6 Tips to Keep You Coming Back to the Mat
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
These days staying at home and processing everything our world is going through has been uncomfortable to say the least. One place the discomforts have been reflected in is my practice. Its been really hard to get on the mat every day, coming up against more obstacles than usual along the way. But that's one of the reasons why we practice yoga, to learn to sit with the discomfort that comes with change in order to move into a better future for everyone.
Some days I enjoy the silence and solitude practicing in my apartment but others I just want to be surrounded by a bunch of other sweaty practitioners, feeding off their energy to keep me moving forward.
Here are some things that have helped me get on the mat each day, to keep drawing from the tools I learn in my practice to navigate these times.
1. REALLY FIND OUT WHY I PRACTICE
I’ve been forced to really narrow in on WHY I practice. There's no one around me holding me accountable, witnessing my progress or the fruits of my practice. The drive and accountability to get on the mat every day now more than ever needs to come from me and my personal reasons. If I stop practicing the world will keep spinning, no one would likely call me out on it.
I’ve spent time getting more clear on why I practice and how it effects my life in a positive way. By having a clear reason I wholeheartedly believe in, I’m more likely to get on the mat on the days I really don’t want to. Through reflection and honesty, it’s led me to better understand what’s important, where there’s depth and how the practice helps me get there.
Getting on the mat for a flatter stomach or more beautiful handstands, for example, proved to be a dead end. Going down that rabbit hole led me no where… why do I actually need these things? Where will it lead me? What will I gain by having them? Nothing and nowhere of real lasting value.
This practice helps me live more peacefully. How? Something that’s come up for me a lot these days is that it removes stagnation in the body and therefore the mind. As I move my body through the practice, energy flows and I learn to more gracefully come in and out of mental states. I’m less likely to get stuck on one emotion or one idea.
Stagnation starts in the body and a way to get it out is to feel into the body and observe. I’m someone who tends to get caught up in intellectualizing, categorizing, analyzing and this practice has shown me the limit in that. When I feel I’m up against a problem, most of the time I just need to feel and experience the present moment and leave the thinking mind out of it, especially now with so much being fed to us through the media, our minds are on over drive. This practice lately has helped me strengthen the pathway back into the body as a way to relieve stress, calm the mind, come back to myself and take more thoughtful action in my life.
That’s why I’m practicing today.
2. A MEDITATION PRACTICE
Sitting in meditation was something I started as a regular practice about a year ago. But since we got locked up inside, I’ve found a lot of comfort and stability in making more time for a meditation practice. It’s been really helpful in getting me through day by day.
Back in September I participated in a Vipassana 10 day silent meditation retreat where I needed to build the strength to sit from moment to moment. Coming back to my meditation practice with a more resolute commitment has strengthen the resiliency I learned in the course to sit through uncomfortable times. And these are no doubt uncomfortable times. My meditation practice is reinforcing the pathway of simply observing the discomfort without reacting to it in an unconscious, unproductive way.
This isn't so much a reason to get on the mat, but finding solace in my meditation practice has made it easier to find the strength for my ashtanga yoga practice.
3. REMEMBER THE RESIDUE OF THE PRACTICE
Most days I know these above things, they make sense and motivate me to get on the mat. There are days however I still don’t feel like practicing asana or sitting for meditation. I’m just not in the mood, feeling down or I'm just so exhausted. These are the days I recall my memories of observing the residue of the practice.
I make it a point to observe and mentally note the residue of the practice right after and throughout the day.
The subtle vibrations throughout the body. The rest of my day feeling lighter, more energized and more joyful. I notice the tendency to keep myself busy all of the time settle a bit. I find myself thinking of people I love and reaching out. My creativity kicks in and ideas come to me. I more effortlessly brainstorm how I can be of better use in this world by serving others and I'm inspired to take action. I feel settled.
I put mental notes like these in my back pocket for the days I don’t want to move in asana or sit still in meditation. Its like my last resort to keep going. If I don’t feel good in the moment, I have living proof that I’ll feel better after I practice. I remind myself that doing this practice leads to being the kind of person I want to be and it’s the daily effort little by little that takes me there.
4. FIND A TEACHER ONLINE WHO INSPIRES YOU
Having the support of a teacher can make this practice more enjoyable and less daunting. The opportunity for growth by learning from someone further along this path has always been a source of inspiration for me.
These past couple months we’ve had access to so many teachers from all over as we become more familiar with technology and distance learning becomes the new normal. I've sought out teachers who have always inspired me, and taken on a new home curriculum, learning from them as much as I can. It’s pretty amazing actually to have access to so many teachers from the comfort of our home right now.
5. BE OPEN TO NEW WAYS OF PRACTICE
At some point during quarantine I realized I needed to let go of the practice I had before corona hit us. I needed to focus more on the breath and take it a little easier physically. Some days my meditation practice is longer than my asana practice, and other days the opposite. And that’s ok because what I need each day is different. When were out of quarantine back in our communities my practice will probably look different than it does now.
The point has been to tune in and ask myself what I need most right now to continue showing up in the world in a way that’s useful. It might take trial and error and constant observation and evaluation, which should always be the process anyways.
I’m focusing on not being so hard on myself when I don’t get the equation for how to approach my practice right or fail when I try to match up to the times my asana practice was at it’s strongest. Its not the time for that.
For me, these times have called for more introspection and stillness. Being open to different mindsets and approaches to the same practice have been key to staying motivated to practice.
Each day is a new practice, with a new body and mind.
6. FIND THE SWEETNESS TO IT
I’ll leave you with something one of my teachers, Tim Feldmann reminded me of during one of my online learning moments – you have to balance the discipline and willpower with some sweetness. There must be the discipline present in order to even get us on our mats and then get us through a practice, but if there is no sweetness we’ll have no reason to come back the next day.
If aversion exists there’s the natural inclination to remove ourselves. But if we can find an attractiveness we are more likely to continue pursuing a thing and in turn the discipline gets easier.
Look for the sweetness of dropping into the body, and getting lost in the intricacies of the breath. Enjoy
the postures that feel comfortable and homey in the body. Deeply settle into the final relaxation, where the sweetness wouldn’t exist without doing the practice first. The sweetness of release, of letting the fruits of your effort go and moving through the practice without expectation, but for the simplicity of the moment.
It can’t all be discipline and rigidity, we need to find the softness and pleasure too so we WANT to come back the next day.