One of the most common questions I hear from new and old students alike…. how did you become so disciplined? Were you always this way? I always answer heck no…nor would I consider myself all that disciplined. We all have stuff we could be working on. I may be able to stand on my head and touch my toes for hours on end, however saying ‘no’ to that second (or third) cup of coffee is rarely accomplished in my daily routine. Some things are easy to make a habit, while others habits require a little more tapas, or right effort. During the first decade that I took yoga classes, I generally needed a stiff drink to get me through the door…I hated Yoga! I knew I needed it, so I stuck to it and here I am teaching you to get over the hump…preferably without needing a double martini before class.
How to start forming good habits to replace old bad ones: as a person who is a seasoned veteran in both bad and good habits, I feel I have some insight to share on this topic. One of the oldest written texts on yoga says it a whole lot more eloquently than I ever could, so let’s start there:
“Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.”
~ The Upanishads
Apparently some things never change and a few millennia after this was written the same rules apply. Changing oneself begins by acknowledging what we want to change. Whether you drink, smoke, eat or do nothing too much…first you have to be honest with yourself and own it. Stop with the justifications and excuses. Take responsibility for your behaviour. Figure out what needs to change, and set about a realistic plan.
By realistic I mean be reasonable. Don’t allow unrealistic expectation to sabotage your intention of change. Here are some rules to being realistic when starting a home yoga practice:
#1. Ask yourself ‘is a home practice the best option?’ For students very new to yoga I would rarely say the answer is ‘yes’. Find yourself a good teacher, a time and a place that works with your schedule and come hell or high water don’t miss the class. Add additional classes to your routine when you feel ready for them, you will soon see that you have more time than you think, because the action of doing yoga will soon become a habit. Like all good habits, from time to time you may find yourself straying off the path of discipline, but don’t give up!!! Remember if you are going to do yoga for the next 80 years, you will take breaks from time to time. Always remember that you’re not going to wish you had done less yoga when you’re 85…so get back on track and hit your mat!
#2. For those of you who indeed feel it’s time to start a home practice, well done, for this is when you take over as your own guru. Set aside a time that works with your lifestyle and current habits. For example if you are a night owl, six a.m. Before work is not a good time to schedule your practice. If you’re hoping to achieve a five to seven days a week home practice right off the bat you’re most probably going to fail. Choose a consistent time and day(s) every week, for example every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. right after work. No excuses…go straight home, turn your phone off, and before you do anything, do your practice.
#3. Get material: You may have done a gazillion classes over the years, but put yourself on a mat in your living room and what the heck are you supposed to do??? Ween yourself off group classes slowly and as your home practice takes off you may find only one day a week with a teacher sufficient. I have found students who come to me for a series of privates to develop a home practice specifically for their needs have the least amount of trouble transitioning to a home practice. Generally, in order to memorize a one hour routine, it takes four private sessions over the course of a month with an experienced teacher. If privates are not an option for you, try memorizing a pose per class or studying online videos, then practice that pose repeatedly until you feel you know it well. A few weeks of learning one pose per week and you’ll have a routine in no time.
#4. Stay positive: Like with anything, be happy with where you are at and be gentle on yourself. There is not a human on this planet who is perfect so don’t expect to be the first to attain perfection. Developing a home yoga practice is not an easy habit to create so acknowledge your accomplishments. I personally found writing my intended practice times on the calendar and highlighting each practice after I completed it to be helpful in getting a home practice started. It’s very satisfying to look back over a month and see all the yellow lines symbolizing my commitment to myself. By focusing on the days you did practice instead of the days you missed, you’ll ignite the fire to keep trying. With time you will no longer need the calendar because your practice will simply become a part of your routine, much like brushing your teeth only more enjoyable. How many kids rush to the sink before bed and brush their teeth without being coaxed and yet here we all are as adults brushing daily without a thought of hesitation (right?). Remember before we become truly great at something we must be okay with being mediocre as we learn what is necessary to excel.
#5. Start Now!!! One thing I know for sure about Yoga is that nobody else is going to do it for you. Use the space you have, wear the clothing you own, and if you don’t have a yoga mat use a rug like they do in India or take it to the grass and start now. When you are 80 you’ll be so glad you did.
Good luck on your path to discipline!