
For the motivated ones who already know more than just the basics there is always the possibility to simply pick some yoga asanas and practice them with the attitude of Tapas – a period of repeated consistent practice. The best way to do this is to define a goal and choose the practices and the duration for them to be performed on a daily basis. A good tapas often consists of both pleasant and challenging yoga techniques. A tapas can also concern only a smaller portion of the entire practice so that the part of it is chosen spontaneously each time. After the dedicated period some days are dedicated to reflect upon and to crystallize the results achieved, before another tapas can be formed.
Of course this takes quite some knowledge on the inner workings of the practice in order to be able to make an effective practice program in this way. It involves learning from experience and keeps up motivation to find the most effective and fulfilling ways to do yoga. This sort of goal-oriented practice also teaches an essential lesson of responsibility of one’s own inner states and excellent realistic vision on the effects of the chosen yoga practices.
5 Ask the Teacher: a personal set of practices recommended by an experienced yoga teacher
As we can easily neglect less beneficial traits of our being that are often self-evident for others, it is always good to find someone to discuss the yoga practice one decides to take. The best ‘someone’ for this is the yoga teacher that one trusts and who also knows the the student to some degree. This way we can benefit from the experience the others have accumulated and gain new perspectives for the practice and ourselves. It remains for us to set the goals though – no one else can do this.
Now what is the best approach of these five? Probably the one that first of all keeps you motivated supporting regular practice and secondly making you feel that yoga actually gives you what you aspire to accomplish.