From motivation to method, here’s how to establish a yoga practice to make 2018 the year of flexibility and strength.
New year, new you. Does it still ring in your ears? Have you been meaning to get on your yoga mat each morning, but just can’t figure out how to begin with the stretching? Every evening do you tell yourself ‘Tomorrow, I’ll get up and do yoga’, but end up pushing the snooze button and staying in bed until the last minute? I hear you and I’m here to help. Here’s what you need to do to finally make it happen.
Be clear on your ‘why’
The first question to ask yourself is what your motivation is to do yoga in the first place. Do you want to practice more mindfulness, build strength, reduce stress? There are many benefits to practising yoga at home.
Create fitness: Yoga can be enough to give you a six-pack, but it doesn’t have to. In any case, it’s a good way to keep your body mobile and maintain a very basic level of fitness.
Save money: Fitness and yoga studio memberships can be expensive. They can also be inspiring in the ‘I need to buy more activewear’ sense. Practising on your own will save you a fortune in the long run.
Reduce stress: In yoga-speak, it’s called a sadhana — a morning ritual to enhance your wellbeing. It’s your time doing something you want. You’re not doing this for or with anyone else. You can wear whatever you want. You can do whatever you want. It’ll set you up for the day.
Create a good space
It’s more fun if you have a beautiful space to practise in. We don’t all have the luxury of a space like this one, but even in the most modest apartment you can dedicate a little corner to your yoga practice and collect your favourite items there; candles, incense, crystals, a Buddha figurine, essential oils… any one of these can function as a symbol for your space and as a reminder for you to do your daily practise.
Start a habit
What has worked for me is to get up an hour earlier than usual, consistently. No more snoozing. In your head, count ‘3,2,1… get up’ and just do it. Don’t allow yourself to bargain and get into an internal dialogue of ‘It’s too early, I can stay in bed for just 10 more minutes’ or ‘I’ll start tomorrow’. If you allow that to happen, you’ve already lost.
Tip: It may be that this approach isn’t for you. Maybe it’s an evening practise you need to schedule into your calendar. The main thing is that you do it every day, even if only for 10 minutes.
Do what you need
Build your habit little by little. Start to get up earlier without pressuring yourself to do a challenging workout. Some days you will feel like it, other days you won’t. Do anything you want with that time, whatever your body needs, even if it’s ‘only’ meditation(which is so important in itself!). You are creating precious me-time before anyone else is awake. Before you know it you’ll think ‘I’ve made it this far, I may as well move now’.
Prepare everything you need for the morning in the evening beforehand. Have your activewear ready, and your mat handy. Sort your outfit for the day and your lunch in the evening, so in the morning all you need to do is get dressed and roll out your mat. That way, you won’t need to worry about running out of time — you know that after your shower you can just grab your bag and go.
Tip: It also helps to have your online video tutorial bookmarked or your app ready to go (I’ll tell you which ones I use towards the end of this story).
But how do you yoga?
You may only have been to a handful of yoga classes in your life. You may be saying ‘That’s all well and good, but I don’t know how to do yoga poses’. That may even be the reason you’ve been holding back from going to a yoga studio; you feel silly trying to get into the shape the teacher is demonstrating and everyone else seems to master so effortlessly. If you’re unsure of what to do, ask yourself — what would feel good for your body right now? — and keep this sentiment throughout. Don’t force yourself into any shape that doesn’t feel good.
The main aspect of a well-rounded yoga sequence is that you move your spine in all directions. Here are a few examples:
On all fours, stack your hips above your knees and your shoulders above your wrists. Then move your spine with your breath. Hollow your back, stretching your front on your inhale (that’s the ‘cow’ position), and round your back like a cat with your exhale. Do this a few times, and feel free to move intuitively. A similar movement happens when folding forward and lifting halfway.
Find an easy seat that’s comfortable for you. This can be with crossed legs or kneeling, or even sitting on a chair. The important thing is to keep a straight spine, which means stacking your shoulders above your hips. Again, move with your breath and raise your arms up over your head on your inhale and lean over to your side with your exhale, alternating between left and right. To take this to the next level, do it standing up (engaging your core) or in a lunge.
In the same comfortably seated position, rotate your upper body with your breath, facing forward on your inhale and twisting to your side on the exhale, alternating left and right. Use your hands to guide your movement, and remember, don’t force anything and keep your spine upright. In a more advanced practice you can twist in chair pose or in lunges.
This can be reaching your arms — and your whole upper body — up in a seated or standing position while inhaling. This also happens in a position you’ll find in almost every yoga class: downward-facing dog. To get there, start on all fours with your hips stacked above your knees and your shoulders above your wrists. Then lift your knees off the ground and reach your sitting bones back and up. Here’s a more in-depth tutorial by Yoga with Adriene (whose other videos I highly recommend).
If you are still unsure, there are heaps of helpful tutorials available online, as well as great apps that instruct you step by step. A few I use are Calm, Yogaglo and Yogaholics. If you want to stay off-screen, you can also print out or write down a sequence. Yoga Journal provides a good selection here, or you can create your own with apps like Yogoji, which I have used above.
Mix it up
Treat yourself to a visit to your favourite yoga teacher’s class regularly; this is an important aspect of developing your practice, and a great opportunity to ask for specific advice.
But it doesn’t have to be yoga every day. Go for a run, a swim, or another fitness session once in a while. Sign up for a trial week at your local gym. Take some time to write or draw. A new activity gives you a new perspective and can be inspiring, especially when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or want this to be the year of the healthy new you.