We all know that fitness benefits only come when we maintain a consistent discipline, whether it’s Yoga, weightlifting or running. A little bit of regular, daily practice will improve health much more than intense practice maintained only for one week each year.
Yet even though we know that consistent exercise is good for us, and we always feel better when we maintain a steady exercise or Yoga routine, many of us still struggle with the discipline to fit Yoga into our overly-packed schedules. Live, in-person classes can help cement our health routine into our schedule, yet many of us must now find the motivation to take live streaming or video classes.
Unfortunately, it requires a lot of discipline to adopt live streaming and video classes into our schedules, and maintain our own health and fitness without external support! Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of the top 5 tactics I use in order to maintain regularity in my at-home Yoga practice, in the hopes it will help you develop your own routine.
1) Set the Stage
Many of us access our online Yoga classes using the same device we use for work and distraction. So give your mind a signal that you are about to do something different by literally placing yourself somewhere different.
Choose a specific area in your home where you will always go
to do your Yoga practice.
You don’t have to have an entire room for your practice, and that space doesn’t have to only serve as your “Yoga space” all the time, but you do want to set up an environment that will help your mind relax and only focus on your Yoga practice. If you can’t find a space in your home that will work, a Yoga mat in itself is a great space definer, which you can take from room to room, or even take outside.
You could set the stage for Yoga with a talisman, or photos that remind you of a bigger meaning for life while you practice, and set them within view. Perhaps burn some incense. Like Pavlov’s dogs who were trained to salivate every time they heard the sound of a bell, you can train your brain to begin relaxing automatically every time you set up your special Yoga space. For ideas on what makes the perfect practice space for Yoga Asana, check out the first chapter in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
2) Go with the Flow
Never mind that “Swami Spiritual” says you should practice at 4am every day, if that is not your thing.
Pick the amount of time you feel you can allot, and the time of day
you know you can commit to. Then stick to it!
Practice at the same time and for the same duration for at least 6 months, if not longer, before you try to adjust your routine.
The trick to actually succeeding with this method, is to pick a length of time you think will be easy, not the length of time you think you need, or would like to strive for as a goal. This isn’t about what routine you want to establish, it’s about what you can do right now. If nothing else, you will learn the most important lesson of Yoga – stay true to the present moment.
When I first started a meditation practice, I had a horrible time establishing a daily routine. I finally succeeded when I stopped trying to follow the rules for meditation that I had learned (30 minutes minimum, first thing in the morning, at the same time every morning). I realized that for me, what worked was to do meditation for 15 minutes (my meditation teacher even will encourage 3 minutes), the very last thing before going to bed, the time of which varied depending on the day of the week. Because I didn’t have anywhere I “had to go to” in the evening, and I knew that 15 minutes less of sleep was not going to seriously impair my mental abilities the next morning, I was able to bypass any worry and meditate.
Don’t worry about doing your practice perfectly, or following the “rules.” Doing it imperfectly is better than not at all! So for example, let’s say you’re aiming for the 6:30pm Zoom class, but you don’t get yourself together until 6:38. Who cares? Just join late. And, if you can only really commit to 30 minutes of physical practice, then just do the 30 minutes that are presented to you at that moment. The beauty of live stream, and especially video, is that you won’t be disturbing anyone else in the class (including the teacher) if you show up late, or leave early.
3) Become Your Own Community Support
I’ve heard some students lament the lack of community through taking online classes. They can’t see, hear, or feel the people around them, which used to be a big part of their motivation for attending classes.
Become your own community support by simply announcing out loud to yourself
that you’ll be attending such-and-such class at such-and-such time.
The beauty of voicing your intentions out loud is that it literally takes the thought from your head, and puts it out into the “real” world.
There is a part of you that likes to follow through on the promises that you make, and by saying it out loud, it’s harder for your mind to pretend the promise never existed. Even better, also make the announcement in your social media. You might even persuade one of your friends to join you, and start to build your own community. :)
4) Focus in a Different Way
One of the ways that Yoga de-stresses us is through a process called Pratyahara.
Pratyahara is the practice of focusing intensely enough to
withdraw the senses away from potential distractions.
Think of it like being so absorbed in an interesting book, that you don’t even hear the train conductor announce your stop. It’s not that you stopped being able to hear; it’s that you simply ignored your hearing because your focus was devoted to the book you were reading. Your brain shifted priorities.
The paradox of taking Yoga classes online is that we actually have more sensory stimulus than in-person Yoga classes. We must notice details on a tiny screen, hear the teacher over the noise from our surrounding environment, and try not to be distracted by other students on the screen. I actually have a bit of a radical suggestion for you:
Try to only listen to the teacher,
and use the screen as little as possible for visual cues.
We rely heavily on our eyesight, so prioritizing hearing can give a break to the visual-processing part of your brain. With video recordings, I suggest trying to follow verbal instructions only (as much as possible) the first viewing, then turn off the sound and follow only visual cues for the second viewing. The third time, try to do as much of the class as you can remember without using the video. When you become uncertain, turn it on, fast forward, pause, rewind, etc. when you need it. With each successive session, try to use the video less and less. By training your mind to actually learn the class and become “your own teacher,” you’ll wake up your mind to establish self-reliance and discipline in your Yoga practice.
5) Let Go of the Need to Control Everything
One of the mental traps that prevents us from starting or committing to a Yoga practice, is that our minds really hate feeling like we’re “not good” at something. When we lack familiarity with an activity, we feel awkward, confused, insecure, and sometimes we even create injuries by pushing ourselves to be “more perfect” when our bodies aren’t ready. As with anything, it can take several practice sessions before you will feel confident while practicing Yoga.
Ignore the mind that insists on “being good” at Yoga.
Our minds love partitioning experiences into “good” and “bad.” And although even after becoming enlightened, you will always prefer pleasant experiences over unpleasant ones, the main goal of Yoga is to override our attachment to our emotions. If we are too attached to needing only pleasant experiences, we will constantly make decisions to enhance our pleasant experiences, and avoid unpleasant ones. The problem with this attachment is that it doesn’t allow for any sort of surprises, even positive ones!
Many of our favorite outcomes happen only after some unpleasantness. For example, many mothers are immensely grateful and happy for their children. They feel their lives enriched by their children. And yet, if they had only focused on avoiding the discomfort of labor, they never would have allowed themselves to get pregnant in the first place.
Anytime you feel awkward in your Yoga classes,
Many longtime students of Yoga drift into only practicing the postures they are “good at,” which is actually a disservice to themselves. A better approach for all of us, would be to practice all the postures, including the ones we struggle with. Otherwise, Yoga practice becomes just another tool for the mind to keep us rooted in our black and white world of “good” and “bad.” This good/bad attitude prevents us from experiencing a world full of color, filled with possibility and potential.
Where to go from Here
If you struggle to cultivate the discipline to use the internet for your health (and mental health), try adopting some or all of the tips above. As for where to find online Yoga classes, here are my suggestions:
Yoga U Online: Yoga U has been providing streaming classes for around a decade, and are well respected within the Yoga industry. Most of the featured teachers on Yoga U are also Yoga therapists, specializing in physical therapy.
Dharma Mittra: My main teacher for over 16 years! Dharma is known for his physically-challenging classes, and his ability to teach you the authentic spiritual side of a Yoga practice.
Your local community Yoga studio: Why not get to know your neighbors?
About the Author
Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, is an E-RYT 500 certified Yoga instructor of over 20 years, while during most of those years also being a professional aerial acrobatics performer. Her most influential Yoga teachers include Dharma Mittra, Alan Finger, Cyndi Lee and Susan Braham.