When I walked out of the university gymnasium floor where I took my first Ashtanga yoga class in January 2005, these three thoughts flashed through my mind like fireworks:
“Holy s***, I feel so calm.”
“I need this practice in my life.”
“How am I going to make time for it?”
In a rare show of partisan solidarity, my body, mind, and spirit cast three unanimous “yes” votes to make time for yoga. There was no deliberation, no recount. Whatever happened in that darkly-lit gym on my less-than-twenty-dollars-cerulean-blue-yoga-sticky-mat rearranged me. The practice knocked on all my sense doors and the conversation went like this:
The practice: “Hello dear one. You are radiant. Would you like to feel less anxious and more present?”
Me: “Thank you and yes to both, but I’m really busy. What’s this going to cost me?”
The practice: “Your time and energy, but we’ll work out the exact details later. So glad you said yes!”
Many yoga teachers have asked: why does yoga make us feel so good? Eddie Stern in his book One Simple Thing aims to uncover the science behind the feel-good factor of yoga and spoiler alert: it’s breathing. Linking breath and movement while moving our bodies into positions that require strength, flexibility, and compassion, and slowing and deepening our breath is magic medicine. And no, my yoga practice doesn’t include illicit substances. That is of course unless you count compounded years of cortisol as a drug, which coursed through my veins as unchecked panicked perfectionism in my early adulthood. Ashtanga yoga was, and still is, an easy-button to a wiser and kinder version of myself, a fast-acting antidote to the parts of my brain whose 24/7 full-time job was reminding me of my not-enoughness. I was hooked and I wanted more.
My story: how I made time for yoga
Riding my self-created hormonal high after that first class, I knew I needed this practice, but how would I prioritize it? I was 24 years old and a full-time grad student. My days were a tightly-coordinated color-coded matrix of boxes made up of evening courses and unpaid student teaching blended with planning a wedding and working part-time. There was no room for sleeping through an alarm or even traffic jams, so how was I going to make time for yoga? Yoga was the first box on my schedule Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings that winter quarter. I remember when I registered for PEMB 302: Ashtanga Yoga my brain declared: “A 90-minute PE class is an impossible indulgence!” to which my body and spirit said: “Yes we know, but something tell us we need it.” Even though I was internally motivated, an external system of accountability kept me coming back; to pass this class, 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. A Google search for “Ashtanga Yoga Eugene” revealed that a teacher owned and operated a school 10-minute walk from my house. I contacted the teacher, went to my first class, and the rest is history.
Fifteen years later, I’m happy to say I’ve honored that full-body YES by practicing Ashtanga yoga regularly for 11 years. It hasn’t always been easy, but the benefits of living in a body that feels strong, kind, and calm. Training my mind to think more compassionately and less aggressive towards myself and others is what brings me back to my mat many days a week.
If you’re not sure how to make time for yoga, you’re not alone. Here are 10 tips and tricks to help you make time for yoga.
1. Decide why you want to practice yoga
This is important. Does yoga make you feel physically and mentally good? Do you want to build strength? Flexibility? Hang out with a community of like-minded people? If you don’t know why you want to spend your precious time doing yoga, distraction will inevitably come along and derail you towards something else. If after thinking about this question, your answer is: “actually I want to spend my time doing something else”, wonderful! This advice applies to any pursuit or passion you want to make time for, so keep reading.
2. Decide how often to practice yoga
Please note there are two ways of asking this question:
“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.)
Traditionally-taught Ashtangis are encouraged to practice six days a week and take one day off to rest. Practicing full primary or intermediate series can take 90 to 120 minutes. Some people I know practice for an hour or less. Some days I practice for five minutes. It all counts as practice.
This is important: “dedication” does not equate to the amount of time you have for practice. I know some very dedicated yogis who practice every day for 10 minutes, others who have a 100-minute six-days-per-week practice, and friends who practice 30 minutes a day. All of it counts as dedicated practice. The can/want push-pull of life is dynamic and ever-changing, so if you want to practice more (or less), trust that time will come. Like investments that compound interest, don’t forget the small changes over time really add up.
Right now, I practice four-to-five days per week. I take two days off to rest. Sometimes on the sixth day, I’ll practice kundalini or yin to mix things up. This is what works for my life right now. The litmus test is: can you still practice without compromising your body, mind, and other responsibilities like working, cooking, cleaning, running, being a family member and friend and employee? If yes, great work and keep going. If your yoga disrupts other responsibilities, take a deep breath and ask yourself: “Why am I pushing so hard?”
3. Schedule your yoga practice
I won’t insult your intelligence here. Pencil in or block off time for yoga in your schedule. One way to do this with your mobile device is to book classes with MindBody. Set up your phone so that your MindBody bookings get added to your calendar. You can set up notifications if you need reminding.
