“I have to take the dog to the vet.” “My daughter missed the bus.” “That report is due tomorrow morning and there’s a meeting I can’t miss…”
“Looks like I have to skip yoga (again).”
The reasons for squeezing yoga out of our day are endless. We don’t want it squeezed out, but it still happens. And for some of us, it happens a lot.
So, how do we sync that inner need (and desire) for a consistent practice with our outer actions so that we actually get to the mat? How do other yogis maintain a solid yoga practice when their schedules are insanely busy?
Take a quick peek at these top tips for transitioning into a consistent practice that supports your busy lifestyle.
1. Remember that the pose truly begins when we want to get out of it. Many of us are familiar with this phrase, which encourages us not to immediately come out of a pose the moment our thighs start burning, our arms start shaking, or we've simply gotten bored with it. It reminds us that while "sticking with it" might be a bit unpleasant in the moment, in the long run, we'll be glad we did, as we may discover something hiding behind that discomfort. The same can be said about sticking with our yoga practice.
Let’s be blunt: Yoga class can seem like just another appointment to cram into our day. We tell ourselves that life may sometimes be less stressful if we don’t go to yoga. It’s the “sometimes” qualifier that trips us up. “Sometimes” is a wishy-washy word that allows us the freedom to delete class from our too-long to-do list. The excuses we make for not going to yoga are often ways we escape doing something requiring a little extra effort. Do you give yourself permission to “drop out of the pose” before you’ve made it to the mat—by dropping yoga entirely from your day?
Let’s be blunt: Yoga class can seem like just another appointment to cram into our day.
Try instead “holding onto that hold.” In other words, let’s take responsibility for our time and our activities. It’s your practice, after all, and you are a yoga warrior! Yes, I realize that if you have to punch in at work at 9 a.m. and you regularly sneak out for some reclined asanas at 10, you’ll soon find yourself standing upright in the unemployment line. I get that. That’s all the more reason you need to stand up for your practice by making it a priority and organizing it, rather than falling prey to excuses.
Being a yogi is as much part of you as being a parent, a spouse, an employee, or a student. When your schedule becomes so challenging that you want to skip your practice, that’s the time to STRETCH. This is it, this is your chance—your learning place and growing space—given to you in the form of a packed and crazy day. This is when the pose begins. What would you learn and how would you grow if you figured out a way to hang in there, stretch further, hold longer, and “experience the full expression of the pose”? What would happen if you told yourself, I will find a way to practice yoga today?
Changing our thinking is the first step toward finding out.
2. Remember that being off the mat is part of the practice too. Your yoga practice isn’t just about the time you spend in class or at home practicing asana. Yoga is living the practice every moment of your life. That means you have ample opportunities to practice all day (and evening) long. Remember, yoga isn’t just about the movement of the body on the mat. There are plenty of ways to “stretch” yourself during the day:
• Awaken 15 minutes earlier to allow time to meditate.
• Practice yoga nidra before bed.
• Wash dishes, eat breakfast, tuck your daughter into bed—all slowly and mindfully. With each activity, experience the full moment and all of the associated sensory sensations.
• Hike in nature, feeling all four corners of your feet grounding into the earth.
• Keep books, articles, and other literature that deepen your knowledge of yoga on hand, and read them before bed, at a carpool, or when waiting for an appointment.
• Listen to yoga-related podcasts when driving or making dinner. And while you’re at it, stand or sit in a way that promotes healthy alignment.
• Skip the app games and double-click instead on your favorite online yoga classes.
• Take a seat—on the floor, that is. At a Super Bowl party? Instead of claiming that lounge chair, sit in baddha konasana. Blow drying your hair? Try an engaged forward bend. How about dandasana when taking a bath? And tadasana in the grocery line.There are so many possibilities for striking a pose off the mat.
• YogaWorks—at work! If your lunch hour isn’t long enough to scoot to the local studio, ask your boss if she can bring in a teacher to guide yoga during lunch. Do chair yoga, taking breaks throughout your workday to stretch, breathe deeply, and meditate for a moment.
3. Inhale what you need, exhale what you don’t. To maintain our practice when things get busy, we can practice pranayama: taking control of the life force and directing it. Breathing in and breathing out, and allowing our mind to follow our breath. This translates on the everyday life-level as “breathing in” what you need to sustain you (and part of that is your practice), and “exhaling” to let go of that which is either harmful or simply no longer needed. That means we need to prioritize. Personally, I’m a list maker, to-do creator, and task follower. And guess what’s on every list that I make, every day? My yoga practice. And my practice rates as A1. That means, in some form or another, it will get done today. Other stuff lower down on the to-do list can be allowed to happen tomorrow, or perhaps not at all. I ask myself, Self, what will I spend my time on today that will make me better, stronger, kinder? Part of the answer for me is my yoga practice. So I make sure to make it happen.
