Maintain a Practice, On the Road & Off
“PRACTICE IS ESSENTIAL.”
“As a yoga teacher, it is essential to maintain a daily practice. In order to teach with integrity, you must practice what you teach. If that means getting on the mat at 4am , then get on the mat at 4 am. Your personal practice must be a top priority.”
After 28, long & sweaty days of a yoga teacher training in 2015, an esteemed and respected teacher emphasized this vital piece of advice to 40 teachers-in-training, which included myself, with a deep concern for the wellbeing of the future teachers, their practice, and the well being of their future students.
From there, this advice took root & blossomed in to one of my personal life mantra: Practice is essential for authentic living. No matter what you practice, or what you teach, practice is the time & space allotted to use specific frameworks & disciplines to focus your vital life energy to align what you think & say to what you do. Sounds simple enough, right?
Simple sure, but not easy. For those of you that maintain any kind of practice, you can attest to the challenges that follow in the shadow of practice. The discipline, the consistency, staying inspired, staying motivated, all contribute to what makes maintaining consistent practice challenging.
And for all the worldly travelers out there, who are also committed to personal practice, travel sprinkles in another set of challenges: different time zones, lack of privacy, change in daily routines, moving from place to place, all contribute to the extra challenge travelers face when maintaining practice.
But either way, whether at home or wandering around the world, consistent & daily practice, requires daily effort & personal discipline to keep personal practice a top priority.
WHAT IS “PRACTICE”?
First things first. What is practice?
In the health and healing spheres, folks throw around the word “practice” like confetti, but what are they actually referring to?
to practice (verb), to repeat a set of actions over and over again, with the intention of improving a set of skills. For example, in a yoga practice, you repeatedly breath & stretch in a specific way to improve flexibility, focus and strength.
a practice (noun) is the actual performance of certain actions, by a specific person, with a specific intention. For example, when I sit on my cushion, close my eyes & focus on feeling my breath go in and out of my nose, I am performing my meditation practice.
PRACTICE IS SIMPLE-BUT NOT EASY.
Why do many of us face challenge to maintain consistent practice? What blocks success and how can acknowledgment of the challenges help free up the challenge?
Like previously stated, practice is simple, but not easy. And certainly, I can not be the only one who has experienced the motivational spikes and declines of practice maintenance, therefore I put on my researcher hat & started to ask questions about WHAT GETS IN OUR WAY??
The stories we tell ourselves are full of negative language . “ I can’t!” or “It is too hard” or “I don’t have enough time” are a few of the common players in negative stories (the thoughts inside your head). Negative thoughts about our abilities may always be present or they may be triggered by a “failure”, i.e. when we miss a day or two or three of practice. Our negative thoughts tell us that this lack of practice is a “failure”, rather than another part of our practice.
The intention of the practice is unclear. Many of us may say, & believe, that we are doing something for a certain reason. if we got to the root of why , the intention may also include some hidden reasons. For example, you may have an intention to practice yoga everyday to maintain a calmer mind & clearer focus. Within that intentions, there may be a hidden reason to practice yoga to get that infamous “yoga butt” . And if that is indeed the case, OWN IT! It is okay to want a calmer mind -AND-a tighter butt. Dig deep & be honest from the beginning about why you want to practice- include the obvious reasons, as well as the hidden reasons.
You give up when you “fail” and view failure as “nondoing”. Think about this: the current statistic for drug & alcohol relapse is approximately every 9 out of every 10 people. Relapse is simply a part of the recovery process. Similarly, when you are starting something new or trying to change an old habit with a new practice, it is helpful tp begin with the mindset that you won’t get it right 100% of the time. Know that there will be a day or days, or maybe even weeks, when you don’t practice- that is a part of the practice. If you miss a day, or a week, simply begin again.
HOW DO I MAINTAIN MOTIVATION TO PRACTICE??
1. BEGIN WITH AN HONEST INTENTION
Set clear, achievable intentions using three questions: WHAT do you want to practice, WHY do you want to practice, and the HOW will you practice. Grab a notebook to write your answers down!
First, the WHAT: “What do I want to practice?” Is it Yoga? Meditation? Guitar? Soccer? Gratitude? Thai Chi? Massage? Running? Breathing? Whatever you want to practice, physical or metaphysical, write it down.
Next, ask WHY : “Why do I want to practice yoga/meditation/soccer/gratitude/etc?.” Be super honest about all of the reasons why you want to practice. Remember that some intentions may be hidden. Practice self-acceptance & compassion to get clear about all the reasons why you want to practice. Now, write them down.
Finally, ask HOW: How will I practice yoga/meditation/ soccer/ etc? What are the action steps I will take to practice?”. This step requires you to turn yours ideas into action step. Make your action steps “SMART”. Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Time-based.
2. MAKe Practice PRIORITY & Build routine
After you have established a clear intention, make practice a priority. It has been said “where focus goes, energy flows.”
Think about a priority you currently have- it may be a child, a career, the food you eat or project you are creating. How do you treat this precious thing that is a priority? What kind of attention and time do you give to this thing? Most likely, anything that is a priority, you give high-quality attention & daily time.
