As we are halfway through the first month of the new year (um, when did that happen??), I thought it would be a great time to talk about a topic that I get asked about frequently, especially on social media: how to begin a Yoga practice along with something that is not as frequently discussed: how to maintain said practice once you've begun. Just to be clear, I am by no means saying that just because it’s a new year that you should start a Yoga practice or that now is the only time that you can start (we know from the Yoga Sutras that the practice of yoga begins “now” and that “now” can be anytime) but if you happen to be someone who has made some movement intentions for the new year that involve wanting to begin a Yoga practice, and if you haven’t started yet, these are some of the things that helped me start and maintain my own Yoga practice.
STARTING IS LITERALLY THE HARDEST PART.
I say this often at the beginning of my Yoga classes on Omology Online because I think it is important to honour the effort(s) we make to arrive at our mat. Creating new habits and sticking to them can be really challenging at first. But we can do hard things! And those hard things won’t be hard forever. They’re challenging at the start because they are new. Over time however, they actually become routine. On days when it is feeling particularly challenging to commit to my practice, I try to focus on how I will feel during and after my practice. I know I’m going to feel good, I know I am doing something great for my mental and physical health, and that’s hugely motivating to get me to the mat even on the toughest days.
NO-ONE IS LOOKING AT YOU.
This one is for my self-conscious friends. Throughout my years of teaching so many people have expressed to me the they are too shy, not flexible enough, will look stupid, etc. as reasons for not starting a Yoga practice despite wanting to. All of these involve a fear of being seen, particularly a fear of being seen navigating the often messy and clumsy learning curve that is learning Yoga for the first time. And I get it. I am a deeply competitive human. I grew up playing sports and was generally really athletic. When I started Yoga I felt like a fish out of water. I was uncoordinated, brutish and ungraceful. It was all kinds of awkward (gosh I’m really selling it haha). BUT! That was entirely my own internal experience. The reality of the fact is that the other Yoga practitioners in the room are having their own internal experience. They’re observing their breath and their body not yours. If they are staring at anyone else in the room, 10/10 times it is the teacher. So, do you. Whatever that looks like.
SET REASONABLE & ATTAINABLE GOLAS.
Often when I start coaching a new private client, they have really ambitious goals of wanting to practice several times each week so that they can achieve their goals faster. And while that would make me very rich in a very short amount of time, it is usually not sustainable, especially if my client doesn’t presently have a daily Yoga practice. This would likely feel overwhelming and make the learning process intimidating and exhausting because the body is not used to that level of exertion. The same holds true if you're embarking on the journey on your own. Rather than setting an expectation to jump directly into a daily practice, I recommend choosing something that you know you can commit to. Set yourself up for success! So my recommendation is usually to start with once a week (if you do not presently have a daily practice) and then gradually add extra practice days from there. It might sound small but that is actually how I started my own Yoga practice and I think it is a reasonably easy commitment to make, so most people see success and go on to develop and grow their practice further. And yes, you can progress in a week. I have private students who began their Yoga practice with not being unable to touch their toes, and after three months of meeting once a week are able to touch the ground. Quality over quantity, people. It’s tried and true.
THE BODY REMEMBERS.
This is for all my loves who are returning to the practice after a hiatus. I see you. And I know how awkward the first few classes back on the mat can feel. Things that your body used to be able to do with ease might feel difficult or out of reach. Before you begin to worry (as so many of my students in the past have) you haven’t “lost it”. There is this miraculous thing in the body called muscle memory. Your body just needs a moment to dig back into its movement archives to remember how to do the thing you’re asking it to do. Myself, I’ve always found that when I re-develop a skill, I tend to do it better and with deeper awareness the second time around. So there's an upside to learning again.
REWARD YOURSELF AT INTERVALS.
This is not for everyone but, I like to reward myself for meeting my goals. I find it’s a nice way to celebrate and acknowledge my achievements. I usually like to treat myself to some new practice gear (in the past it’s sometimes been a pair of leggings I was eyeballing, trying a new protein powder, or picking up a new Yoga mat if mine needed replacement) or even going for a massage! I like to pick things that will help to support and nurture my Yoga journey.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY FIRST AND FOREMOST.
I think this is the most important tip that I have for you (and to be honest, it’s what the practice of yoga is all about: creating a deeper connection with our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves). There will be days on your journey where your body is going to give you a hard NO. It won’t be easy to hear, but the key to a sustainable practice is learning when to rest, when to back off of a posture, and when the body needs maybe a little bit of support (as in: a yoga prop). Yoga is about uniting the mind and body so if you are fighting your body every step of the way, you’re not doing it.
WE WERE ALL BEGINNERS AT ONE POINT.
Last but not least remember this: we all started somewhere. No one exited the womb doing a perfect Chaturanga. It is a learning curve. It will take time and dedication to get to a place where it starts to feel more accessible (I initially wrote "comfortable" instead of accessible and I was like who the eff am I kidding? Have you been to our VINYASA classes?? Not the epitome of comfort haha). Try to embrace the process of learning and being a beginner. It is actually such a special time.
Even if you’re not starting a Yoga practice, I truly believe that these tips are universal for starting anything or getting back into something. It’s all about showing up wholeheartedly and embracing the journey.
Keep moving friends.
I love you all.