“Letting go” follows on the tail of our exhale. What can you let go of to make space for your practice? Expectations. Specifically, expectations that don’t match up with your dharma (living your truth, and living your light). What makes you glow and grow? Discover this, and you can align your outer actions with your inner truth. Occupy yourself with dharma duties, and let go of any guilt attached to doing what you feel is best for you (instead of what others expect of you). Doing that might mean skipping social-media social hour and getting to bed earlier—so you can rise and shine with silent meditation for a super-glowing way to start the day. It might mean not expecting yourself to go to everything you are invited to (because going to your co-worker’s jewelry party, for example, is lower on the priority list than yoga). When you let go of expectations, particularly others’ expectations of you, you will need to find a way to be okay with what you might at first feel is letting others down. You following your dharma might come as a bit of a sting to your co-worker who wished you were at the jewelry party, and to others who are accustomed to you doing and doing and giving and giving. But when you let go of lower-priority demands on your time, you make more room for your higher priorities.
Once you establish a few healthy boundaries, according yourself more respect, you’ll find more room and more peace to support yourself in your practice. The stronger, more vibrant light that grows in you as a result will warm the lives of those around you, and may even inspire others to follow in your path.
4. Get your inner guru on the calendar—in ink. If I had a lunch date with you, it would go into my planner and would happen. Anything else that tried to squeeze into that time slot would not be allowed—because I committed to showing up for those moments with you.
Sometimes honoring commitments to ourselves doesn’t come as naturally as honoring commitments we make to others. Try making “dates” with your Self to practice (and I do mean “Self” with a capital “S”). Literally, write yourself into your schedule. Then keep the date with that inner guru who has guided you this far, and practice when your calendar tells you to. This is a solid way to not only keep your practice growing and thriving, but the relationship with your Self becoming stronger and clearer (which, of course, are all part of the same thing).
Sometimes honoring commitments to ourselves doesn’t come as naturally as honoring commitments we make to others.
Note: if you show yourself honor and respect by keeping your dates, you may eventually find yourself falling in love…with your Self.
5. Strengthen that throat chakra. Speak up! Does your mother-in-law have any idea that it is more than a bit of an inconvenience to swap recipes on Saturday mornings when that’s the time you practice yoga nidra? Does your wife know how important it is for you to take those walks through the woods to meditate? You’ll find that once you learn to speak up to yourself, speaking up to others will be easier.
Asking for help can help too. Maybe your husband could pick up the kids on Wednesdays so you can make it to the mid-week yin class. And when someone asks what you want, tell them! You’d rather have a gift certificate to your favorite studio than a new sweater for your birthday. You’d rather spend your vacation at a yoga retreat than a casino. Speak your truth—that’s part of the practice.
6. Unify. Relationships with others can take up huge chunks of time on our calendars (and rightly so). Consider ways to include others in your practice—so you can do what you love with those you love! That might mean inviting your boyfriend to join you for class. Asking your co-worker to meet early at work to go for walking meditation before you clock in. Going on a family yoga retreat vs. hanging out at a theme park. Taking teacher training so your friends and family can take your classes. Or having family meditations on Sunday evenings.
Find ways to interweave your practice into what you’re already doing. You’ll be inhaling and exhaling yoga in ways that serve not only you, but the highest good of everyone with whom you spend time.
7. And the number one way to have a consistent yoga practice? Let go of the need for absolute consistency. Treat life (and the yoga that comprises it) as you would a grand adventure. Each day is different. Yes, you’d love to make it to that noon class every single day, but guess what? It’s not always going to happen. You can still make doing yoga every day happen—just at a different time when necessary. Tomorrow it’s noon yoga. The day after you’ll get up early and salute the sun by yourself. The next day, it’s a meditative walk to pick up your son. And the next, it may be reading an inspiring book for five minutes before you zonk out. Pepper each rotation of the earth with random seconds of gratitude, joy, and love. This is all yoga. Guilt-free, conscious, warrior-pure yoga. That’s consistency—though perhaps of a different hue than you may be accustomed to.
Yes, I know. If you can maintain the same time, same place, same everything, your mind learns to fall into the pattern more quickly. Your body says, Okay, here I am. Ready to stretch. Yes, that’s ideal. But figuring out that life isn’t always what we deem “ideal” is a big deal and can help us adapt to, and be grateful for, the “changing times.”
Take this to heart: Yoga is a part of you, and it can be expressed with every breath. Adopt this way of thinking and being, and you’ll soon find that your practice is as sure and solid as your living, breathing, shining truth—and will light up your entire life, giving you abundant time to be you.