How To Build A Yoga Habit
A Yoga Teacher’s Path To Daily Practice
I came to yoga sometime around 2006, seeking an easy physical practice that would complement my training as a competitive rower. Yoga wasn’t yet “my thing” and my early relationship with yoga was one of occasional exploration and convenience. I’d go to yoga if I had a mostly empty day, and that meant I’d go to yoga about once a month. Even in those early sessions, I had a hint there was a depth to yoga I was barely scratching the surface of. Nonetheless, life was busy, and three months or more would often go by without a visit to my yoga mat.
Fast-forward to six years later, and I found myself in a leadership position at several boutique fitness studios that offered yoga. Yoga was my business. Yoga was my livelihood (although I didn’t yet teach). Yoga was inviting me in, letting me know it was there, begging for me to learn more. I didn’t listen, and my practice remained nothing more than a casual convenience. It would be another three years before I decided to get a teacher certification. Not because I wanted to teach, and not because I practiced yoga daily (I still didn’t) but because I wanted to be a better boss. I wanted to know more. Then something happened
Through the process of certification, I had to accrue a certain number of hours as a student in classes. The only way to achieve this was to practice daily. Through daily practice, I was transformed. And before you dismiss this blog by saying, ‘she practiced daily because she had to,’ what keeps me practicing daily was another matter. Certificate in hand, new life outlook in mind, returning to my mat for a daily practice was something I had to work up to. I no longer needed to do it for some external-to-me reward, I wanted to do it for myself. To do it for myself, I had to reframe my thinking, and seek a motivation that was internal. I’ve outlined my process below, in the hopes that you too, can find an internal reason to practice daily, whether it’s yoga or anything else.
My drive to practice yoga daily didn’t occur until after yoga became more to me than a physical practice, more than a way to change my body and what it could do, or what it would look like. Once I saw the power of yoga to transform my mind, I knew the only way to go deeper was to commit. By committing to a daily practice I was opening myself up to the potential for yoga to change me from the inside out. There is a goal tied to my practice, and it’s defined within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Yoga is the cessation of the ruminations of the mind. There exists an end goal through daily practice, a calm, quiet mind. But my INTENTION is to practice daily and see how close I can get to this goal, one day at a time, each and every day.
To Do: Write down your “end” goal if you have one. Then write a list of all the benefits that are tied to the “right here right now” goal of daily practice. Remember, although you may have a future goal in mind, your present-moment goal is to create a daily habit.
My goal is not an arbitrary one. To arrive at a quiet mind has been the “goal” of yoga practitioners for thousands of years. For my daily practice to matter, I have to believe that others have done this. I have to believe that I too, can do this. At first, my faith was based on logic. Would Yoga have survived this long if it wasn’t true? Do I see anyone else whom I believe has achieved this goal? Has there ever been even the slightest result in my own mind that offers me a glimpse that I too, could do this? The more frequently the answer to the last question is yes, the more my faith is confirmed. It’s through awareness of progress, achieved through daily practice, that my faith is strengthened.
To Do: As you check the box on daily practice, write down your observations on any change you see, even if it’s small or seemingly unrelated. Remember, it’s through daily action that we catch glimpses of results, these glimpses deepen our faith in the process, and create a positive feedback loop that motivates continued practice.
Invite in FEAR
That’s right. A healthy does of fear is reasonable, and if you can make friends with fear, you’ve got a great motivator. Fear is healthy when it’s partnered with faith. Though faith, I know the yoga practice works, I know it will change me, because I’ve seen how it already has. The flip side of this is if I drop my daily practice, I know what I’ll return to, and yes, I’m afraid of that. If I know that daily practice works, and yet drop it, I’m forgoing my extraordinary opportunities, I’m wasting my resources, and by extension, I’m wasting my life. If that seems a tad dramatic, let me tell you, drama works. Real fear works. Your goal should be that important to you. If it’s not, why bother?
To Do: Write down all the resources and opportunities you have at your disposal that support your daily practice, not the least of which is your heartbeat, your breath. Meditate on what it could look like to forego all this and never change. Then remember, you can honor this fear by working in faith, one day at a time, on your new habit.
REJOICE in Progress
Creating a new habit isn’t about punishing yourself for no reason, it’s about changing your life. We work hard at new habits because want to be happier, whatever that happiness looks like for us. Don’t save the party for your dying day. Every single time I get to my mat I rejoice. I rejoice in all the circumstances that perfectly aligned to bring me to that moment. I rejoice in every little detail right down to my breath. I’m here, I’m alive, I’m moving, I’m breathing, I’m practicing, I rejoice. And before this sounds too crazy, rejoicing can look as simple as closing your eyes, and giving a silent thanks. It’s an acknowledgement that yes, I’m still on the right path. I’m doing this now. Don’t wait for the last step, don’t wait until the end of year to look back and say, I did it! Celebrate now. Daily.
To Do: Give yourself a pat on the back. Every time you take an action towards establishing a new pattern, rejoice! Every time you show up to do the thing, rejoice!
The GOAL is the PATH
We’re creating habits every second of every day whether we realize it or not. Each day I decide it’s not a day for yoga, I’m ingraining the habit of not doing yoga. When I skip yoga, there’s the part of me that’s skipping, and another part of me that sees myself as someone who skips (whether a conscious awareness or not). The more I (subconsciously) see myself as someone who skips, the more power the skipping-me has to make my future decisions. What if I invited a future me, who never skips, to make my decisions instead? My original commitment was to the habit, not the outcome, and that’s honorable, and it works. The paradox here is that if I invite in the outcome right now, if I see myself as a person who does yoga every day, that person would make a different decision and would show up to their mat. I can become who I want to be, by acting the way that future person would.
To Do: Write down what the future you, with your new established habit would look like. How would they think? How would they act? Invite that person to be you NOW, and let that person be your decision maker. Pretend. Remember, every action you take further establishes a path. Which path, is up to you.
When looking back at all of the above, let’s be honest. I didn’t think all these things, then decide to become a daily practitioner and that was that. The above steps are important to me because I’ve come to be intimately acquainted with them after trial and error, back and forth, and good and bad days. When I’m struggling I remember my intention, I reinforce my faith, I acknowledge my fear – which often shows up as doubt. But in the end, I rejoice in the effort I place in my daily practice (as small as that may be some days!) and I remind myself that who I’d like to be is already there, waiting to be uncovered, inviting me to meet them, by rolling out my mat.