Here are a few simple steps that will help your make your practice a priority:
Write it down! Just as you wrote down your intention, use the modality of writing to help yourself stay accountable. When you write things down, you take the first step in turning an idea into something tangible. Use the following steps to turn your ideas into action steps.
Schedule your practice in a planner or calendar.
Set reminders to practice.
Place your written intention in a place you will see it often (on the bathroom mirror is a great option)
2. Set a specific time & space to practice. Have a time and space that is dedicated to your practice. Schedule it in your planner or calendar & set your space before practice.
Choose a time to practice. Maybe it is in the morning before your family wakes up, or in the evening when you are winding down from the day. What is most important is to choose a time that works for you.
Choose a space. Try to make this space as private as possible & a space that is solely dedicated to practice. This may be a spare room in your home , or simply a corner in your bedroom or home office. Fill this space with sacred items that inspire your practice- think books, crystals, sage, photos, flowers, or anything you consider special & sacred. If you do not have a private, secluded space, or you are traveling, have a mat or a cushion that you only use for practice and you can make a practice space wherever you go.
*Fun Fact: Having a routine will help you stay committed to your practice on the days when you just do not want to practice (these days WILL HAPPEN). Also, remember that these moments when you do not want to practice are the opportunities to practice recognizing your thoughts & feelings, Challenge these negative thoughts by responding with positive dialogue ( “This feels challenging & I can do it”). This process will begin to sharpen persistence and dedication that is essential to maintaining practice.
3. PRACTICE WITH OTHERs & find a teacher
Practicing with other people, whether it is in a small group at home, a large studio class or a class online, practicing with others will help you build accountability to the practice. Here are a few other examples of how you can build accountability into your practice.
Go to a local class where you can practice with a teacher and other humans. Public classes help up stay motivated & inspired. If you have fear about going to a class, face you fear & go! Building a practice requires us to face & meet many challenges.
Tell a buddy what you are doing, or maybe, do it together! The more people you tell about your practice, the better. This will help you stay accountable when the thoughts of quitting begin to drift into your head. When that happens, tell your buddy about it! Use this person or people to share your successes, as well as your challenges. Again, if this is something that scares you…do it!
There is an app for that. There are apps for everything & plenty of great yoga & meditation apps that provide essential support & guidance as you develop your practice. Some of my favorite apps are Yoga+Travel by Allison English & for meditation, Calm or Headspace.
Find yourself a teacher. This is a step you can take at any point of your practice, whether you are a beginner or an advanced practitioner. A teacher can help build and elevate your practice to places that are more difficult to access on our own. As you begin to find your teacher, take your time & try different people. There are a lot of teachers out there- some will work for you and some will not. Be patient and persistent to finding someone who works for you!
When we get involved with other humans, even in digital form, human interaction will help build personal accountability and responsibility to the practice.
**Another FUN FACT: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN. Be open to receiving support from people you love or people going through the same process. Go to the yoga class you’ve always wanted to try, tell your Mom or your best friend about your intentions and challenges, and always remember…there is an APP for that!
4. STAY INSPIRED AND BE Nice to yourself
Losing interest and motivation is apart of building a practice- remember that once you start to practice consistently, the practice may start to lose the sparkly shine it once had at the beginning. That is the moment when you can explore, “What is new in this practice? Can I take a new perspective? Is there something new I can feel and explore? How can I keep myself inspired & motivated?”
Here are a few tips for staying inspired and motivated:
If you stop, start again. This is where many of us get stuck & we think “Oh, well, I didn’t practice all week, so I guess I am done with that.” NO! Change the thought to “ I didn’t practice all week and I am going to start again tomorrow!” And then, start again.
Get curious. If something is not working for you, whether it is the practice itself, the time of day or the place you set, get curious about why it is not working & make a shift. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again!
Be patient & compassionate WITH YOURSELF. I am very serious about this. Many of us are taught to feel guilt or shame when we do not accomplish what we want to accomplish. Make patience and compassion a part of your practice. With a gentle attitude, we are more likely to keep practicing.
***A final FUN FACT: to stay inspired & engaged, commit yourself to being a lifelong learner. Read books, take classes, following people online who are successfully achieving what you want to achieve (be careful not to compare yourself, or think that you are less than them), talk to other people, ask questions, learn something new that you have always wanted to learn, be a beginner.. Use these outlets to continue learning and to stay inspired. Remember that learning never has to end- learning is an endless spiral, with something new to learn & create at every curve.
LET’S WRAP IT UP, SHALL WE?
Let’s face it, maintaining a consistent practice is fairly simple & straight-forward,, but it definitely is not easy. To practice your chosen discipline with intentionality requires hard work, perseverance and dedication. On days where it is challenging to practice, begin by asking “What part of this can I do?”. Use the routine that you established and the support of other humans to build a framework for practice success. Remember to keep your intention present and ask yourself “Are my actions in alignment with my intention?”. Your practice is for your own well-being. & transformation. What ever it is that you preach, what ever it is that you teach, be sure that that is what you practice.
Namaste my friends & thank you for practicing with me,
Britt & tmv.