As much as I loved and felt the benefits of yoga for my body and my emotional well-being, for the first few years I struggled to maintain a regular practice. I would force myself to go to classes, feeling like I was my own drill sergeant trying to coax, threaten, or force myself into doing what I knew I should do. This “should,” of course, would inevitably backfire, making me dive obsessively into intense daily classes for spurts of time and then stop altogether for months. Needless to say, my approach wasn’t working. For those of us who are ambitious and hard on ourselves when it comes to goal achievement, this can be a common pitfall. But as I’ve grown in self-acceptance and an ability to calmly take each task day by day with ease and to let go of what I haven’t done or can’t do, I have grown gentler with myself in my practice. And practicing with ease in a way that is gentle and loving towards yourself is a crucial prerequisite to a genuinely nourishing yoga practice.
Here are some of the most successful ingredients of a sustainable, spicy, empowering yoga practice that years of experimentation have led me to.
1. Make it a (short) daily morning ritual.
Wake up each morning and choose to serve yourself and your own body first thing. But avoid setting a strict daily allotment of time that exceeds what you’re currently comfortable with. If you haven’t done yoga consistently in a while, don’t declare to yourself that you must practice for an hour each morning. You may not be able to sustain it. Instead, suggest to yourself a session of fifteen minutes today. Maybe twenty. And before you know it, you may even find that an hour has passed by anyway, because you were so wrapped up in your delicious sensations on the mat! This practice of self-love—of setting aside a bit of time first thing to do yoga and also of being gentle with yourself by limiting that time to what you know will work—will let your body know that you love it and it will set a beautiful tone for the rest of your day. And if you choose to do it before any other task, you will be less likely to make excuses and replace your evening or afternoon yoga time with other activities.
2. Be flexible.
Flexibility off the mat is just as crucial to well-being as bendiness in your practice. Don’t be strict with yourself by vowing to never let a morning go by without yoga again—instead, commit to listening to the yoga cravings of your body whenever they happen to arise, letting the needs of your body lead your schedule rather than the other way around. Through establishing a yoga practice you indulge in each morning, you will make it a habit to look forward to. But don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out or if you don’t feel like it once in a while! Becoming to attached to notions of “must” and “have-to” take the joy and organic spontaneity out of the practice! Focus instead on “want to” and “feel like” when it comes to deciding how and when to indulge in some asana.
3. Switch it up!
Don’t go through the same old physical routine everyday—you’re mind and body aren’t always going to crave the same tone, style, or pace every time! If you need to pump yourself up for powerful day ahead, opt for a lot of muscle work and fast-paced flow. If you want to be playful, let yourself rock out to your most upbeat playlist, moving like you’re dancing from pose to pose. This variety will make things more FUN and full of possibilities!
4. Try a new way of practicing.
From time to time, experiment with your approach to your practice. You can choose to focus on the way you enter and exit each pose on one day, forcing yourself to become completely present. On another, you may choose to practice completely with your eyes closed. You can even try a yoga session sans clothing, delighting in the liberation and sensuality of naked yoga. This playful experimentation can be a great way to challenge yourself and to play with the non-physical dimensions of yoga.
5. Practice with a friend.
Or a lover, a child, a parent, a sibling. Whether it’s partner yoga or individual yoga with company, you are sharing something you love with someone you love—and what could be more enjoyable? You can even help each other deepen your child’s pose, adjust each other’s warriors into better alignment, or try out some yummy partner poses together. Having someone to practice with on a regular basis can help keep you committed to doing it often and motivate you by making it that much more fun!