Listening: A yoga teacher's personal practice

Yoga Yellowstone

Developing a personal yoga practice is a challenge for everyone -- but it's especially challenging for yoga teachers. The image most people have is a yogi on their mat 24/7, attending free classes, doing fancy poses out in nature, walking on walls, etc. But Instagram certainly isn't representative of yoga in real life, and especially not from the perspective of a teacher. Unless my photographer husband happens to be walking near me when I bust a yoga move, a camera isn't anywhere near me when I'm in my practice. And what does that even look like?

Yes, I've been doing yoga for a long time and I can pretzel and invert myself into crazy positions when sufficiently prepared and the desire arises. But my practice traditionally consists of the same standard poses that don't make for a fancy photo collage, and I invent my own poses and flows frequently, because it's more about how my body wants to move and be positioned rather than how someone else defines asana. It's personal. And by discovering how my body wants to move in certain states and moods, I can effectively translate that into a sequence I feel confident sharing with students. 

But to be perfectly honest, most of the time when I'm constructing a yoga flow or sequence, it's for my teaching. My *personal* practice consists of mostly Kundalini Yoga (which I don't teach) and meditation. Those practices are very much my own. When I became a teacher, yoga became something that I share, and I am 100 percent on board for that. Becoming a teacher doesn't mean you've advanced to supreme yoga status. It simply means that you're ready to share the practice for the benefit of others, rather than just yourself. And teaching is something I absolutely love.

That being said, a yoga teacher cannot forget their practice or their body. And yoga can mean so many things. I probably spend more time outdoors than on my mat. I hike almost every morning, but I see that as part of my yoga practice. What is really more yogic than being outside in nature, breathing fresh air, and moving my body in a healthy way? A typical day might consist of a 15-minute kriya, followed by a 90-minute hike, a 30-minute kriya later in the afternoon or evening (depending on my teaching schedule), an hour before classes devising yoga sequences, and at least a few moments of meditation sporadically throughout the day. This routine evolves and changes depending on the season, mood, or phase. Many days I can barely fit in a 15-minute personal practice. Sometimes I teach three or more classes per day (and on those days my mat is my constant companion). Sometimes I hike for three hours or spend time on my kayak. Sometimes I have a creative burst and spend all day making jewelry or painting. Sometimes I spend the majority of the day in meditation or conducting readings. Sometimes I'm in business mode and spend hours at the computer. Sometimes I give myself a day off to just do whatever I want or nothing at all. 

For me, a personal yoga practice consists of:

  • Listening.

  • And that's it.

Listening is how you tap into creative consciousness and dive deep into the space that prepares you to evolve, stay healthy, and teach. Listening is how you connect with the energy and presence of your students and community to discern what they need. Listening is how you discern, for yourself, what belongs in your life and what doesn't. 

Some of my best teachers didn't demonstrate fancy poses or show off their ability to excessively theme. They tapped into the energy that was there, in the moment, and communicated that effectively. And I can't say for sure, but I'm confident they were able to do this by deep inner listening and an understanding of how yoga moves with the energy of the moment. 

And that is a yoga teacher's personal practice.

Mandi Garrison