Today is the first winterish day in north Alabama - grey, colder, and wet. It is mid-autumn but feels, at least for a day, like we shifted into the next season.
One of the many reasons I love traditional yoga practice is the recognition that we humans live within the natural world. We are not separate from it. We are interwoven into the web that is life. Nature affects us and we affect nature. The yogis call this prakriti.
Prakriti has three primary qualities that are collectively known as the guna. Tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is the grey, cold, wet quality. Rajas is the bright, hot, dry quality. Sattva is moderate: warm, pleasant, balanced and equanimous. Sattva described by one word would be peaceful.
Many traditional yoga teachers say that the essence of yoga practice is the cultivation of sattva - by skillfully counterbalancing tamas and rajas, the sattva manifests.
How do you know that you and the guna are well balanced by an asana sequence? You feel better by the end of practice. It's that simple.
If I am feeling cold and down (like today), doing some hot energetic poses could be the answer but if I am deeply withdrawn and struggling to get into my car to go to class, maybe a combination of restorative poses and supported inversions practiced at home would a better alternative.
In a past blog I wrote about the positive force field of classes and the sangha that forms in a class of regular attendees. In this post I want to say, hey, it's OK to stay home.
What's a yoga practitioner to do?
Practicing at home is becoming more and more rare. I know because I ask my students and friends about this. Practicing at home can sometimes feel lonely and tamasic, especially if you live alone. Yoga can also become one more item on the 'to do list', if you let it. Feeling overwhelmed by your to do list items - the dusty floors, the dirty laundry - and not practicing because you have so many things to do is a tamasic result. But here's a question - are you dusting and doing laundry to balance that overwhelmed feeling or did you just pick up your cell phone to text a friend or watch a youtube video instead?
If being alone is reinforcing that 'down' cut off feeling, then yes, go to a class. If alone time at your house is a very rare thing, then, yes, go to a class for some 'me time'.
On the other hand, perhaps you could balance tamas by selecting a sequence that you can do at home. One that feels right for you - maybe standing poses, maybe backbends or maybe restoratives that open your heart and lungs. Play with a prop - how many postures can you do with 2 blocks? A chair? Turn off the cell, walk away from the computer screen and step onto the mat.
The ultimate place to balance that tamasic feeling is at home. Going to class is external - you have to go there. I'm grateful that you attend my classes, don't get me wrong, but being willing to practice where you are (at home base) often requires genuine rajasic will power. You, your mat, the sequence, and the most important ingredient - your curiosity. Who am I today and how does this practice make me feel after I am done?
It can all add up to sattva.