A Daily Dose of Yoga
Consistency is, in my opinion, the most important part of any practice in one’s life. Through consistent practice, you create life-long patterns and expand your learning. This is true of artistes, athletes, writers and of course yogis! Consistency is, however, a rather challenging thing to cultivate. How do you form a consistent daily yoga or mindfulness practice with all the other obligations and unexpected obstacles? The answer will likely be a little different for everyone, but in this reading I hope to offer my personal experiences to help you on your own path.
So, why a consistent daily practice? Every time you step onto the mat is a chance to cleanse the body, mind and spirit. A chance to focus on the best version of yourself so that you can be your best on and off the mat. When you take just a few minutes to do a daily cleanse, you build a pattern of peace and positivity. The stronger this pattern becomes, the more you are able to find this same state of being off the mat in your daily life. When, on the other hand, you find yourself practicing say once a week, there is a lot of build up to cleanse by the end of the week! You may feel amazing at the end of your once a week practice, but how do you feel mid-week? Do you still channel with ease the peace found at the end of your last practice? I am always reminded of this when I fall out of a regular practice. My body, mind and spirit will all tell me when it has been too long since I took a little time for myself. There is always the build-up of physical tension and general stiffness. My energy levels will drop, making it all the harder to hit the mat. Most noticeable for myself is my mood. When I miss several days of practice, it can feel like a lot of effort to pull together the positive vibes that flow so easily after a good yoga practice or meditation. The more often you remind yourself of what matters most to you and the kind of energy you want to cultivate, the more easily it will come.
Let’s talk about the benefits your physical body receives from a daily dose of yoga. Whether you like a sweaty power flow practice or a calming yin, your body gets a lot of benefit out of a little stretching. As you work through tensions and build-up in the connective tissues, range of motion can be greatly improved. Greater flexibility can help relieve pains caused by tight and tense muscles, particularly in the low back. As you stretch, blood circulation is increased which helps cleanse toxins and deliver nutrients throughout the body and as you strengthen you develop the muscles required to improve posture. All this stretching can also be thought of as preparation for your daily life. By frequently putting a certain amount of stress on your joints and muscles, you reduce the risk of injury because the body is more prepared to handle whatever comes along. A little stretch every day is a wonderful gift to give yourself and your body will thank you!
Finding a consistent yoga or mindfulness practice is something that should bring joy and light to your life. It is essential it not feel like an onerous chore that you must complete, berating yourself when you do not. So my advice is to take it easy and set some small goals that you might grow from. When I first started cultivating a daily practice, my rule was 10 minutes a day. Taking just 10 minutes a day to check in with yourself can change everything. Perhaps a 10 minute flow in the afternoon to shake off the work day or 10 minutes of gentle stretching first thing in the morning to wake up the body. Maybe 5 minutes of each! The idea is making the goal easily attainable. There will always be days that you just don’t feel you have the time or energy for your practice. I have been culprit of telling myself I do not have time if I cannot set aside at least 30 minutes and need to remind myself often of the power of 10 minutes. As for those low energy days, explore everything yoga and mindfulness practices have to offer! Some days a few deep breaths in stillness can accomplish so much more than any flow sequence. Don’t get bogged down with what your practice should look like or be and enjoy what feels good today.
A daily practice should build positive attention to yourself. That means giving yourself a break on the days when you might slip from the routine. Think progress rather than perfection. A daily practice may take time to build and the number one killer is your own judgement. You set a goal, feel great about it for the first few days, at some point you might start to slip and only get to the mat a few times a week. Every day missed feels like failure and it is common for some negative self-talk to sneak in. Soon there are so many negative thoughts about the missed practices it actually persuades you to stay away from the mat and avoid the situation all together. So please remember that when you miss a day or two or ten…you are normal! Take it in stride, be grateful for the days you took off and be grateful for your return to your practice when you get there.
Another pitfall can be getting too goal oriented. Is your goal to touch your toes in forward fold? Or maybe you’re working towards a challenging balancing pose like half-moon? Goals are good to have and working towards them allows you to keep track of your progress and celebrate little victories along the way. However a caution to the goal oriented mind, enjoy the journey! As you work towards physical goals (like touching your toes), take the time to ponder what you learn about yourself on the way down. My time on the yoga mat has taught me things that were on my goal list, like that ever-challenging headstand, as well as things that I never expected like the power of surrender. It took years for me to feel confident in a headstand and there were plenty of days I wanted to give up but I continued to practice because I began to feel the lessons learned along the way were far more important than the pose itself. Through this trial I did indeed get comfortable with headstand, but more importantly I learned a great deal about accepting myself as I am, even while falling over… a lot! There will always be lessons to learn and new experiences to be had, so long as you remain open and accepting along the journey.
Once you make a daily yoga or mindfulness practice part of your routine, what’s the next step? Well the sky is the limit! Shake things up by trying a form of yoga that is new to you. Yin yoga is a lovely and relaxing way to practice, or you could try some Kundalini to experience a new way of getting your personal energy flowing. Perhaps the mental calm of your physical yoga practice sparks an interest in meditation. Of course your learning need not be exclusive to the mat! Pick up a book that grabs your fancy or watch a documentary. Participate in online discussions or find a group in your community to connect with. Where your yoga practice takes you is completely up to you, so savour every moment!