This post was originally published on eatlivelife.com
When I was in high school my english teacher insisted that if if we were bored in class it was because we were boring. “A creative mind is never bored”, he emphasised, “it’s always stretching and reaching into unchartered territory.” As a long time practitioner, Yoga is still fresh and endlessly inspiring, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had slip ups and challenges along the way. It’s never easy to hit the mat day after day, but I can honestly say I’ve never been bored. So what’s the secret to keeping a yoga practice alive ?
1. Think of it like chocolate, ice cream or a spa visit. It’s a treat to take time for yourself. Every breath in each posture is a delicious massage ironing out the tension. Take your time and hold the postures, let your thoughts flow without needing to identify with them. Don’t rush through any aspect of your practice and give yourself a nice long relaxation. Slowing down and seeing your practice as a gift rather then a thing on your “ to do ” list engenders a feeling of harmony and balance. Remember how you feel after a really good massage and how you look forward to the next one? If you approach your practice with the right attitude you’ll be longing to hit the mat each and every day.
2.Have a simple daily home practice that is repetitive and easy to do. We can easily come up with a million excuses at to why this is not an option. We might have young children, a small apartment, a lack of confidence without a teacher, or even find it hard to get motivated. No matter what the excuse a home practice should be akin to brushing your teeth or having your daily cup of tea. We thrive on routine and our bodies crave it. Where would we be with out our 7 hours of sleep and 3 square meals a day. As much as we might think that repetition is boring. It’s how creation works. Think of a sunrise, even though it’s the same sun rising each day, the sky, the colours and the clouds go through a kaleidoscope of changes. It’s the same with a simple daily practice. Each time you approach Down Dog, your breath, body and mental state are different. Learn to tune to the subtleties and enjoy watching the play of movement and stillness.
3. Mix and Match your postures. I’m definitely a bit of a fashionista when it comes to taste in clothes. I’ve never liked one colour ensembles, or a conventional cut. Instead I like to mix and match in wild colours and floral patterns. It’s the same with practice. Throwing in a wild card, like a handstand during sun salutations, a series of backbends or legs behind the head in an unexpected place in a sequence takes the body out of its complacency. Breaking the rhythm reminds the body it’s not a fixed system and that variety is the spice of life.
4.Get inspired! Attend a workshop, retreat or class with a new teacher. You most likely can’t wait for your weekly fix with your beloved teacher. You know them so well that you can preempt their next move in class. As students we feel a loyalty to the teachers that inspired us forgetting that a different teacher may have a tip to get up into that tricky arm balance or inspire a way to stay in a forward bend. Attending a workshop with a visiting senior teacher or even diving into a week long retreat in a beautiful place can bring so much to your regular classes. New horizons and new teachers widen your sense of possibility and community in yoga.
5. Go Outside and Get Natural. Take your practice to the park, beach or forest. Workout in bare feet and leave your mat at home. Feel the ground, the soft earth in your hands. Let the sand tickle your toes and the sound of the surf sooth your being. Breathe in the forest smells and let the birdsong be your music. Our bodies are inseparably part of nature. It’s easy to forget that when we do our practice in an air-conditioned studio in a fast paced city. Studies show that even a short walk in natural surroundings enhances brain function. Imagine what an hour of Yoga in nature will do.
6. Break All the Rules. If you’ve had a really good teacher you will have a clear set of parameters for how, where and when you should practice. Safety is important as is the order in which you practice. But sometimes you just have to break yourself out of Jail. Imagine approaching Down Dog in a different way, start with a posture that’s completely new or even dance through your routine. If you usually use a zen yoga playlist try practicing to heavy metal. Switch up your practice space. Take it to the roof top terrace or your breakfast room. Practice at an odd time of the day. Allowing yourself to be spontaneous and unconventional gives you permission to come alive again in your practice.
7. When in Doubt Dive Deeper. We might be shy to explore breathing practices or meditation. Diving deep is not a spiritual or esoteric exercise. Breathing in our asana practice helps us to open and stretch further in the postures. Learning to work the breath on its own through pranayama actually manages the energy system that is the body. The goal in a breathing practice is to refine the breath, the more subtle the breath, the more relaxed the mind. The mind craves a focus taking it out of its preoccupation with thought. We think our thoughts rule us but actually it’s the opposite. We choose to get wrapped up in a thought. A yogi learns to concentrate the mind through practices like pranayama, this in turn tranquillises the mind. We often confuse meditation with concentration. The first step in meditation is learning how to concentrate. Once you can hold your mind on a point for an extended period of time you move into a phase of effortless concentration. Meditation is not a practice, it’s who you are. We complicate yoga by thinking of it as a spiritual practice. Put simply, Yoga and its deeper practices are there to lead you to the effortlessness that is your Self. It doesn’t get any deeper than that.