Okay, so I figured it was time to rewind a little. I have given you some yoga practices, poses, meditations, mantras, and all that is lovely and wonderful. BUT now comes the hard part: actually doing them.
Trust me when I say that if you struggle with getting on your mat daily, even when you are guided by a pose sequence or video, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Even if you want to, you desire it, you “know” how good it is for you – none of that will necessarily translate to the actual action of unrolling your yoga mat, taking your socks off, and stepping onto it. Developing a steady home practice is by far one of the biggest challenges – even for yoga teachers. The reason for this is, simply, our mind trying to get in the way. We all know how easy it can be to talk your self out of something. But also trust me when I say – feeling guilty about this, beating yourself up over it, or feeling that one missed day is a reason to stop altogether, is far from helpful. Rest in the knowledge that you are not alone, and that just having the intention of a daily practice is, in and of itself, a powerful first step and much farther than many others have yet gone.
In this post, I hope to share a little bit about setting yourself up for success with a home practice. Tips and tricks that I have learned over the years that have helped me rise above my excuses (did I mention that they still creep in, every day?), make the first step easier, and most importantly, how I have let myself off the hook – to find more discipline.
First off, I want to touch on that word: DISCIPLINE. Its true meaning and intention is far different than what you might think. Our culture has come to attach a negative connotation to the word. I don’t know about you, but when I hear it, I think of rigidity, exclusion, schedules, deprivation. Fighting against our selves. Taming something or someone. Strictly adhering to a routine in order to cut out something “bad. In fact, the Latin root of the word, disciplina, actually means “to impart knowledge,” or “to enlighten.” Doesn’t that sound lighter?
Donna Farhi (a wise and beautiful yoga teacher) has a great excerpt in her book “Bringing Yoga to Life” that I want to share with you here:
“Rather than constraining, discipline is any practice that contains our thoughts, energy, and actions so that we can use ourselves in a potent way. Just as a bucket riddled with holes cannot carry water from one place to another, lack of containment of our physical, psychological, and psychic energies sabotages our best intentions.”
So, it helps to look at discipline in this way: What can we do to become the most effective and productive version of our selves? What practices nourish us, so that we work from a place of aliveness, instead of drawing from an empty cup? What feels attainable and easeful, that can also empower us? How can we step away from things that drain our energy, and towards things that feed us, so that we can continue on the path to our dreams and our vision of a most fulfilled life?
Doesn’t that perspective make the idea of discipline seem, almost, enjoyable? A far more helpful way to view the benefit and draw of a daily yoga practice.
This leads me to another point I’d like to make: what, exactly, IS yoga practice? This is where I’ll bring in how easing up and letting myself off the hook was so helpful in finding the discipline to step on my yoga mat each and every day.
I like to think of my yoga practice as an exploration. An inquiry. Who am I today? How is my body feeling? Do I notice any new body sensations? What is my breath like today? Which emotions am I experiencing? What thoughts are running through my mind? The beauty of yoga is it helps us to notice these things – so many people walk through the day without ever taking the time to check in with themselves. And from whatever I notice, my yoga practice unfolds from there.
Let, of all times in your day, your yoga practice be unscheduled. Don’t force yourself to follow any set routine – in fact, routines go against everything that yoga is. (For more on this, check out my post and practice on embracing slowness, here). When I used to think I had to go through a challenging flow practice every single day, I often didn’t practice at all. When I learned to honor my body and my energy levels, day to day, and kept it loose and spontaneous, I started to practice consistently. I now step on to my mat (or sit down on my mat) and see what happens. Some days, I flow. Some days, I sit quietly. It’s all yoga and it’s deeply transformative regardless of the shape it takes.
Does a completely loose and unstructured time feel intimidating? Do thoughts begin like, “I have no idea what I’m doing, I don’t have any idea what poses to do, so I’ll just wait and go to yoga class some time instead?” All normal. It’s okay to follow someone else’s sequence, (find some good ones here), or find a teacher on YouTube whose classes you enjoy. (Stay tuned for videos from yours truly!) I did this for a long time, trying out different paces and poses and flows, before I started to realize what I liked and what my body craved. It took a while before I was comfortable enough to let myself be the guide. Give yourself the time you need.
And, as you get more familiar with the practice, you’ll probably find yourself craving a little more personal expression. If you follow a video, it’s okay to do something different than what the teacher says. The more we practice, the more we come to know what we want and need on a more subtle level. Does the teacher say to do this stretch, but this other one sounds better to you? Do it. Does she want you to do a core strengthening section, but you’re ready to rest? Then rest. Congratulations, you have just uncovered one of yoga’s true gifts – a refined sense of inner awareness and the knowledge that you can be your own teacher. Home practice can be SO freeing in this way, as there is no pressure to follow what everyone else is doing. No one can see you, except maybe your dog or kids, and they certainly don’t care. Go with the flow, find what feels good.
