I am part of a tribe whose membership consists of a long line of fiercely independent inward seekers. Members of this tribe place highest value on withdrawing from everything outside the body, and focusing on what drawing forth the creative expression that can emerge from the unknown places within the body and mind.
To me it is natural and obvious that the yoga tradition is steeped in self-reliance and independence because yoga is practiced and discovered alone, within the confines of the individual body. No matter where you practice or in whose company, the act of practicing is solitary, it is not a shared activity or a team sport. Everyone who practices seriously will encounter times of extreme loneliness and come up against problems with self-discipline.
At first this can seem tricky because of being part of a seemingly strict lineage of yoga where there many impersonal and external rules and guidelines that you are expected to follow. If you fail to know the rules, or disregard them too easily or break them too often then you risk losing track of the lineage.
Thus making your own choices and judging for yourself in the practical management of your practice has to be balanced with being careful and discerning in following the rules and guidelines that define the lineage. To me you want a win/win rather than a lose/lose scenario. In a win/win scenario you approach your independence and the rules of the lineage in a positive manner by acting as though each of these perspectives exists for your benefit and has the capability to help the other in a system of checks and balances.
You maintain respect for the overall system even if you find a specific rule to be illogical, unfitting, irrelevant or even harmful to you. You maintain a spirit of good will towards the system and are forgiving of its shortcomings. You continue to try to better understand what the system is asking you and do your best to go further into the techniques and methodology that it emphasizes. But it is to be expected that certain shortcomings of the system that are unique to you will become apparent to you as you make a lasting sincere attempt to follow the system. To encounter flaws or aspects of the system that do not adequately address your needs/wants is not cause for throwing out the system. The longer you practice the more you will naturally take to individualizing your efforts, and to interpreting the system in your own way.
But you also must find a balance with your independence taking on an attitude of respect for your need to personalize and to own your practice. When you find that you need to make a choice that breaks a rule you do not feel guilty, nor criticize or judge yourself for making the choice. You approach your independence with confidence, and trust that you will make good choices on your behalf.
On the other hand you always weight your subjective personal choices against the objective rules of the system. The rules are there outside of you, they can be used to test your intentions and motivations, to explore your reasons for wanting to go outside the system. And it is inevitable that you will fall into some sort of laziness in either direction.
You can jump to not following the rules of the system for the wrong reasons such as avoiding hard work, not wanting to face your weaknesses, not wanting to look bad or other reasons. Or you can behave like a sheep blindly following the rules because you are afraid, want to be a ‘goody goody’, it is too much work to think for yourself or other reasons.
It can be helpful to remember that the system is meant to be fluid as opposed to rigid, like a cell with a permeable membrane. A healthy cell allows traffic to flow both ways across the membrane. The ashtanga system is meant to provide rules and also to leave room for altering the practice to suit personal differences. Without having a free flow in both directions across the membrane disease will arise. If you attempt to be too strict with the rules or too free with personal choice you will cause harm to yourself and somehow fail to grow in your practice.
Get ready because these two threads sometimes or even often contradict each other and cause conflict within you. To stay with the process and negotiate the opposition between the two can provide a healthy tension that forms the very heart of your yoga study.