I’ve always maintained that the hardest yoga pose is starting. Forget handstand or splits; the toughest pose in unrolling your mat and starting to practice. After years of doing yoga, I’m amazed that it is still like pulling teeth to get myself to practice at times. I pretty much always feel better after a yoga session, yet I’ll continue to have this resistance. So I’ve just had to discover clever ways of getting myself to the mat in spite of myself. Here’s my top ten tips and tricks I’ve found for getting back on the yoga mat:
1. Let go of time “rules” I used to think that if I didn’t practice for at least 90 minutes every day that I wasn’t a dedicated enough yogi, doing enough or doing it right. If I didn’t have at least an hour, I just wouldn’t do any yoga at all. But when I take the attitude that any yoga is better than no yoga, practice happens much more frequently. Even a few minutes can make a big difference in your energy level. Maybe it’s just a few rounds of sun salutations or some forward bends. Giving myself permission to be imperfect and not practicing “x” number of minutes has been a huge way of being more compassionate to myself–and improving at least my mental practice as a result.
2. Find a buddy Find another yogi to practice with. Having someone who is relying on you to carpool to a class or show up to your house to practice together increases the likelihood that you will get out of bed and decreases the likelihood you will bail. Plus it’s just way more fun sometimes to have another person to be breathing and sweating along with you. If you don’t have a buddy at hand, try meeting other people at yoga class. You can also try the Craigslist activity partners section where you can post your yogi want-ad.
3. Get thee to a class The sangha or community aspect of yoga is a powerful thing. A good yoga instructor has a way of inspiring you to go deeper into your practice and challenge your imagined limitations. By practicing as part of a class, you get reconnected not just to yourself, but to the larger universe around you. And frankly, sometimes I just want be told what to do and be guided through a practice. Also, if you’re a cheapskate like me, once you’ve put down money for a class pass, that will motivate you to get yourself there to get your money’s worth.
4. Turn on a DVD. Or podcast. Or video stream. There’s a ton of free or low-cost yoga podcasts and online videos. A quick iTunes search alone will give you a bunch of options. Netflix is a great way to test-drive yoga DVDs so you can see if you like one before purchasing it. Have a handful of video classes of various lengths so when you’re in need of inspiration or just need a set routine, all it takes is pushing the play button. The bonus? Checking out different video options available gives you a chance to sample different teachers and yoga styles.
5. Mix it up Speaking of different styles, sometimes you need to try a new one. If you’ve been doing the same old routine or video or just aren’t feeling as engaged in your usual class, try something new. Try a different style of yoga, go to a teacher whose class you’ve never taken before or visit a new studio. Sometimes a change of pace is needed to get you re-interested and energized about practicing.
6. Have your gear at the ready I keep a yoga mat in my trunk along with a towel. Lay out your yoga clothes the night before. Place your gym bag out by the door. Don’t let not having a mat or the right clothing on hand keep you from practice. Similarly, if you’re practicing at home, roll your mat out ahead of time and clear aside any space you need ahead of time so when it’s time to practice, all you need to do is step on the mat.
7. Make a music mix Yoga doesn’t have to be done in silence. Yoga music is not limited to Krishna Das or sitar music (though I actually happen to like both of these). I love putting together a playlist of fun music that I reserve for my yoga practice. This gives me something to look forward to the next practice. Putting the music on ahead of time will lift me from lethargy to bopping into my practice. I have been known to move through sun salutes in rhythm, sing along in headstand, and pause between poses to shake it like a polaroid picture. Music has a way of focusing me and bringing back the fun and playfulness part of yoga.
8. Stop being serious Seriously. That playfulness I mentioned was completely foreign to my home practice for the longest time. Stop the vinyasa to sing along to Michael Jackson? Do another handstand for the fun of it? Unheard of. It was rare that I ever deviated from a precisely prescribed sequence of poses with the proper breath count. Discipline is one thing, but rigidity and exactitude are ways to guarantee you won’t feel like unrolling the yoga mat. Give yourself permission to have fun with it. Laugh at yourself when you fall out of a pose. Do a pose completely out of sequence just because it feels good. It has taken me YEARS to start to give myself the permission and flexibility in my practice and I’m certainly still working on it. BUT, it’s the fun, free-flowing classes that are the most rewarding and tend to be where I’ll have a breakthrough in a pose.
9. Keep a brain dump nearby Sometimes I resist doing yoga because my brain is spinning from all the things on my to-do list and everything I ought to be doing instead of practicing. Have a notepad and pen nearby when you start to practice. If you remember something you have to do or have something you keep thinking about, write it down. Have a great idea while you’re in downward dog? Put it on paper. I find that when I put my persistent thoughts in writing, it gets them out of my head and gives me the brain space to focus onto my practice–and not forget about those creative sparks that sometimes strike while in a yoga pose.
10. Note your epiphanies On that note (pun intended), write down those cool insights you have in practice. Did you nail that arm balance you’ve been working on for years? Discover that you were able to hold a pose way longer than you thought you could? Realize something about yourself or gain some new perspective on a life situation? Record these epiphanies. Then the next time you don’t want to practice or feel discouraged, go read your epiphanies.
How do you motivate yourself to unroll the mat?