It’s quite a high when you float out of a particularly inspiring class or workshop, feeling full of joy as every cell in your body seems to vibrate. Fully convinced of the benefits of yoga for body and mind, you tell yourself that this time, you’re going to keep it up, no matter what. And maybe you do. Perhaps you’re one of those lucky people for whom discipline comes easily, and all it takes to keep the habit for life is a timely immersion in yoga with a great teacher.
Sadly, that’s not how it rolls for most mere mortals. You may have promised yourself more than once that this time, you’ll make yoga a habit for life. You start going to a class (or rolling out the mat at home), and you stick with it for a while, but then life gets in the way, and you miss class. Then a week or two later, you skip another class. Once you’ve missed a couple of classes, it’s easier to skip again. Eventually, you’ve missed so much that you tell yourself there’s no point going back to class now. Next term, the whole process begins again.
We’re human. We procrastinate and beat ourselves up for procrastinating. It’s a vicious circle but can be broken with some effort. There are plenty of reformed procrastinators who are now regular yoga practitioners. They’ve found that yogic quality of ‘Tapas’, the discipline required to keep getting on the mat. If you’d like to join their ranks, here are some ideas to help.
1. Find a class and a teacher you like
It sounds obvious, but this is where many fall at the first hurdle. You’re not at school, where you have no choice but to stick with a teacher you don’t like. Find a teacher you connect with. There’s a certain alchemy that happens when you know you’re in the right space with the right teacher. Their voice, presence, and the way they move around the room combine in a magical package that inspires you to keep getting on the mat. Like any relationship, it’s highly personal. A yoga teacher may have excellent skills and the best of intentions, but they’re just not for you. A good teacher will encourage and inspire you, leaving you full of enthusiasm after every class. Find a teacher who makes you feel that way. Then stick with them, at least for now.
2. Prioritise your yoga practice
Don’t let anything short of matters of life or death get in the way of you showing up for class. Don’t make a dental appointment. Skip those after-work drinks. Get a babysitter if you have to. Prioritise your yoga practice, no matter what else tries to get in the way. If you’re self-practising at home, set a time and stick to it, as though you were attending class (see my earlier post on self-practice).
3. Remember how yoga makes you feel.
After the September sign-up, just around now, as the evenings get darker and the cold weather kicks in, numbers at yoga classes start to deplete. Don’t be one of those people leaving an empty mat space at the studio. When you feel like cosying up on the sofa instead of dragging your ass to class, fast-forward to that post-practice feeling. Then remember there’s only one way to make it happen.
4. Get out of your head.
There’s a reason why the Nike strap line is iconic. Just doing it, without thinking about it or allowing the negative voice in, works. Be aware of the devil on your shoulder, trying to persuade you to skip class, or telling you that you practise regularly when really, you don’t. Buying a 6 or 10-class pass and attending two or three classes is not a regular yoga practice. Don’t kid yourself that you practise yoga when you’re dipping in and out and not giving the yoga habit a chance to stick. It’s like paying for an hour with your therapist and then lying to them about how you really feel. Feeling bad for missing practice won’t get you anywhere either. The good news is that the more you practise, the more you recognise these self-defeating behaviours. You start to get to know yourself better. You notice when your mind tries to talk you out of practice or put you down because you’ve missed class. Label the thought, smile, and move on to your yoga class. The more you do this, the more you’ll discourage negative thinking.
5. Be organised
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali advises that a yoga pose should be steady, stable and comfortable. That’s not going to happen if you’re sliding around on a worn-out mat or noticing a dodgy whiff as you lower down into Chaturanga. Keeping your kit and yourself clean and organised all fall under Saucha, the third Niyama in the 8 limbs of yoga. Buy a good mat and treat it with respect. Spray it after class and wipe it clean every time you use it. And don’t expect your yoga mat to last forever. If it’s shredding on the studio floor, it’s time to change it. You need to change your mat, just as you need to buy new running shoes or a new tennis racquet if you run or play tennis. You don’t need expensive clothes, but you do need to feel clean and comfortable in what you wear for practice.
6. Keep a Yoga Journal
Journalling works. Write down what you did that day or that week, and say a few words about how you felt after you practised. Tell yourself you’ll review it at the end of the month. Keep it up, and you’ll find your practice keeps up too.
7. Forget about flexibility
Don’t get disheartened because you’re not making as much progress as you would like. Forget about what other people in the class are doing or how they look. It has absolutely nothing to do with your yoga practice. Especially important is to let go of any idea you may have that yoga is only for flexible people. That’s like saying that exercise is only for fit people. Yoga is for every body type, not just the bendy. The most appropriate style of yoga will help flexible people build the strength they need, while stiffer body types will find they become more flexible. What really matters is what yoga is doing for your mind.
8. Book a workshop or retreat.
Try to always have a workshop or retreat booked. Depending on your stage of life and time and budget available, that could be anything from a local morning workshop to a weekend retreat in the countryside or a month away in India. Immersing yourself in your practice for a good chunk of time gives you the time you need to go deeper. It can also kick-start your practice when you’ve dropped out for a while, and you’re trying to get back on track. Having an immersion of some sort booked motivates you to keep up your practice so that you’ll feel ready for the event you’ve planned.
If you want to integrate a yoga practice into your life, you’ve got to really commit. But when the rewards can include a happier, healthier, more peaceful life, isn’t it worth it?