What makes a yoga practice?

Updated: Jan 28

There is a lot of advice out there on how to create a home yoga practice. This advice ranges from specific and directive, like:

  • “Choose a regular time each day for your yoga practice.”

  • “Designate a specific space for your yoga practice.”

  • “Make sure your space is clean and free from distractions or clutter.”


…to the overly-simplified and vague:

  • “Anything can be a yoga practice.”

  • “Yoga is everything.”

  • “If you’re breathing, you’re practicing yoga.”


And don’t get me wrong - all of the above have some value.


AND


All of these things can stand in the way of us actually practicing yoga.



Developing a yoga practice is hard. Maintaining a yoga practice is even harder. I do not believe that, “It takes 30 days to establish a habit,” or that, “Once you make something a habit, it just becomes automatic” - unless maybe your life is completely predictable and you never have to change your routines or adjust to anything new (anyone’s life like that?). For me anyway, it often seems like as soon as I think, “I made it! My ideal weekly schedule! A schedule I can stick to!” something changes and I have to start all over again.


My yoga practice is no exception.


Some weeks, I’ll get up and do yoga first thing in the morning. Other weeks, I’ll sneak in some nadi shodana while I’m sitting in a traffic jam. Sometimes I spend an hour moving through a strong vinyasa flow, complete with sun salutations and warriors and standing balances. Other times, I’ll lay on my back and gently stretch my hamstrings for 5 minutes. Some days, I’ll light candles and put on music to set the mood for my practice. Other days, I’ll do garudasana arms and 1:1 breath while waiting in line at Fred Meyer…


The point is, our yoga practice is not predictable. It’s not meant to be. It is dynamic, everchanging, and adaptable.


AND


This does not mean that “everything is yoga.”


Scrolling mindlessly through IG is not yoga.

Treating someone rudely is not yoga.

Ignoring our feelings is not yoga.

Exercising is not yoga.*

Sleeping is not yoga.


Yoga, while vast and flexible, is still a practice we can define:

It is paying attention to the present.

It is quieting the mind.

It is remaining disciplined, without attachment to results.


What does this mean for our yoga practice? How can we approach such grand ideas in a practical, sustainable way? There are many books written on the topic, and many classes you can take, but in the meantime, here are a few things I find helpful, whether you’re relatively new to yoga, or have been practicing for decades:


If you can set aside a few minutes, and have a space where you can move a little bit:

  • Set a timer for 5-15 minutes, or cue up a song (or 3!) that you love - something that helps you breathe slowly. Allow yourself to sit or lay still, or to move gently in a way that feels nourishing and good until the timer goes off, or the song ends. If you’re at a loss for what to do with your body, choose 3 poses you love; start with those poses, and then see what your body wants to do from there. Trust that your body will tell you what it needs (and remember that trust takes time to develop, so don’t panic if you don’t feel it immediately!).


If you don’t feel like you have time to set aside, but you need to practice:

  • Just put your hand on your heart. Feel your breath expand and contract; see if you can feel your heartbeat, too. Consciously appreciate the work your heart and lungs are doing to keep you alive. Maybe even think of a person or animal you really love. Or just remind yourself that you are loved. Or both!


If you have the space:

  • Set up a yoga area. Having a set space that is inviting, warm, and aesthetically pleasing can be a lovely way to inspire you to practice (especially if you, like me, are sensitive to your environments). AND (even more important), don’t let “not having a yoga space” get in the way. Most floors work just fine - most chairs do, too. Even a car or airplane works for breath work or meditation! Wherever you are, take the time to appreciate that you are here - that you are able to sit, or lay down, or stand, or move, or be still, and that you are choosing to be present and aware of yourself, and your connection to the world around you.


If you have the time:

  • Set a timer for 30-45 min, and then practice until you feel like you’re done - maybe it’s before the timer goes off, or maybe the timer goes off and you decide to add more time. However long you practice, see if you can practice until you feel a shift - a shift in your body, your mind, your heart. Sometimes this comes after just a few minutes, sometimes it takes an hour or two. Trust that it will come.


Above all, try to remember that no one does it perfectly - not even your teachers. There are so many ways to practice, and more important than the form our practice takes (asana, pranayama, movement, stillness), is the intention behind it - our reason for practicing. Try to stay connected to that reason, even when your practice falls apart as you know it. Trust that you can rebuild it - that you will have to rebuild it again and again.



*I know this may incite a hot debate, and I don’t mean to imply exercise is bad - exercise can have great value, and can indeed be soothing to the mind! What I mean is: Exercising, when done with the intention of “burning calories,” “sculpting the body,” “losing weight,” or anything else that emphasizes physical appearance, this is not only “not yoga,” but it is antithetical to yoga. Certain exercises and movements can be meditative for sure, but if the intention is on pushing one’s body to perform or look a certain way, this is not yoga.



28 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All