I walked out of the gym after my first Ashtanga yoga class and my first three thoughts were:
“Holy cow, I feel so calm.”
“I need this practice in my life.”
“How am I going to make time for it?”
Right there, in a rare show of bipartisan solidarity, despite my schedule, my body and mind voted unanimously to make time for yoga. There was no vote recount, just two swift and final votes.
Yoga knocked on all my sense doors. The conversation between body and brain went like this:
Body: “Hello, dear one. That was fun, wasn’t it? We should do this more often.”
Brain: “Yes, but I’m really busy. How can I make time for yoga?”
Body: “I know. We’ll work out the details soon. And we’ll be back for more yoga soon.”
What exactly was it about breathing and movement for an hour on a $20 cerulean blue sticky mat? I’m not the first to pose this question in a euphoric post-practice haze. More than one yogi I’ve talked to about their first yoga class describes this experience as “coming home.” This bliss keeps us returning to our mats and wondering why yoga makes us feel so good.
Long story short: it’s the breathing.
In his book, One Simple Thing, Eddie Stern looks at the science behind the feel-good factor of yoga. It turns out that linking breath and movement triggers our nervous system into a calm state. Deep breathing, paired with doing postures that require strength, flexibility, and self-compassion, is science-proven magic medicine. My body and mind feel like they’ve been hijacked when I’m stressed. They feel equally flooded with feel-goodery after practicing yoga.
So we know that yoga helps us rewire our stress response from the inside out. But how do we make time to practice yoga?
Although my body voted yes for yoga after that first class, my brain is often the first to remind me I have other priorities, like paid work, cooking, and house cleaning.
Making time for yoga has been its own practice for more than a decade. I’d love to share what I’ve learned about prioritizing practice in hopes my tips and tricks give you practical solutions and make you feel less alone.
My story: how I made time for yoga
Since my first yoga class left me in that self-created happy hormone haze, I knew I needed more yoga in my life. But how would I prioritize it? At the time, I was 24 years old and a full-time grad student. I was student teaching, working part-time, and planning a wedding. “There’s no empty space in our day,” declared my brain, which was afraid of yoga derailing me from meeting impossible levels of productivity.
My dear friend, who was as busy as I was, suggested that we sign up for an Ashtanga yoga class. I figured: “If she can do it, I can too.” Plus, she was my maid of honor, and this active form of yoga seemed like a great way to tick the relaxation and caloric burn boxes. Twice a week, we met on the corner of the street where we lived, in the frigid cold winter, and rode our bikes to yoga class.
I remember registering and hearing my brain protest: “A 90-minute PE class?! This is an impossible indulgence!” My body said: “Yes, we know, but we need it.”
I was internally motivated but having an external system of attendance accountability helped. Spending time with my friend and the fear of failing a PE class kept me coming back at 7:30 AM twice a week. I couldn’t miss more than four of the 40 scheduled classes. So I didn’t.
A few years later, I felt like an 88-year-old in a 28-year-old body. I remembered my 2005 promise to myself to prioritize yoga and opened my laptop. A Google search for “Ashtanga near me” revealed a studio located 10 minutes from my house. I contacted the teacher, went to my first class (which is a story for another time!), and found a great community of people to practice with.
Sixteen years later, I’m happy to say I’ve honored the messages from my brain and body by practicing Ashtanga yoga regularly for over 10 years.
Here’s what keeps me returning to my mat: living in a body that feels strong and flexible with a mind that wants to be kind and calm.
For me, yoga is daily training to be stronger and more compassionate. And if all these seems fine and lovely and you’re wondering where the tips and tricks are, here are some ways to make time for yoga.
How to Make Time for Yoga: 10 Tips and Tricks
If you know that you love yoga but don’t know how to make time for it, please know: this is a universal challenge, and you’re not alone. Here are some simple, yet effective ways to get you on your mat and keep practicing.
1. Decide why you want to practice.
This may require being still and listening in to what your body is telling your brain.
- Does yoga make you feel physically and mentally good?
- Do you want to build strength and be more flexible?
- Hang out with a community of like-minded people?
- Write it down.
If you don’t know why you want to spend your precious time doing yoga, you’ll have no reason to prioritize it. If your answer is: “Actually, I want to spend my time doing something else,” wonderful! Apply this advice to other pursuits you want to make time for and move on.
2. Decide how often you can practice.
Please note the use of the word can, which differs from want.
“How often do you want to practice?” (E.g. I want to practice asana two hours a day!)
“How often can you practice?” (E.g. I can commit to one hour per day.)
Ashtangis following the yoga traditions are encouraged to practice six days a week and take one day off to rest. Practicing full primary or intermediate series can take up to 1.5 to 2 hours. But I know some very dedicated yogis who practice for an hour or less. In truth, some days I practice for five minutes. The time you practice is not a reflection on your dedication to yoga.