A silver lining of Covid-19: practicing at home with live or pre-recorded classes with teachers all over the world 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 who follow the CDC guidelines through social-distancing and space sanitation. Many small yoga businesses have taken massive financial hits or gone completely out of business as a result of the pandemic, so do your part to support the ones that believe in science and require masks until you arrive in your pre-marked space.
4. Layout your yoga clothes, mat, etc.
This is especially true if you’re practicing early in the morning. Make it easy on yourself and anyone else who lives 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 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 practice space
This applies to home practitioners. In order to practice and teach from home, I move my couch out of the way. My partner is the sweetest and does this for me before I go to bed early to get up at 5 AM to teach my 6 AM class on Mondays. He does it out of the kindness of his heart, but I’m sure he enjoys not hearing the couch and coffee table vibrate across the floor at 5:30 AM.
At the risk of sounding judgy, make your practice space clean and uncluttered. If you’ve ever had your concentration broken by a dust bunny mid-practice, you understand why this is important. Practicing in a clean and decluttered eliminates distractions and helps you relax and focus on your practice. If you use props like blocks or bolsters or blankets, keep those nearby, stacked and folded neatly.
6. Stick to your practice schedule
Try it out for a week, or 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 just getting started, I recommend you give your yoga practice schedule a short trial period. Trust me: as someone who loves planning and scheduling more than is prudent, having a flexible mind is just as important as having a flexible body.
When I was teaching at university and I learned my quarterly teaching schedule, the righteous and determined scheduler in me became unleashed. I used to SET STRONG INTENTIONS TO PRACTICE with my schedule at the start of a new term. And while I followed it some of the time, most times I proved to myself, once again, to be a bit over-zealous with calendaring. Sometimes practice had to be short or cut altogether in favor of a last-minute meeting, dentist appointment, or just getting through a heavy grading load. Know that last-minute or irregular schedule changes are not a reflection of your discipline or worth as a person (I’m listening as much as I’m telling).
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 adjust your schedule and practice for three rather than four days a week, for example, no problem.
Remember the key to succeeding at almost anything is consistency in habits over time. Scolding yourself for “only practicing once this week” doesn’t acknowledge the effort you’re putting in nor the time you’ve spent practicing and setting your intention to practice.
8. Stay motivated to practice yoga
What do you need to support your practice or fulfill your curiosity? The possibilities are endless and range from free options like having a conversation with a friend from yoga and watching free content from inspirational teachers to investing in a yoga book, a better mat, a new top that doesn’t smell like armpits, a workshop, or course to deepen your practice.
9. Find a yoga teacher
Unless you get lucky and stumble into the pathways of supremely talented teachers as I did in the beginning, this could take some time. You may have one or many teachers. You or your teacher may move away or stop teaching. Your teachers can shift and change over time. Often your best teachers are the most challenging situations and people. You can learn a lot from them. Be patient. You’ll know when you’ve found one or another yoga teacher.
Remember that you are your wisest and greatest teacher. And. It’s essential to have someone you trust to lead and guide you through your yoga journey.
10. Reward yourself for practicing yoga
This is the “treat yourself” part! Take a nice long savasana (corpse pose for rest at the end). Rehydrate with a golden milk latte, fresh-pressed juice, or coconut water. Take a nice hot shower. Moisturize. Move mindfully through the rest of your day. Get a massage. Eat a nutrient-dense meal. Drink tea. As previously stated, invest in books, props, or clothing that keeps you inspired (and smelling better; when you can’t wash the funk out, it’s time to replace those tops or bottoms y’all). Sign up for an in-person or online workshop for visiting teachers. Talk to your friends and family about yoga. Whatever feels like a treat, say yes to that!
Is it really possible to make time for yoga?
The short answer is: yes!
I’ve experienced a lot of life, career, and schedule changes in the last fifteen years. Being a “householder yogi”, the term or yogis who aren’t spiritual renunciates living in isolation, is no small feat. Between fulfilling human needs like sleep and food, being a good partner, parent, friend, family member, employee, library card-holder, and responsible citizen of the world, there are hundreds if not thousands of demands on one’s time. Like all things: if you want it, you’ll find a way to make time for it.
Even with five minutes a day, you can practice yoga and unify your mind, body, and spirit and create long-term habits for a more peaceful life.
Come practice with me!
If you’re ready to start or continue your yoga practice, I’d love to support you! Here are three ways you can practice with me:
- Check out my yoga teaching schedule for in-person and online live classes
- Come check out yoga for free with my Free First Friday 30-minute yoga classes
Breathe, believe, and see you on the mat!