While many people can say they've tried yoga, not many will tell you they have a "yoga practice."
The phrase implies a certain amount of dedication, experience, or, to some, skill. I remember one teacher at Just Be asked her students whether or not they considered themselves to have a yoga practice, and the answers were tentative. A few said "no", or that "they used to". A few others said they were unsure. A handful said they, after years of classes, were only just beginning to feel as though they had a true yoga practice.
To me, "having a practice" implies only that you consciously use yoga as a consistent tool in your life, whether that means employing the breath work you use on your mat to get through a stressful day at work, or using a hot and sweaty flow as your workout for the day. It doesn't even mean, in my mind, that you need to hit your mat daily. It just means that you've decided to make yoga a part of your life, with the importance, relevance, or consistency varying between individuals. I can't always take a class or get in a solid home practice on the daily, but every day I approach life with the mindset of a modern-day yogic lifestyle (for more on that, check out my writings on Satya, Ahimsa, and Tapas).
I wanted to offer some tips on how to deepen your practice of yoga on and off the mat, with a few action items that you can apply with just a little dedication, effort, and time. In fact, I've found that the more time I dedicate to incorporating yogic ideals into my life, the more time I end up netting as a result of increased goal/values clarity, focus, and discipline. It's also increased my ability to stay in the present moment, and focus on the happiness I have in the here and now. While incorporating these action items may feel awkward or daunting at first, I assure you that just like any other practice, it will become second nature over time.
Action Items to Deepen Your Yoga Practice
Re-prioritize your time.
You might have heard the phrase, "If you have time to Facebook, you have time to do yoga." While this might be a bit of a blanket statement, the root of it holds true: there are a lot of modern-day time-sucks that are arguably negatively impacting our health, relationships, and mindset. Something that has been on my mind quite a bit recently is the idea of "more social, less media", i.e., taking our focus away from our online social lives and developing our interpersonal relationships in real life. As someone who utilizes social media to connect with others in my community, and to form new connections outside of my local community, it's difficult to find the proper balance. But I keep coming back to my Yamas and Niyamas: how is my use of my time upholding my ideals and beliefs?
For example, Asteya. Nonstealing. Once checking my phone becomes less of a decision and more of a compulsion, it's slipping into the realm of stealing my time. If I'm more focused on what's going on on my screen than the person in front of me, it's stealing their time. When it comes to yoga, I more often than not feel like it is adding to my life, not subtracting from it. Everyone is busy, but I think if we take a step back and look at the pockets of time we have free, we aren't utilizing them to the best of our abilities. That hour-long "quick check" of social media, the Netflix "just one more episode". These are all things that could be used to better our health and decrease our stress levels, whether that means a physical practice, meditation, journaling, or even a mindfully prepared meal shared with friends.
2. Establish a Home Practice
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point: make it even more accessible to hit the mat. Establishing a solid home practice can be extremely challenging, especially in the beginning or as a new yogi. Personally, I've found that it's taken over a year (including a teacher training) to finally feel like my home practice is where I want it to be. I utilized some important tools to get to that point. For me, it started with getting really clear on my intention for my home practice. It was mostly to get reconnected with my breath, get out of my head, and get into my body. It didn't have to be the most creative or challenging flow, it just had to get me back down to earth and take me away from the stresses and pressures of everyday life.
Some other resources to utilize are websites with free classes such as DoYogaWithMe.com, or even the video I've put up here on the site. iTunes's podcasting app, which is included on every iPhone, also has tons of free audio-based classes, ranging from Power Vinyasa to Yin to Meditation. To help mobilize your meditation practice, I like the app Headspace.
3. Find Your Sangha
Heading out to yoga class sounds so much more inviting when it becomes a part of your social life. I know when I first started attending classes, I felt a little like an outsider. In studios like Just Be, people get really close, and it can be easy to mistake close friendships for cliques when you're already feeling like the new kid. It's important to know that you're dealing with yogis here: the vast majority of them will be welcoming, accepting, and nonjudgemental. And every one of them remembers how nervous they were their first day on the mat.
Try getting to class early and starting a conversation with your teacher. Let them know who you are and tell them you're trying to form a strong practice (and whatever that means to you: rehabbing an injury, focusing on alignment, coming to class consistently). It definitely helps when a teacher has a class of 20-30 and they can put a face to a name! Also, lay your mat down next to someone new, and chat a bit before class begins. Some people prefer some space and silence before they practice, so be mindful and considerate, but the majority of the time it will be just like making small talk anywhere else- except you already have a common interest!
Get involved with your studio. Lots of yoga studios have events like Vinyasa and Vino or DJ and Flow that are basically mixers for yogis. Check out your local studio's website for events and workshops that may be of interest. Don't be scared to attend a basics's workshop, even if you've been practicing for awhile: it's a great way to reconnect with the foundation of your practice.
You can also move online for an even broader community. You can follow me and other teachers on Instagram for fun yoga pictures, inspirational quotes, and class times. It's a great way to get to know your teachers and fellow yogis, and to remind you to hit the mat! Other great resources are Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
4. Start a Journal
Your yoga practice doesn't have to be delegated to the mat. Asana is only one tiny fraction of the practice, and there are many other facets to explore and incorporate in your life. I've personally found that journaling really helped to solidify the teachings mentioned in my classes, and help me find places to apply them in my everyday life. If you're unsure of where to start, I recommend something simple like a gratitude journal. Simply write down a list (even bullet points will do) of the things you're grateful to have in your life at the end of every day. I've written more about my experience with gratitude journaling here. If you're looking to explore more of yoga's philosophy, I recommend the Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele. At the end of every section, Adele offers questions for exploration that make journaling easy and effective.
5. Stop Taking it So Seriously
Chances are, yoga isn't your job. The world won't end and your house won't be foreclosed if you don't make it to the mat. Find the lightness and joy of moving in your body and expanding your abilities, and don't let perfect be the enemy of good. If you can only make it to class one or two times a week- do it! You don't have to be the first one at the 6:00 AM class every morning to be a "true yogi". You're choosing to make this a part of your lifestyle, and that means it won't be a linear progression. There will be ups and downs, but at the end of the day, you've committed yourself to living a life of presence, dedication, and exploration. You don't have to attend a silent retreat if that's not your thing, or give up all your worldly possessions in an attempt to shed yourself of materialism. All you have to do it commit yourself to the process of growth as an individual, and be prepared to enjoy yourself as you do so.