The can versus want factor is an ever-present, dynamic push-pull. Like investments that compound interest, the same is true for yoga: small changes over time add up to many benefits
3. Schedule it.
I won’t insult your intelligence here.
- Pencil in or block off time for yoga in your schedule.
- Book studio classes for the week on an app and have it link to your calendar.
- Set up notifications to remind you to go to class if needed.
A silver lining of COVID-19: practicing at home with live or pre-recorded classes with teachers worldwide has never been easier. Alternatively, you can practice at home with a book, DVD, pre-recorded classes, or a YouTube video.
If you feel safe doing so, support your local studios that follow the CDC guidelines through social distancing and space sanitation. Scheduling your yoga helps keep yoga communities alive, but please remember to observe sanitary guidelines such as mask-wearing, mat cleaning, etc.
4. Layout your yoga clothes and mat.
This is especially true if you’re practicing early in the morning.
Make it easy on yourself and anyone living with you, and lay out your gear the night before. This way, you won’t have to tiptoe back into a dark bedroom and try not to make noise as you rifle through your drawers to find your favorite top when you’re sleepy and uncoordinated (can you tell I’m speaking from experience?)
5. Prepare your space.
This applies to home practitioners. I move my couch to the side of the living room to practice and teach from home. My partner is the sweetest and does this for me Sunday nights before I teach my 6 AM class on Monday mornings. He does it out of the kindness of his heart, but an added benefit to him is that he doesn’t have to hear the couch and coffee table loudly vibrate across the floor at 5:30 AM.
Don’t forget to clean and declutter your space. I know I’ve been distracted by many a dust bunny mid-practice. Practicing in a clean and decluttered eliminates distractions and helps you focus on your breathing and movement. If you use props like blocks, bolsters, or blankets, keep those nearby, stacked and folded neatly.
6. Stick to your schedule.
Try it out for a week, a month, or even a season. Studio pricing helps by offering financial incentives: unlimited monthly yoga for a flat rate or passes that expire three or six months after purchase. This is a great motivator for regular practice!
If you’re starting, I recommend giving your yoga practice schedule a short trial period. As someone who loves planning and scheduling a little too much, having a flexible mind is equally relevant to the yoga experience as having a flexible body.
Years ago, my work schedule changed quarterly and four times a year, the righteous and determined scheduler in me became unhinged. Every quarter, I SET STRONG INTENTIONS TO PRACTICE (all caps to indicate the VERVE). While that was logically effective overall, being over-zealous with calendaring mostly led to self-induced suffering. My brain threw an adult tantrum when my practice inevitably got cut short due to a last-minute meeting, dentist appointment, or a heavy grading load. Nowadays, I know that last-minute irregular schedule changes are not a reflection of my discipline or worth as a person, but a normal part of life. And honestly, my body is thrilled for a day off.
7. Adjust your schedule as needed.
If you try out your schedule for a week and it works, yay and keep going! If you need to change it, yay, try something new!
Remember that consistency in habits over time is the key to succeeding at almost anything. Scolding yourself for “only practicing once this week” isn’t kind, or helpful, and doesn’t acknowledge the time and energy you’ve spent setting your intention to practice.
8. Stay motivated.
What do you need to stay motivated in your yoga practice? The possibilities are endless.
- Have a conversation with a friend from yoga. Or watch videos of inspirational teachers.
- Reading a yoga book, investing in a new mat, or treating yourself to practice clothes that support you and keep you smelling fresh are other ways to stay motivated off the mat.
- Signing up for a weekend workshop or series of courses can help deepen your practice.
9. Find a teacher.
I’m very lucky. Wherever I go, I’ve been lucky to find supremely kind people and talented teachers in my yoga communities. It’s not easy feeling like the new kid in town, going to a new yoga studio, and getting to know new people, but it does pay off. I suggest picking one or two places tops, consistently attending, and seeing what unfolds.
Trust is the most important quality in a yoga teacher. While you are your wisest and greatest teacher, you must have someone you trust to lead and guide you through your yoga journey.
10. Reward yourself for practicing.
This is the “treat yourself” part!
- Take a nice long savasana (corpse pose) rest at the end of class.
- Rehydrate with a golden milk latte, fresh-pressed juice, or coconut water.
- Take a nice hot shower when you get home.
- Move mindfully through the rest of your day.
- Get a massage.
- Eat a nutrient-dense meal.
- Drink tea.
- Schedule your next yoga class.
Do you have any other tips and tricks for prioritizing yoga practice? If so, leave a comment!
Breathe, believe, and practice on,