Since I am a yoga teacher, you probably think that I never miss a single day of yoga practice. While I do try to practice consistently, there are times in my life (like yours) that everything seems to fall apart. It may be something big and life changing. It may be a thousand small things. Before I know it, everyone and everything else seems more important than taking care of myself. My dog spends more time on my mat than i do; I don’t take the time needed to rest properly and my mantra and meditation practice goes to complete sh*t.
Luckily, these times usually do not last too long and I finally haul myself onto my mat and start with some breathing and a few favorite postures. When I do, I am baffled. Why do I put off doing something that is so wonderfully pleasurable?
One reason might be the initial discomfort of facing the the backlog of tension in my body. I know I am really going to feel tight in some spots for those first couple of practices! I also seem to believe that everything and everyone else is more important at times and that my well being should come last (or at least fourth after 2 kids and a dog!) But the time I give to myself on the mat makes me happier and more able to deal with any of the storms that inevitably come my way. And it makes me a better parent, friend and partner partly because I feel strong, capable and just plain good physically.
So how to remember to take care of ourselves? I have two suggestions.
1. Make a vow to yourself.
2. Make it pleasurable.
Yoga has a very strong tradition of making vows or ‘Vratas’. A Vrata is your declaration of commitment and intention. A vrata bridges your intentions and actions. In a world of Karma (or action – things are going to happen whether we participate or not) this is how we shape our lives in the ways that are important to us. Taking care of ourselves, including moving our bodies and resting when we need to, is a vow we can make to ourselves. Make it something small and doable. One down dog a day. A 30 minute walk at lunch. If it is pleasurable, things will grow from there.
Pleasure is an important element in keeping our vows. First, maximize the “feel good” quality of your practice, so it’s appealing. Start with a pose you love and it may lead you to another and another. Second, cultivate a sense of curiosity about your body and the way it moves and approach it with an attitude of compassion, discovery and love. It helps to understand more about how your body moves, and what impact that movement has on your emotions and mind. This is why a good yoga class will both inspire and educate you. Then you can design a yoga practice suited to your unique needs—one that you will look forward to and enjoy.
I asked some students what difference committing to a yoga practice has made to them. Here are some of those answers below.
“The difference my yoga practice with you has made in my life … I now know that I have the power to heal myself. That I am capable of a tremendous freedom in my body. The invitation is always there for me and when I accept the invitation it is deeply satisfying. I have learned a tremendous amount about my body and it’s functionality. Body awareness, especially alignment, has changed my life after many years of chronic pain & injuries. I am not pain-free 100% of the time but who is!I am also committed to my practice due to my fantastic yogi and the community of wonderful men and women I practice with. ” Teresa
“What difference has a regular yoga practice made? All the difference in the world. No matter what my week has been like, or how I am feeling, I always know that a Wednesday night yoga class is going to make me feel better. Sometimes better is feeling; stronger or more centered or more balanced or more focused or more agile or even proud. You never quite know what better will be, but I can tell you that I’m always glad that I made the effort.” Sarah
“When I reflect back on when I made a commitment to yoga, there was a clear turning point. After getting more into a routine of attending on average two to four classes each week, the sessions become something I would not want to miss. Gone are the days of having to push myself out the door to the gym or fitness classes. I so look forward to yoga classes not only for the great workout, the safe methods used that build overall strength and stamina, and the spiritual and body awareness, but also the companionship with other ‘yogis’ is a great bonus. I’m not saying it is easy and that I dont have to reconnect with my commitment now and then, but the benefits are so tangible they can’t be ignored. I’m at my best when I’m in this routine and I think most in my family would agree!” Janice
“I don’t know what I’d do without yoga. I have had a series of health challenges and have always been able to fall back on yoga to build strength, maintain balance, and improve my flexibility. Yoga provides infinite ways for me to challenge myself. In addition to the many physical benefits, yoga is my Prozac. It helps me manage stress and it lifts my mood. Now, if I could just get myself to do it on my own at home….:)” Annie
Thanks to all of you for your wisdom!