Are you a busy yogi?
I certainly am. Some days—actually most days—there is just too much to do. And for those of us who adore asana, it can be quite challenging (even frustrating!) to go without our daily yoga practice when the schedule demands pile up.
I know this because I recently became much busier. A full lifestyle change transformed me from an apartment-dwelling, full-time yoga teacher (who arguably practiced too much asana), to a land-owning project manager and SEO consultant (who arguably doesn’t practice enough). As I watched my calendar book itself solid for weeks on end, I became both mentally frustrated and physically sore. It was clear that I wanted (and needed!) more asana, but I didn’t see an obvious solution that allowed me to incorporate my yoga practice back into daily life.
Then I listened to an episode of the ‘pilgrimage of the heart’ podcast that featured Leslie Kaminoff, an internationally recognized yoga educator who has been a leading force in the yoga world for over 37 years. Kaminoff also happens to be one of my favorite yoga teachers. After a long day in a string of days without asana, I was encouraged to hear him talk about how his relationship to asana has changed as he has become busier over the years. For Kaminoff, his days of lengthy, daily asana practices are no longer the norm. Instead, he said he focuses on moving his body throughout the day “in such a way that I don’t need to do a lot of asana to correct the tension I build up in my daily movements.”
For the past few months, I have been conducting my own experiment on how to stay physically and mentally balanced on an overbooked schedule. I used to rely on my asana practice to bring peace to my mind and body, but I’m finding that it’s not the only way to find balance. The cumulation of this experiment has resulted in the following tips, which are inspired by Kaminoff’s reflections in the aforementioned podcast interview and crafted by my own experiences. They are actionable highlights that point us toward supreme balance of body and mind, even if we don’t get to practice yoga every day.
1. Be open to productive movement opportunities.
I’m a new homeowner, and because spacious, remote living was one of my priorities when choosing a house, we are now the happy owners of three beautiful acres. I absolutely love it. But there are days when bowing out for an hour of asana practice just doesn’t fit into my responsibilities at home (while filling a wagonful of rocks from the garden may be high on the list!).
If my body is craving movement, I can usually find an activity that will check off some responsibility on my to-do list at the same time it gets my body moving. It’s the classic kill-two-birds-with-one-stone scenario, and it’s perhaps the easiest tip to implement.
Every rock I pick up from the garden takes me from standing to a forward fold, which gives me another opportunity to practice the mindful movements of asana in my everyday activities. And those parts of an activity that don’t remind me of asana can often still teach me something about my body—how to move when I’m crouching under a counter to clean a cupboard, or how to help my hubby lift a rock that’s too big for me to lift alone.
In the podcast I listened to, Kaminoff said, “You never know what’s going to wake someone up to their own body, to their own breath, to their own existence. It’s not the exclusive proprietary property of yoga to be doing that for people.” He also mentioned different “pathways” outside of traditional yoga practice, such as aerobics class and kettlebell training. For me, it’s cleaning the house or working outside. It could also be the company softball game, playing with the kids outside, or meeting a friend for a walk.
And while I am completely content with asana as my main form of exercise (I would probably live on my mat if I could), the movements inherent in other activities are sometimes more realistic for my schedule.
2. Make your daily routine a movement practice.
Even if our schedule doesn’t provide us with productive movement opportunities, there are plenty of other movements we make in a day that can strengthen and restore us.
For many of us, asana practice is a time to address the aches and pains that result from poor postural habits. The built-in mindfulness component of the practice makes it easier to stand up straight, engage muscularly, and breathe in supportive ways as we go through the various movements. After a short or long sequence of mindful movement, we tend to feel more balanced, at ease, and ready for what comes next.
However, we can approach all of our daily movements with the same quality of mindfulness that we find in asana practice. This is not merely a nice concept—it’s something that can actually transform our lives. But it does require embodied participation. It requires observation of the body as we get out of bed, as we shower, and as we cook our meals, drive our cars, and reply to our emails. Instead of rolling mindlessly out of bed in the morning, we might sit up straight, take a deep breath, and distribute our weight evenly through the grounding surface of the feet as we push up to standing. When we receive an unwanted email from our boss, we might notice the tendency to sink our chest and lock our jaw, but instead we tune in to our breath and bodily sensations to keep the chest lifted and free of emotional reaction. I’ve even begun a simple practice I call tadasana in the doorway, which is a reminder to myself to reset my stance whenever I enter or exit a room.
We don’t have to change our daily routine in order to turn it into a movement practice—we just need to bring mindfulness to it, and then use that mindfulness to make simple and effective corrections for our busy, achy bodies. Better yet, by cultivating mindfulness to make these corrections, we not only honor the needs of our bodies but also become better at listening, thinking, and relaxing.
3. Focus on breathing.
Busy or not, breathing is something we’re already doing, which gives us another great opportunity to bring our yoga practice off the mat. Consciously focusing on and adapting our breathing is directly related to the second tip, and it requires bringing mindfulness to our daily routine.
In the 'pilgrimage of the heart' interview, Kaminoff spoke about the interrelatedness of asana and breathing:
“Well you can think of the posture work of asana as how you stabilize your body in space, and breath would be more about how you mobilize the space in your body. When you put it that way, you see that they’re just different sides of the same coin.”
As we become more skilled at breathing, our body movement improves, and vice versa. For instance, when we become aware of our breathing in daily life, we find ourselves naturally correcting postural misalignments and distributing our physical efforts more evenly. As we seek to breathe deeply, we incline toward the physiological conditions that make deep breathing possible.
Proper breathing will also reduce the buildup of mental and physical tensions. Deep breathing encourages muscular support in the abdomen and pelvic floor, which is the foundation for good posture. This improvement to our posture can eliminate a cause of tension in our muscles, thereby reducing the need for corrective asana.
I’ve even found that the amount of asana I crave each day is reduced from a full-length class to 15 to 20 minutes, which is actually more achievable in my schedule. This has allowed me to divide up the components of my practice and sprinkle them throughout the day. Instead of doing my yoga practice in one big chunk, now I look forward to a few minutes of silent sitting before work, and periodic breaks of deep stretches and sun salutations (if I have my mat handy) in-between scheduled events in my day. I’m actually surprised at how much asana I can fit in when I’m open to the possibility!
Just because we’re busy doesn’t mean our minds and bodies can’t be in sync. By taking advantage of productive movement opportunities, adding mindfulness to our routine, and focusing on our breath, we can become mentally and physically balanced—even during our busiest times.
These self-care practices also help to keep the body and mind engaged and in shape when we take a break from asana. Then, when we finally find time to practice, we can enjoy the movement of our bodies without feeling the need to make corrections before we can appreciate it.
These tips don’t involve a big lifestyle change. The practices are personal, and they can be done in whole or in part. Whether it’s engaging in mindful yardwork, tadasana in the doorway, or deep breathing at work, these tips promote the wellbeing of our body and mind, which in turn contributes to the success of our scheduled activities. The recipe is simple, and all it takes is our embodied participation.
The key metric for success is simply to notice whether we’ve become happier as a result.