I walked out of the gym after my first Ashtanga yoga class and I felt like I was floating. 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, in spite of 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 and the conversation went like this:
Yoga: “Hello dear one. That was fun, wasn’t it? We should do this more often.”
Me: “Yes, but I’m really busy. How can I make time for yoga?”
Yoga: “I know. We’ll work out the details soon. See you soon!”
What was it about breathing and movement on a $20 cerulean blue sticky mat that had rearranged me? I’ve since learned I’m not the only one to experience this post-practice euphoria. Many yogis refer to decision to dedicate themselves to yoga practice as “coming home”. This euphoric bliss is what keeps many yogis coming back to our mats. We all wonder: why does yoga make us feel so good? Spoiler alert: it’s 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 systems into a calm state. Deep breathing paired with doing postures that require strength, flexibility, and compassion is magic medicine. And no, I’m not talking about mood-altering drugs. But one has to wonder: doesn’t years of compounded stress caused by excess cortisol and daily life count as habitual drug use? If so, there are far worse substances than yoga to use to escape. My body and mind feel like they’ve been hijacked when I’m flooded with stress. They feel equally flooded with feel-goodery after practicing yoga.
So now we know: calm breath and movement are antidotes to profound mental stress.
For me, yoga is an easy button to a wiser and kinder version of myself. Although my brain cast a yes vote for yoga that first day, it’s also often the first to tell me I could be doing more productive things with my time. That’s right, my own brain prioritizes profit over pleasure. My brain wants me stressed out and exhausted more than it wants me calm and happy because it’s afraid that the latter won’t support my survival.
I keep practicing yoga because it sends a reverse-engineered message from my body to my brain: “We are good as we are, loved as-is, and always doing enough.” I know the yoga investment is paying dividends because I have less muscle tension and most fortunately, enough of what I need.
My story: how I made time for yoga
Still riding that self-created happy hormone after my first yoga class, I knew I needed more yoga in my life. But how would I prioritize it? When I took my first class, I was 24 years old and a full-time grad student. My days were a tightly-coordinated color-coded matrix of boxes telling me where to go and what to do. I was student teaching, working part-time, and planning a wedding. “There’s no empty space in our day,” announced my rational brain, which was both supportive and afraid of yoga derailing my productivity.
But my dear friend, who was as busy as I was, suggested that we sign up for 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 two boxes: relax and burn calories. We met each other twice a week in the cold winter mornings and rode our bikes to yoga class Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings.
I remember signing up and my brain declaring: “A 90-minute PE class?! This is an impossible indulgence!” to which my body said: “Yes we know, but something tells us we need it.”
I was internally motivated, but having an external system of 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 was feeling 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 Yoga Eugene 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 community of yogis.
Sixteen years later, I’m happy to say I’ve honored the messages from my brain and body by practicing Ashtanga yoga regularly for 12 years. Here’s what keeps me coming back: 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 more strong, compassionate, kind, and flexible. Here are my tips and tricks to help you make time for yoga.
How to Make Time for Yoga: 10 Tips and Tricks
If you know that you love yoga, but you’re not sure how to make time for it, know that this is very normal 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.
If you’re like me, this may require being still for a bit and listening to what your body is telling your brain. 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?
Asking why you want to practice is important. If you don’t know why you want to spend your precious time doing yoga, you’ll have no reason to prioritize it. If after thinking about this question, your answer is: “actually I want to spend my time doing something else,” wonderful! Apply this advice to other pursuits or passions 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 that follow the yoga traditions strictly 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. Some days I practice for five minutes.
It’s important to note that to the amount of time you have for practice has no merit 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 really add up to many benefits.
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 moment and ask yourself: “Why am I prioritizing yoga at the cost of other parts of my life?”
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 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. The pandemic has claimed many yoga studios and many of those that are still going have taken serious financial hits. 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 else who lives with you and layout 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 space.
This applies to home practitioners. To practice and teach from home, I move my couch to the side of the living room. 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 make your practice space clean and uncluttered. 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 or bolsters or blankets, keep those nearby, stacked and folded neatly.
6. Stick to your 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 a little too much, having a flexible mind is equally relevant to the yoga experience as having a flexible body.
When I was teaching at university, my teaching schedule changed quarterly. Four times a year, the righteous and determined scheduler in me became unleashed. At the start of every new term, calendar in hand, I SET STRONG INTENTIONS TO PRACTICE at the start of a new term. And while that was effective overall, being over-zealous with calendaring mostly led to self-induced suffering. When my practice would get cut short due to a last-minute meeting, dentist appointment, or a heavy grading load, I become unhinged, feeling like my practice was robbed from me. 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.
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” isn’t kind 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. Free options include having a conversation with a friend from yoga or watching videos of inspirational teachers. Other options include buying a yoga book, a new mat, or new yoga practice clothes that support you and keep you smelling fresh! Weekend workshops and courses can help you to deepen your practice too.
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 and 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 see what unfolds.
Finding a teacher you trust is important. Remember that while you are your wisest and greatest teacher, it is essential to 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. Moisturize. Move mindfully through the rest of your day. Get a massage. Eat a nutrient-dense meal. Drink tea. Invest in books, props, or clothing to inspire you. Sign up for an in-person or online workshop for visiting teachers. Talk to your friends and family about yoga. The possibilities are endless.
Come practice with me!
If you’re ready to start or continue your yoga practice, I’d love to support you! Here are two ways you can practice with me:
Do you have any other tips and tricks for prioritizing practice? If so, leave a comment!