Monday, November 9, 2009

Good Practice/Bad Practice

A couple weekends ago the Saturday Regulars did a Baron Baptiste podcast as lead by a Kinndi McDonnal. Our usual sessions are the Ashtanga sequence, the Rocket Series, or Shiva Rae’s Sanctuary CD, depending on our mood and who shows up. We’ve done a video by Baptiste before and everyone liked it, but this time the reaction was quite different. It varied from ‘enjoyed the session’ to ‘absolute dislike’ and the group over the next week energetically expounded on why (they are not ones to hold back opinions).

This gave me the idea for this post: what dictates a “good” practice and what dictates a “bad” practice? This may seem like an odd question to be asking, but the reason I asked is, I don’t really have good/bad practices. Some sessions may resonate more than others, but each session is what it is.

There is only one session where I went "I shouldn't be here," - and I recall that so vividly. I was exhausted. Absolutely exhausted. It was a cold dark Wednesday night in winter. I remember driving in (it's a 25 mile drive to the studio) and thinking, "I could turn back, I'm halfway there...but I could turn around here...I should just go home..." I was slow, sluggish and out of sorts the whole session, so much so that the instructor commented on it after class. I went home and straight to bed. But even then, it wasn't a bad session, it just was.

I wondered if factors such as the time of day, the structure of the session itself (studio or home), other practitioners, music, and outside influences (dog whining outside door, people talking in hallway, etc) played into the overall theme. I interviewed 4 people: two are Saturday Regulars, two are from the Studio. One has been practicing for about 15 years, one for about 10 and two for about 2 years. Responses were fascinating and lengthy so I tried to summarize yet still capture the essence of our discussions.

For one practitioner who has a long standing neck injury, she replied that she has good neck days and bad neck days, and factors that influence her practice: are where she is mentally and physically on any given day, the structure of the session, the temperature of the room, if she's able to quiet her mind, and if she's able to re-align her neck during practice.

Practitioner number two had this to say: "...the time of day, session, music, etc., having very little to do with whether the practice is good or bad. It's probably more accurate to say that those things, in combination, can have an effect on determining whether the practice is good or bad, but no single one of those factors, or any of them in combination, will guarantee a good practice or a bad one." He went on to further clarify that doing a sequence for the first time can have an affect on his practice,

Practitioner number three replied: "Well, all of my practices are essentially "good" but I have some not as good days also. I suppose it think about in essentially two broad categories: internal and external. Most of the time I wonder if I have everything in order to 'earn' this practice." He prefers 'yoga' music with it's simple melodies and slow shifting patterns which allow him to focus internally, but doesn't use music at home. He also stated, "As far as other people in the room, hmmm that's a bit trickier to answer. Women are pretty and that can be distracting but out of respect I generally focus on what I'm doing though I admit I've been busted a couple of times."

And practitioner number four: "I don't consider any practice bad. It's like sex, never had a "bad" one. Some are just better than others. I really enjoy music during the practice. I like getting the more rigorous routines in early. Time of day, doesn't matter. Dogs or kids outside I hardly note. I do get distracted by lovely women around me but I use that to get through a particularly long pose (I breath too!) Yoga is very challenging to me. I make very tiny improvements. My balance sucks but I try. I always feel great after practice. When I played racquetball I also felt good after but I did have "bad" games and would be mad at myself for loosing or playing poorly- just big expectations. In yoga I am more humbled by the experience and just feel good about doing my best."

I promised the interviewee's that I would also post my thoughts, but I'll do that in the next post. Meanwhile, what are your experiences? Do you or have you experienced such polarity in your practice and if so, what are the influences?

(Photo from:


Eco Yogini said...

yep, sadly I have had a few 'bad' practices.... they were mostly due to some pretty serious instruction issues. In one I was forcefully requested to do something I wasn't comfortable with ('there is no modification for fear!' was his response to my request for a modification) which resulted in a panic attack during class.

the other I had hives, was stressed to the max and emotionally iffy, the instructor was not exactly kind hearted.

There have definitely been many practices where they weren't my favourite, but if the instructor is kind and open, then usually there is always something that I take from it.

I find that the longer I've been practicing the more I am open to learning from classes that I may not like so much. Talking to newer yogi friends, they have a much different perspective...

yogiclarebear said...

hey there...the recent yogajournal e-newsletter made me think a lot about this post. id like to email it to you if you want to send me your address. clare at