Sustainability and Yoga
People come to yoga for different reasons. Perhaps you tiptoed to the back of the class, unrolling your mat in the hope of losing a few pounds, gaining flexibility, or treating a physical or mental injury. Whatever that driving factor was that brought you to yoga is completely valid and acceptable.
People stay for different reasons too. However, I like to think the further you delve into yoga, the more closely aligned everyone’s ‘aims’ become. The more sustained the practice, the closer we feel to Samadhi/calmness/enlightenment/nature/oneness/God – call it what you want, it’s that post-yoga high when everything seems completely balanced.
However, as you get deeper into your yoga practice, more obstacles will arise. Maybe you’ll obtain an injury or perhaps the obstacle will be emotional. Yoga has a funny way of bringing up the very problems you are trying to avoid! By working through the emotions and injuries on and off the mat, your practice will become stronger and more sustainable.
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.”
– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.14, (trans. Swami Satchidananda)
Tips towards building a sustainable practice
- Don’t do too much at once
It’s so important to build up your yoga practice slowly. If you haven’t been physically active in a while, it’s sensible not to jump straight into a vigorous daily practice immediately. I know I can’t be the only one who loves to throw their heart and soul into something straight away, but to avoid injuries and/or burnout it’s essential to be patient and take your time.
- Know your (energy) limits
I used to practice Mysore-style Ashtanga six times a week. I subsequently crashed and burned. This is from a personal perspective – I know plenty of Ashtangis who have done that practice for years if not decades, and it does nothing but good things for them. Everybody is different, so take your ego out of the equation and stop before you run out of energy.
- Listen to your body
This follows on from the previous point. Always listen to what your body is telling you, and if you need to take child’s pose in class or a day off practice, then do it! Self-awareness and self-care should be part of everyone’s lives, so don’t punish yourself for taking time out when needed. A good diet is another crucial form of self-care. Most people find that the more they practice yoga, the more they want to nourish their body with healthy whole foods.
- Mix it up … or don’t!
This is another YMMV (your mileage may vary) point. Take time to experiment and see what you need. Some people thrive on the discipline of practicing the same style/sequence every day. Others like to cross train to feel their best. Again on a personal level, I now incorporate lots of yin and restorative poses into my practice. It’s all about knowing what I need each day, and making sure I take the time to care for myself, rather than just ‘powering through’ it. I still practice Ashtanga ~2-3x a week, and also sometimes HIIT. It’s important to do what works for you, so figure that out. It’s called yoga practice for a reason – so don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
- Home space
If your studio is far away, you’re more likely to put up barriers about going there every day – especially at this time of year when it’s dark by 4pm! Stop hibernation mode from kicking in, and create a space at home for you to do yoga there. Mine is my dining room(!), but anywhere would work, even in a corner of your bedroom. Invest in candles, statues etc to decorate and make the space more welcoming. Taking even just one day off a week from going to the shala and practicing at home will be so rewarding to avoid the commute.
- Rest days!
You’ve heard it all before, but it’s so essential to take rest – even from your mat. Taking one day off a week will allow your body to relax and recover, reducing the risk of injuries.
- Take the ego out of it
Don’t be discouraged by your own practice and never compare yourself to others. No two bodies are ever the same, and some postures that come easily to a few people will take others years to achieve the full expression. Everyone is in a different stage of their yoga journey, so never berate yourself for not being able to handstand yet! You will also notice that your practice will never be the same two days running – there’s so many factors that can influence your time on the mat, so don’t be surprised if you can’t do bakasana every day!
Basically, make your yoga practice your space to experiment. Don’t see yoga as a chore; rather as an opportunity to spend time with yourself and learn from it.
Do you have any tips for developing a continuous practice? I would love to hear from you!