Let me ask you this – what are you really doing to support your yoga practice?
If you’re anything like me, you expect a lot from yoga. I know I expect it to help me physically – to heal my body. I expect it to help my mind, to keep my head on straight every day, to connect me energetically, emotionally, spiritually…
Despite knowing everything we get from regular yoga practice, we often try and squeeze it into our lives the same way we would squeeze another outfit into an overstuffed suitcase.
To be frank, if you want to sustain your spiritual practice over a long period of time, and reap those long-term benefits, you need to treat it with more care and attention.
Today I want to flip the script and put more emphasis on the habits that help us towards our yoga mats with the right amount of excitement and the right amount of discipline.
Some of these will cost money, some will take time, some will be things you already know (but probably need to pay a little more attention to). The point here is to set up your yoga practice so that it’s more than just another box to check, more than just another “should”.
Dip into an oil bath
Something really simple that I like to do is a daily oil massage, or an oil bath as it’s often referred to in India. You probably have some coconut oil laying around, or some sesame oil, so use it! Massage it into your joints, your muscles, your tissue, then leave it on for at least 30 minutes.
This is great for your nerve endings, and if you live in a cold climate it’s really vital for keeping moisture in your body and mobility in your joints.
I’ve found that when I’m oiled head to toe and wearing an old bathrobe or an ugly pair of sweatpants, I’m far less worried about rushing around to run errands. It’s a reminder to slow down, in addition to helping your body feel great.
If you’re a practitioner of Ashtanga yoga, you’ve probably heard about castor oil baths. These are a little bit different and a little bit more intense. It’s not something to be done every day – more of a once a week undertaking, but it actually is wonderful for your body and your energy. I like to do these in the evening or late in the day because it really knocks me out to unwind in that way and it helps me sleep. However, these require a little more strategy, so I would recommend you read more about this first.
This is a big one, especially in our iPhone addicted society – our caffeine obsessed society.
Most of us simply aren’t getting enough sleep. And if that’s you, as a morning yoga practitioner, it can make the idea of getting to your mat and challenging yourself daunting.
Here are a few of my best tips to help you get more sleep and more energy for your practice:
Watch the stimulants. I love coffee. I love chai. Unfortunately, they don’t always love me. I’ll often end up being up all night. I would advise cutting back and taking periodic caffeine breaks throughout the year to get your sleep back in order.
Power down one hour before bed. That means no iPhones, no computers, no emails, nothing. Give yourself that mental break – you can’t expect to go from raging workaholic to sleep in 10 minutes.
Sink into the salts
I’m a big believer in taking an Epsom salt bath once a week – and this is a great way to fill some of that “power down” time before you sleep.I would suggest using the whole bag of salt and staying for at least half an hour. It really detoxifies your body and takes the acid out of your muscles and joints.
If you’re not the kind of person who likes to stay still and hang out in the bath, I get it.
The trick is to fool your mind into thinking you’re being productive.
Try putting on a great TED talk, they usually last about 20 minutes. Or listen to an audiobook on a topic you find really stimulating and exciting. Sometimes hearing someone talk in a methodical voice can be really calming.
Write it out
This is another activity that is great for those powered down periods. Write in your journal, or give yourself the time to actually write a letter to somebody. I love getting letters in the mail – it really is a lost art! Give yourself that time to do something quiet and enjoyable.
Flash the cash
So far each of these habits have been things that take very little investment, other than your time and energy, but you can also spend some money on your self-care.
Get a massage, or a reiki treatment, or an acupuncture treatment. Look into rolfing or a deep body work treatment.
When you step into that space of wanting to invest in yourself, you’re telling the universe that you’re ready for change, that you deserve change, that you’re being proactive on your path and you’re opening the doors to welcoming some new changes into your life in a positive way.
This is a powerful thing, but it doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. It doesn’t mean you have to do it all the time, although you certainly can, but just stepping up to the plate and investing in yourself so that you can feel better in your practice, will help you feel more rested.
Know the “why”
You can get on your mat knowing that you’re supporting all of the work that you’re doing there, instead of it feeling like a drag.
One of the most effective ways of doing this, especially for me, is yoga philosophy. I need to be reminded why I’m doing this on a day-to-day basis – it’s more than just a physical exercise for me (and for many of us).
Yoga philosophy really anchors in this whole process. Working through the eight limbs of yoga, studying yoga sutras, for example, can feel like the missing link in your self-care routine.
Over to you!
These are a handful of the many different ways that you can support your regular yoga practice. The idea is to tap into strategies that make your feel empowered, and energized, and enthusiastic when it comes to rolling out that mat.
If you can invest in yourself in the smallest of ways for the other 22 hours of the day, when you next approach your mat you’ll be feeding your soul on every level, and that’s what it’s all about.