Elements of a Regular Yoga Practice
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
All of us who have been doing yoga for any amount of time know that when we do it consistently over time, we feel better, usually much better. We get stronger physically, more relaxed mentally, clearer about our goals and what’s important to us. We notice life fitting together and flowing in a way that feels perhaps mysterious.
And yet many of us come and go even though we have had that experience. Why?
I can’t say for everyone, and I know a lot of people have no problem getting to their mats day after day for years and years. This blog post is for those of you who relate to coming and going. I’m one of them.
Then one day relatively recently I woke up to what I would describe as a strong and regular home practice.
Here’s what changed for me:
1. I do what I love.
For most of my yoga life, I’ve had a lot of “shoulds.” I should do standing poses. I should work on building strength. I should practice everyday. I should do silent meditation or pranayama or repeat my mantra. I should go to classes (or I should only practice at home). It was ever-changing and relentless and my inner rebel couldn’t take it for very long.
And then I decided to only do what felt good. If I wanted to do sun salutations, I did sun salutations. If I wanted to lie on a bolster, I did that. A lot of times, it was something in between, or I would start lying in savasana and then move into an active hour long practice because it sounded like fun. Or, I would do a sun salutation and realize how tired I was and move right into a restorative pose.
Bottom line: if I don’t like it, I won’t do it for long. That goes for my yoga practice too. And what I like and want and need changes from day to day.
2. Yet I still have a short, daily practice that I suggest to myself.
A big obstacle to practice is not knowing where to start. Or it might be that the expectation of being on the mat for a long time is just too much, and so we don’t start. Creating a short, enjoyable sequence will solve both problems at once.
For me, it's freshening up my altar and doing four sun salutations and 3 handstands. It's what I think of as my seed practice. It’s what feels to me like a short and manageable amount of practice that will feel good and be fun on most days.
That particular sequence only takes five or ten minutes at most, so I know that even if I have huge resistance at first, it will be short and sweet and doable. I can (usually) talk myself into it fairly easily.
The other benefit is that when I get to my mat I know exactly what to do. There is no decision making required. If I have time, usually that short sequence will lead to more because once I start, remembering kicks in. I remember how much I love my practice and the resistance disappears.
But more important to me than doing the same thing over and over again (although there is value in that) is making sure what I’m doing is what I want and need to be doing. This refers back to suggestion #1, which is the first one for a reason.
Do what feels good. Create a seed practice for yourself, something to come back to over and over so you can walk on the mat without the effort of deciding what to do or talking yourself into an involved and prolonged activity. And then be flexible with it. It will change from day to day depending on your mood and energy, and it will also evolve over time as your practice deepens and grows.
3. Choose persistence over consistency.
After years of practicing yoga but rarely feeling that I was “consistent” in the sense that I imagined other, more serious practitioners were, I finally became a consistent practitioner.
The paradox is that I gave up on the idea that I would ever be consistent. Life is ever-changing. My needs change. My body changes. And I have almost never been consistent about anything in my life. I think many of us have at least some element of that, even if it isn’t so pronounced for you. Consistency is a high bar given that change is the fundamental element of being alive and human.
Instead, I choose persistence. I can be dogged and tenacious with things I love. Why not yoga? I miss a day of practice at least once a week, more if I’m traveling or life sweeps me up in something. That used to throw me off totally. Restarting was always the hardest part.
But what if persistence means we unroll our mat even if we don’t even get through that 5-minute seed practice, even if we haven’t done it in a week or a month of a year? You only have to be persistent in the act of getting yourself into a time and space where a practice is possible. Once you’re there, eventually remembering will kick in.
So give up on consistency, but welcome in persistence. Persistence allows for life, for not being able to show up sometimes, for skipping days and getting distracted. Inherent in persistence is the idea that we just keep coming back, again and again and again. And coming back means we get to lapse.
What all of these suggestions amount to is to be kind and patient with yourself. If you’ve gotten this far in this entry, it means you have persistence. You care about your practice. You want it, and you remember. It’s always there for you, no matter how long you’ve been away.
PS I am running a workshop about establishing and maintaining a yoga practice where we'll dive deep into how to implement these ideas. I have strategies! Join me!