Your practice can be slow, or energetic. It can be all seated, or mostly standing. It can be opening and stretch your body, or it can strengthen your body. Perhaps you just sit quietly and listen to the sounds around you. Let yourself off the hook. Remember, discipline is whatever can feed us and contain our energies. Another true gift of yoga, developed over time, is the realizing of the FREEDOM of LETTING GO.
That brings me to one last point: letting go. If we don’t practice now, and we want to start a practice, it only follows that we will need to “find” time that currently we may not have. I put “find” in quotes because, truth: we all have enough time. We don’t need to go looking for it – it’s been here all along. It’s a matter of choosing what we fill it with.
For example, here are things I used to spend my time doing: online games, hours-long Netflix binges, staying up too late and sleeping in late, recovering from a hangover, obsessive online shopping, obsessive regular shopping, mindless television, gossiping, worrying about things I couldn’t control, over-thinking about situations, people, and past interactions.
I’m not saying that any of these are “bad” or “useless.” After all, life is for enjoying and some days just pan out a certain way. And yes, I did watch the newest season of Orange Is The New Black over the course of just a few nights. BUT it’s about making choices. What is a DAILY habit that we have, that perhaps doesn’t serve us so well? What is a SMALL change we can make to begin to shift our selves towards something that serves us a bit better? Are we simply watching others achieve THEIR dreams?
For me, it was making the conscious choice to turn off the television and go to bed earlier – I started with just 30 minutes– so that I could wake up in the morning: 1. A bit earlier, so I could squeeze in some mindful alone time, and 2. A bit more motivated to actually participate in this alone time. It also took me leaving my phone in airplane mode at night, to avoid going down the social media rabbit hole. Seemingly small changes, that have led to monumental shifts in my day to day experience. Starting small feels manageable and achievable. As the adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But, funny enough, once we start to create transformation, once we shed that first layer – we find that this process is, like many things, a bit addicting. As we lighten up, we feel the freedom, and we get curious for more.
Time is what we make of it.
Now, on to the more technical side of things. How do I actually go about setting up a home practice?
First, create a dedicated spot in your home – in my current life, I find that having a space in my bedroom is the most accessible. That way, when I roll out of bed in the morning, it is the first thing I see. My first stop for the day. No matter where it is, it does need to be somewhere that you can, theoretically, find some quiet and be alone. We cannot control every factor, and some times other beings enter our space – that’s life. A door or a division between rooms is ideal. Natural light is helpful. A separate room – MAGICAL! But most important, a sacred space is a sacred space is a sacred space.
Okay, so I have a place. What should be in it?
- Your mat! Of course.
- Any props or supports your body likes. Firm blankets, bolsters or pillows/cushions, straps or belts/ties, blocks, self-massage balls, eye pillows or cloths to cover the eyes and block the light. Even a chair can be nice!
- A journal. Don’t let moments of inspiration pass you by. It’s okay to take a break to jot down a few thoughts.
- Any books or texts that are inspiring you currently. It can be nice to take a few moments to read a passage before or after your practice.
- A nice option: create a mini alter for yourself: pictures of people you love or admire, special objects, flowers, candles… any thing that inspires or motivates you.
- Incense or an essential oil diffuser if you enjoy aromatherapy. Lavender and rosemary are relaxing; juniper is an excellent pair to meditation; basil and lemon oils are energizing.
- A source of music, if you like that to accompany your practice.
- A means to access your sequence or videos if that’s what you’re playing with.
- Mat cleaner on hand can be nice: a quick spray and wipe after a sweaty practice is important. Be sure to leave your mat laying out long enough for it to thoroughly dry before rolling it up, to prevent the rubber breaking down. Here is a lovely, all-natural DIY Yoga Mat Cleaner.
Here is my space – nothing fancy, but special to me:
So now that you’ve set up a special spot, we have to USE it! Here are some helpful tips I have learned, from others and from my own experience, on setting our selves up for home practice success:
- Schedule a time in your day for practice. (Okay, so the ONE part of practice that requires planning. Trust me, it’s important.) Write it in your planner or set a reminder in your phone if that helps. Personally, the best time for me is first thing in the morning. I will set an alarm on the days I know I’ll need it. If I put it off until later in the day it often doesn’t happen. BUT that’s just me. Find a time that works for you and the natural rhythms of your body.
- Ten minutes to practice is wonderful. So is an hour. Don’t feel obligated to stick to any certain amount of time. The more limits and expectations we set for ourselves, the more likely we will come up with excuses why we can’t do something at all. ANY time we give ourselves is a gift.
