“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
We’re nearing that time of year when we think about kicking our bad habits – and adopting some good ones. If yoga is going to be one of your New Year’s resolutions, how can you give yourself a reasonable chance of keeping it?
Depending on who you ask, the received wisdom is it takes 18, 21 or 28 days to form a new habit. This sounds do-able doesn’t it? Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. Research by University College London pyschologist Philippa Lally found that everyone’s different. In her 2009 study people took between 18 and 245 days – with the average being 66.
The truth is making a new habit is hard – even when the habit you want to form is something as enjoyable as yoga.
I had gone to yoga classes on and off for over ten years without ever managing to practise regularly at home. Then I decided I wanted to make yoga a more central part of my life and embarked upon yoga teacher training. Daily home practice was a required part of the course – so I’d have to knuckle down and do it woudn’t I?
Still I struggled. Yes, I got to my mat more often, but certainly not every day.
Seven years later, as well as teaching, some kind of personal yoga practice is now probably part of my day most – but not all – days. Some days it might be meditation only. Others pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation; sometimes yoga nidra (deep relaxation) or restorative yoga; and sometimes an asana practice (the physical postures and movements most people associate with yoga).
I still sometimes hear a nagging voice in my head telling me I’m not doing enough, or not doing it properly. But actually, what I do helps me. It helps my middle-aged body continue to feel capable and mainly free of aches and pains; it helps my mind with clarity and calmness; and it helps me feel connected to the universe of which I’m a part.
The things that have helped me make yoga a habit are:
Ditching unrealistic expectations. To have a useful yoga habit does not mean I have to be up at 5am for a two-hour practice each morning. I am not a failure if I’ve only managed 20 minutes sitting quietly with my breath today.
Organising my life to make yoga possible. There are only so many hours in the day and most of us have a host of things and people we’re responsible for. So, if regularly getting to an evening class is difficult, look for a lunchtime one – or see if one could be set up in your workplace. Or buy a yoga mat and start to practise sometimes at home.
It’s not just asana. Yoga is not just postures – although they are often very helpful and enjoyable. A yoga practice might include postures and pranayama and chanting and relaxation and meditation – or just one or two of these things. At different times in life, times of the month, or times of the day different kinds of practice will feel right. A part of a yoga practice is tuning in to what your mind and body are telling you that you need right now.
Starting small. A lightbulb went on for me when I realised that 10 minutes on my yoga mat was much more valuable than zero minutes. I could always spare 10 minutes, surely? And once I got the mat out and did 10 minutes, I found I felt I wanted to do more. So 10 minutes became 20, or 30 or even more….
It’s not all or nothing. If you miss a day, so what? The world hasn’t ended. You’re not a failure. You can turn up on your mat tomorrow and the universe will welcome you!
Turning up is enough. If you’re on your mat or meditation cushion; if you’re counting your breath as you travel to work; if you’re consciously trying to treat the world with kindness… you’re already practising yoga. Just making the effort to turn up and try, and to keep turning up, whatever the set-backs, that is a yoga practice. And you are already reaping the benefits.
Most of these ideas apply to any good habits you’re wanting to nurture in 2015.
But if it’s yoga you want to benefit from, I’ve developed 10-minute Yoga to help you along your way. It’s an audio recording of seven 10-minute yoga sessions, including postures, breath awareness, relaxation and meditation. When you get to your mat choose which one you’re most in the mood for. If you want to do more, choose another, and perhaps another. It’s a flexible yoga programme of up to 70 minutes – with free illustrated practice sheets available to download.
Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015.