Part 2 – Building A Sustainable Practice

We all know how it goes. We find something new. Something which gives us pleasure or makes us happy or we know is going to be good for us. We go at it full throttle, throwing ourselves into our new hobby and often telling others, out loud, how great we feel and how much we love it. So why does it not last, that enthusiasm and commitment? Why do all our good intentions fall by the wayside as the paraphernalia gathers dust in the garage? How can we ensure that, once we’ve discovered yoga, that we can keep getting back on our mat and develop a lasting practice?
There is no magic answer to how to develop the commitment to practice and in many ways it will be the practice itself which keeps you coming back for more. Once you begin to feel the changes shift in your body and your life, you will find you can’t live without it. In the mean-time, however, here are some tips for ensuring longevity and not enthusiasm burn-out.

Start Small
It is far better to carve out ten or fifteen minutes a day for your practice than pound it out for an exhausting hour and a half once a week.

Build Your Strength Slowly
Don’t expect miracles. Develop a mindful sensitivity to your own body and focus on nurturing self-care, breath and movement awareness, working within your natural range of movement. Gradually you will begin to find what in yoga we call ‘the edge’; that magic place between easy movement and challenging yourself, and slowly you will begin to build suppleness, strength and greater awareness.

Know your Limits
Similarly, while taking the time to mindfully bring about change to your outer (and inner) body, it is super important to honour your current limitations. It’s tempting, especially if you follow yoga on social media, to attempt to fling yourself into flying dragon pose, or contort yourself into lotus or tackle advanced inversions. Remember yoga is not gymnastics. Or posturing. It is a mindful exploration of movement and breath with the aim to bring about greater clarity and peace of mind. That’s not to say that with practice, as you tone and strengthen and stretch your body that those more advanced poses won’t come more easily to you. But try to see that as a fun by-product of the real work – fully inhabiting your body and mind free from anxiety, stress and distraction.

Get on Your Mat Every Day
That’s right. Every day. I am lucky enough to have an understanding family who have become accustomed to stepping round mats laid out in most rooms in our house! Making it easy and accessible definitely helped for me. I get on my mat first thing in the morning before everyone is up and last thing at night before I go to bed. And as many times as I can in between. Not all of those are full asana sessions. Intention and mindfulness is everything. Five minutes of breathing in supine baddha konasana or a few rounds of cat/cow while listening to beautiful music or some spinal rolls under the stars done with full awareness and conscious breathing are worth hours of mindless activity elsewhere, in my opinion. Taking even a few moments to pause. To become fully aware of the breath. To check in with yourself and reflect. This is a mini miracle which can press re-set in your mind, emotions or stress levels and redirect the course of the day. Having a mat visible and available is wonderful. And before long you will find a wonderful shift in energy and awareness even by stepping onto your mat as it becomes a sacred, healing space.

And then…….Take it off the Mat
Taking your yoga off the mat is just awesome, benefitting you and everyone around you and is a side of the practice which I just love. You will discover a whole heap of opportunities throughout the day which are gifts for finding that pause and taking a few, mindful breaths. You can find places to focus on grounding through your feet and enjoying the wonderful sense of being earthed. You can cultivate a sense of connection between yourself and your environment; not only with everyone you encounter but with nature too. Sending silent wishes of loving kindness to others and offering a smile and a kind word could transform someone’s day and will certainly make you feel more joyful as you come to awareness of the abundance and interconnectedness in your life. You can practice postures like tadasana (mountain pose) without drawing attention to yourself. I regularly plant my feet, correct my posture, open my heart and breathe fully while at work or standing in a queue. Developing a healthy mindfulness practice on your mat embeds the nourishing need for absorbed awareness throughout your life. This in turn helps you to see with greater clarity the ebb and flow of emotional states, making it easier to resist being dragged into too much emotional drama. You may also find that you begin to notice the cyclical nature of your energy levels, moods, emotions, successes and failures and may find yourself becoming deeply in tune with the phases of the moon and the ever-changing seasons, both of which reflect the seasonal nature of our own lives and remind us of how connected we are to the world around us.

Make Study Fun
Things have never been so available for those embarking on this wonderful path. Yoga is EVERYWHERE. Developing a habit of self-care and personal practice is essential but there are plenty of opportunities to practice alongside other people, to share and grow and develop together and to experience different teaching styles. When you’ve really got the bug then you will be able to delve deeper into the wider world of yoga – pranayama, theory, anatomy, the ancient texts and philosophies. There are some wonderful YouTube channels out there offering not only led classes but pose breakdowns, meditations and lectures. It’s all there for the taking. Be discerning. Not everything on the internet is of good quality. Always check that the yoga you are following online is led by someone authentic and real who leads a breath-led practice. Buy books. Read blogs. Immerse yourself as much as you want. It is called a practice for a reason. There is no goal. No end-point. There is no time at which you say smugly, nailed it, done yoga. Keep your mind, ears and heart open. Learn, learn, learn. Practice and all is coming.

Get Inspired
Following on from that, there are some amazing yogis online who are building fantastic communities of teaching and supporting. Personally, I follow a handful on social media who I feel offer a truly spiritual, inspiring message. Ambassadors for expensive brands don’t interest me much. Neither do endless pictures of advanced poses in exotic locations. But tapping in to others who walk the path can be really comforting and helpful, especially on low energy days or when you’re not feeling your best. Obviously, I also surround myself with books. I cherish my growing collection of yoga books. They keep me grounded and inspire me to keep pushing on when things get tough. To keep challenging myself. And most importantly to crystallise my inner voice, my authentic self and my biggest dreams and hopes for my life. As a teacher, my biggest inspiration comes from my students. It fills me with joy to see transformation happening, dramatic and subtle. There is nothing as beautiful and inspiring as building a tribe and journeying together.

Join a Class
With all the plethora of yoga available on YouTube nowadays it may be tempting to keep your practice to the privacy of your own home. I mean, it is kind of liberating to be able to unroll your mat in your pyjamas, right? However, finding a good class is invaluable, especially at the beginning of your yoga journey. A good teacher will always be able to offer modifications and adaptations which is super useful while you’re still finding out about your body and its abilities. When you first take up yoga you will probably be amazed at the sheer number of things you’re being expected to think about; hand and foot placement, length in the spine, shoulders back, chest open, breath deep, gaze steady, reaching and grounding, expanding and gathering. A good teacher will guide you gently into poses, encouraging you to feel your way in. They will talk to you about your alignment and structure. They will remind you to keep connected to your breathing. Before too long all these things become second nature and you will instinctively move all those separate parts as one, glorious whole. But initially all this is hard to do on your own.
A good class will also provide a supportive atmosphere in which you can blossom and grow. You will find other like-minded souls who are journeying into peace and it can be nourishing and uplifting to work alongside them. Hopefully, you will also laugh in your class. But if you cry then, that too, will be ok. And, best of all, your teacher will lead you into the depths of relaxation such as you have never known.

So there you are. Keep unrolling your mat. Keep moving your body with an attitude of playful curiosity. Awaken a sense of awe and wonder. Rediscover the joy of breathing. And little by little you will find you’re building a lifelong practice from the foundations up xx