- Let your yoga props remain sacred objects. Whatever you may use, let those be used for yoga practice and yoga practice only. Roll up your mat at the end of practice and place everything neatly back in its place so that it stays clean and in good condition. A yoga mat with food or crumbs on it, or a yoga block that has been chewed up by your dog, will not make you want to practice. (I speak from experience on this one.)
- In the same vein, let your space remain sacred. If it is a multi-purpose room, keep it clean. Like I mentioned, mine is in the bedroom, which means I have to be conscious of picking up dirty clothes and toys that may have migrated in. It’s worth it to wake up in the morning to a tidy space. I don’t want to practice next to dirty underwear, do you?
- Your scheduled practice time rolls around, and excuses begin to creep in. What do you do? What helps me is to tell myself “I’m just going to do one pose.” I tell myself, that one minute on my mat is better than no minutes. It is LITERALLY just taking the first step on to the mat. I promise, it’s not made of hot lava. Just put your feet on it and start with one thing.
- Take a few moments to prepare yourself. Get a drink of water, use the bathroom, blow your nose. Put on comfortable clothes, and if you have long hair tie it back. If you’re starving, grab a handful of nuts. Place a cup of water by your mat. Take care of basic physical needs so that you can practice comfortably. We cannot control external factors, but we can take ownership of our inner ones, and it will set us up for an uninterrupted experience. There is nothing worse than having to rush through Savasana because you have to pee. (Also speaking from experience.)
- Have your desired props within reach. Again, we do the best we can to minimize interruption of our flow.
- Honor the beginning. As you begin practice, take a few moments to offer gratitude for all it took to get you on to your mat. Especially to yourself, for being here. Also take a moment to set an intention for your day or practice. It can be anything. An energy or quality you want to embody, a goal you’re working towards, or perhaps a person that you’d like to hold in your heart. Anything is more potent and powerful when done from a place of gratitude and directed in a certain way.
- Start simply. I like to begin in child’s pose. Maybe you’ll stay here all practice. If so, wonderful! You’ve opened your hips, lengthened your spine, and stretched your arms. This simple posture also helps us to turn inward, tune out distractions, and tune IN to our body and breath. It’s truly powerful by itself. Or maybe you’ll feel moved to keep going, come to all fours, then to downward dog, etc etc etc. It all starts from a simple and non-intimidating beginning.
- Be okay with distractions. This goes back to rigidity and expectations – they never work. Begin practice. Kids may walk in, someone may knock at the door, your phone may ring and it may be an important call that you have to take. Take this all in stride, don’t throw in the towel part way through. Remember that yoga helps us to get in touch with our calm center. Can you approach these distractions from this place? When you’ve attended to whatever needs your attention, come back to your mat and finish your practice. Yoga is not just a practice for the mat. It’s a way of life, and the true test of our practice is what we do off our mats. All these distractions we meet along the way, and how we deal with them, can show us the magic that yoga is working in our favor.
- Like bookends, a practice should have a clear beginning and also a clear end. Be sure to seal your practice in the same intentional way – a quiet seated meditation or traditional Savasana are both good options. Be sure to give yourself at least 3 minutes in either one of these places to honor the close of your practice, before stepping back in to your day. As you roll up your mat, take another moment for gratitude. The most important thing to be grateful for? Yourself. For the body that carried you through, for the breath that kept flowing, and for your dedication to yourself that allowed you to carve out this time for your self. For the DISCIPLINE to practice and for all the beautiful qualities that are unfolding as a result.
- Take note of shifts that you notice with daily practice, perhaps a journal that you can write them down in. This will help you see clearly the path that you are on, and keep you coming back to your mat over and over again. What may happen? A body that gets stronger and at the same time more flexible. You may be able to enjoy other activities more freely or without pain. Better sleep. Perhaps you notice you don’t overreact to situations that used to set you off. You deal more calmly with every day situations. Perhaps you find a new level of inspiration or creativity. You feel more motivated to do that thing that you’ve wanted to do for a long time. With consistent yoga practice, ANYTHING is possible. Truly.
“What yoga does promise, however, is that through sincere, skillful, and consistent practice, anyone can become peaceful, happy, and free.” (Donna Farhi, “Bringing Yoga to Life.”)
You got this. Remember, you’re not alone. Your mind and its excuses are not TRULY you, but they are powerful. We can separate our selves from them, and live in a place of personal power and truth. This is hard. It’s called “practice” for a reason. The path we must walk to understand this is a long and winding one. You can only walk it one step at a time. Setting an intention is a powerful first step. The first step is the hardest. It’s okay to keep it light. There is no wrong way. The possibilities are endless.
Let me know what questions you have, and how the path is going for you. Peace&Love.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never has otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” -Goethe