7 Ways to Build Consistency in your Yoga Practice
Why do we practice yoga? We all have our own specifics but I think the underlying reason for all of us is that we want to live a happier, healthier, more peaceful life. We want to end our suffering, however big or small, and we believe yoga might be the answer.
And, in my humble opinion, it is. I have no doubt.
We know yoga is good for us. We know our day is better when we practice. So why is it so hard for us to make yoga a consistent daily part of our life? Why is it a struggle, a regular inner battle with our mind to make it to our mat everyday, especially when deep down we know we really do want (and need) to do it?
In reality it is a very, very hard thing to show up for yoga everyday. It takes so much discipline, devotion, and vulnerability, and the mind is unpracticed. In Sanskrit, the language of Yoga, there is a word called samsara. It’s the cycle of life, death, rebirth which binds us to the material plane. In Ashtanga Yoga, it is referred to as the poisonous delusion of repetitive existence. Our mind runs in circles of thoughts and behavioral patterns. Those thoughts and actions, when repeated over time, end up turning into habits, which are then reinforced over and over again and eventually formed into a mental construct, or a conditioning of the mind that is extremely hard for us to release.
In Sanskrit, the word for this is samskara, the subtle impressions of our past actions and thoughts which influence the way we think and behave in our present life. When samskaras are so embedded and engrained into our psyche that they completely color the way we view ourselves and the world, so much so that we don’t even realize these mental impressions are literally governing our lives, they are called vasanas. Vasanas are the deepest, strongest samskaras. Ultimately, they are delusions that keep us in the same old cycle of suffering.
The mind is trapped in these illusions. It gets carried away by the addictive worldly desires of the ego and continues down the same path of turbulence and false fulfillment endlessly, only to be left again with the feelings of anxiety, unworthiness, and incompleteness. It’s the wheel of suffering, and most of the time we are unaware of it’s power over us.
But we can break the cycle. The Yoga Sutras speak about abhyasa and vairagya as the two principles needed in order to change our life. They are the pillars that hold the foundation for a successful spiritual practice. Abhyasa means exerting prominent effort into achieving a peaceful mind. It's the commitment to the cultivation of a daily practice; the investment of time, energy, and enthusiasm into a practice that encourages and challenges the mind to build focus, break free from the cycle, and unify with God, the Universe, or whatever you wish to call it.
Vairagya is the act of detaching ourselves from the pains and pleasures of the physical world. It’s the practice of clearing our mind of the samskaras and vasanas we’ve accumulated throughout our life so that we can live in true awareness, not mindless programming or ego-driven desires. Vairagya keeps our intentions pure and transparent.
Together, abhyasa and vairagya create the perfect formula for true, deep change. Eventually, the fruit of abhyasa overrides the vasanas and influences new habits and mental constructs to take place there instead. So they are technically still samskaras, but purposeful ones that enrich our being and bring us peace from deep within. It's like the saying, you don't break habits; you replace them with better ones.
But it only works if we are consistent with our practice, and devote ourselves to it whole-heartedly. Meaning if we only get on our mat once in a blue moon, the lasting benefits of the practice won’t be attainable. If we want to experience the promises of the practice, we need to make it a top priority. We have to put in the work and allow the practice to move from a hobby to a lifestyle. A daily practice will change your life. A hobby practice will make you feel good here and there.
That being said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with simply enjoying yoga as a fun hobby! But if you’re looking for serious life-enhancing transformation to happen through the yoga practice, it won’t come if you only practice here or there every couple of weeks. For lasting inner peace, vitality, and more control over your body, mind, and life, your practice must be consistent. It must run deep in your veins. I hate to be the tough stickler over here, but there is just no way around that.
But that doesn’t need to be scary or overwhelming. It doesn’t mean all of a sudden you need to be Gandhi. It doesn’t mean you have to live in an ashram, only eat kale and lentils, meditate with your crystal prayer beads for five hours every day after your Cirque de Sole-like asana practice and greet everyone on the street with a peaceful "Namaste" (unless that’s your style, in which case, keep on keepin’ on, baby).
You don't need to change who you are to be a good yogi, you just need to practice yoga. Think more along the lines of incorporating yoga into your daily washing routine. You take a shower, brush and floss your teeth to keep your outer body clean and healthy. In the same way, your yoga practice keeps your inner self clean and healthy. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the yoga practice will wring you out, squeaky clean. It’s like a spiritual shower... or mental flossing.
So it’s great to know all these Sanskrit terms, and in theory it sounds quite doable, but how do we actually start overcoming the struggle to begin a yoga practice or take our current one to the next level of consistency and devotion? Here’s a few ideas to help you make it to your mat more often:
Pack your bag the night before.
Be prepared! Pack your yoga bag the night before and put it in your car, so it’s as simple as getting up and going.
Bring a friend.
Sometimes we just need a yoga buddy (or buddies) to help us stay committed and hold us accountable. Plan to meet a friend at the studio (or carpool if it’s an option) and maybe even go get food afterward. You can start a weekly yoga friend outing!
Talk to your teachers.
Ask questions. Build relationships with fellow students. Start nurturing your yoga community. We’re all here together, let’s really BE together! Engage each other, share your experiences, and hang around the studio for a bit longer after practice. Get to know people so when you come to the studio, it’s more than just a yoga class; it’s the gathering of a yoga community.
Try a different class style.
Do you always go to the same class? The same style of yoga? Are there classes on the schedule you’ve never tried before? Traditionally, we really want to practice yoga at the same time in the same place every day. But this can be challenging for a new practitioner, and you may not even really know what kind of yoga resonates with you the most. So take the leap and get out of your comfort zone. Explore the world of yoga and figure out what speaks to you. You might surprise yourself by falling in love with a style you never expected to enjoy.
Create a yoga space in your home.
I think everyone should create a designated yoga space in their home. Can’t get to the studio? Practice in your own space. Even if all you can do is one sun salutation, one warrior pose, or even child’s pose. It’s not all or nothing. As long as your full attention is on the present moment, quieting the mind, focusing on the breath, and moving the awareness inward, it constitutes as practice— and it is a very worthy one at that!
Prepare the body with healthy food.
It’s a lot easier to feel motivated to do something good for yourself (like a yoga class) when you’ve already set your day up to support healthy behaviors. Reduce the amount of processed and sugary foods/drinks you consume. Start your day off with a green smoothie or a side of sautéed veggies, eat healthy fats, tons of leafy greens, and stay hydrated! Drink lemon water, sole water, and mineral rich teas every day. You’ll have more energy and a clearer mind, which will help you want to get on the mat.
Find inspiration through reading yogic texts.
Gain deeper understanding and inspiration by reading the great yogic texts like The Yoga Sutras, The Bhagavad Gita, and The Ramayana. Listen to yoga and wellness podcasts and watch documentaries that excite you about the practice.
Knowing the workings of the mind and using these small steps to start reprogramming our mental conditionings is a great stepping stone toward cultivating a more consistent practice. Ultimately, you just have to do whatever it is you have to do in order to make yoga a priority. There will always be a reason not to practice. When you start to taste the fruits of a dedicated practice, you’ll realize how potent it is and grow a deep appreciation for it’s affects on your life. Once the abhyasa and vairagya become strong and steady, forming samskaras and vasanas of their own, the practice will become second nature. You won’t even be able to imagine a life without it. I know I can't.
So until next time, thanks for reading, and I hope I see you on your mat very soon!