Many students at Gaia tell us that they love the benefits of practising yoga and that they feel better, healthier and full of energy if they manage to come to the Shala 2 or 3 times a week. But if they are travelling, the working schedule gets crazy or family life seems overwhelming, or they are simply to busy to make it to the Shala, they lose their practice and really start feeling worse the longer they are off the mat. I have had a consistent Ashtanga Yoga practice for many years and wouldn’t want to miss it as the rest of the day is just going so much more smoothly.
In today’s post, I want to share some ideas to make a consistent practice a reality. Most of the ideas might seem easy and obvious, but that is the problem with changing a mind pattern: the mind is pretty good in telling us that we are already almost there. We say things like: “I practice regularly…” which means something like: “Whenever I feel like it and have time”. Just minor changes in perspective can really make a huge difference if we take action on them.
As I am an Ashtanga practitioner and teacher, I wrote this post under the assumption, that we know what to practice (as Ashtanga Yoga has a set sequence) and can, therefore, practice anywhere. Being able to practice at home, in the hotel and pretty much at any place that can fit a Yoga mat makes it much more likely to be consistent, and not being dependent on a teacher to be led through the Yoga practice takes away one big excuse for not practising. It doesn’t have to be Ashtanga Yoga, but I highly recommend memorizing a proven asana sequence if you want to dive deeper into Yoga. So here are some ideas on building the habit to practice daily:
1. Start small: Define a minimum practice and be happy with any length you manage to practice beyond your defined minimum
In a workshop, Ashtanga Yoga teacher David Williams shared his definition of a minimum practice and it helped me to motivate myself even on days where I didn’t feel like practising or didn’t have much time:
This is just an example – the point her is to make it so easy at the beginning that it’s hard to say NO. Instead of aiming for a consistent daily practice of 60 min right from the beginning and then dropping it because of too many misses, go for 10 min minimum and be happy if you manage 60 min 2 times a week. Whatever length you manage to do on any given day: important is, that you create a new habit!
2. Make it easy to start your practice
Every day we have to find a certain amount of motivation and willpower to start our practice. The more steps that are necessary to actually start with the first inhalation of your practice, the less likely you are to actually do it. Therefore it’s best to have everything ready: a clean and free space, where your Yoga mat is already waiting to be rolled out.
And if you don’t feel like practising at all, just step on your mat for 5 deep breaths. After that, you might feel ok with lifting your hands above your head as in the sun salutation and back to Samastitih. After 10 breaths you most likely will feel like going on with your practice! The key here is to just start and don’t think about all that is coming but just be in the moment with your current breath (which is what a lot of Yoga practice is about anyway).
3. Schedule your practice
Instead of treating your Yoga practice as something to do when it’s convenient, start scheduling it. It’s like saying: “I am serious about my practice.” And it makes it much more independent from your daily mood.
Think of telling someone „We should have lunch one of these days!”. Is it likely to happen? What if you say: “Let’s meet Monday at 12 at the cafeteria for lunch!” Which one would you feel more committed to? And which one of these meetings do you think will actually happen?
Usually, all the things we find important and that involve appointments and meeting with other people end up on our schedule. Job interviews, doctor’s appointments, vacations, meetings with business partners. Why? Because we want to make sure not to miss them. And we usually don’t.
But most people don’t put their personal things on their schedule, like workouts, Yoga practice, time with themselves. And that is when things that are written down take up all our time and don’t allow the Yoga practice to happen.
So today, make a date with your mat and schedule a place and time! It’s an appointment with yourself. Should something else come up, you can say that you are already busy. And this is much easier to say if you have actually written it down.
4. Don’t get caught in trying to be perfect
Consistency is essential for reaping the full benefits of a personal Yoga practice. Yet, if you get stressed about missing a day, you are missing the point. And, what’s even worse, you are more likely to drop your daily practice if you feel like you failed just because you miss a day.
If you cannot practice on any given day, just relax and acknowledge why not, so you can plan better next time. Also become aware how you feel on days when you haven’t practised: knowing that you feel a lot better when you have practised makes it much more likely that you will choose to practice on any day (see also Nr. 7)!
The most important thing when you miss practice is, to continue the next day: NEVER MISS TWICE! Otherwise, instead of the habit of daily practice, you start a habit of missing practice.
5. Keep a practice diary to document your consistency and progress
Writing down how long and what you practised and maybe even how it felt helps you reflect your success and progress. You become very aware of when you miss a day and can make sure not to miss again the next day.
Going over your practice diary at the end of each week gives you a moment to reflect on the interactions between your life and Yoga practice. And if you manage to actually do it for some weeks, seeing your consistency on paper will make you feel even better and motivate you to keep going.
6. DECIDE NOT to practice as an exception instead of DECIDING to practice on a regular day
What do I mean by that? Many people approach practice as something they will do if they feel good and if they have time. And that is when life just gets in the way of doing a consistent Yoga practice.
Instead, the practice can be approached as a given thing that happens every day no matter how we feel, how busy we are and even if unpredictable things happen (just like brushing our teeth). This way our mind has to come up with a really strong reason not to do the practice instead of a reason and time to do it.
That does not mean that we might still find a major reason which stops us from practising on a certain day. But this way of thinking takes away the daily act of convincing ourselves why we should practice. Practice will just be an important part of our daily routine.
7. Make it an enjoyable experience
That is probably the most important advice: If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, you are less likely to return tomorrow to do the same. I believe one of the main reasons why I have barely missed a day of practice since I started to practice Ashtanga Yoga about 10 years ago is not because I am so disciplined, but because I just enjoy it so much! And my whole day benefits from it.
Here is a nice technique to become aware of why you want to practice every day and the benefits you gain from it: Take a couple of moments to imagine the feeling you have after practising Yoga. Going through some life-situations, where the calmness, centeredness and subtle feeling of bliss that a Yoga practice brings you will make a difference.
This technique will not only convince your rational mind but also engage your subconscious and make it much more likely to roll out your mat today! As we know from Sir Isaac Newton: objects in motion stay in motion. It’s how you get started that determines if you will practice. So just start today and let it evolve naturally. And always enjoy what you are doing and be in the moment!