I am still on this yoga-path, still practicing, still learning. And sometimes, I still struggle to come to my mat and move or breathe and sit. I’ve practiced over the span of years and barely missed a day and I’ve also had windows of time where my practice has been rather spotty. I missed a few days of practice last week and I thought this would be a great opportunity to share some of the realistic and inevitable struggles of long term practice and some strategies for getting back to it after an unintended break.
In years past when I missed a day of yoga, a downward spiral would often begin. It began as a voice in my head that called me lazy for sleeping in, expressing disappointment in myself for not hitting my mat even though time had proven that whether life was rosy or stressful, I functioned best with regular practice. This disappointment would quickly rise like water left running in the sink that overflows when we aren’t looking. Instead of being a symbol of care, freedom and growth, my mat became evidence of my inability to keep this commitment. I viewed my practice as care for myself that also allowed me to be more present to those around me; therefore my avoidance seemed a failure to my loved ones as well. As that water in the sink runs over the counter and onto the floor if left running too long, my stress levels would rise and find me snapping at my undeserving husband (GET SOME TOWELS!)
After making many messes over the years, my tolerance for the mess itself and my part in it have grown. It’s not that feelings of failure and disappointment are absent. They still arise, as they did last week when I missed those few days. The difference is that now, I know that the missed days and the disappointment are part of a life of practice – they happen, just as inevitably as we will spill water all over the floor. I know now that these events can begin a well-worn pattern of avoidance, frustration and ill-will for myself, or they can signal me to interrupt that cycle. If I hear the water running, I can turn off the faucet. On this day, I was aware enough to notice the beginnings of this familiar cycle and step out of it, back onto my mat.
Strategies to Break the Cycle
Be kind to yourself.
On the path of a long term yoga practice, there will be many frustrations and many beautiful moments. We can’t experience the beauty without working through the self-made messes and the floods that life sends our way. How can you address your current situation with kindness? What might that look like?
Bring awareness to the situation.
If we are deep in avoidance, we may have forgotten or distracted ourselves completely from our commitment to practice (it happens!) Whether you have just begun this cycle or you are already up to your knees in water, you can move through it by bringing awareness to the situation. Are you practicing regularly (whatever regularly means to you)? How do you feel about your practice right now? How would you like to proceed? Awareness allows us to choose. Leaving the water on the floor is every bit as legitimate as taking the time to explore what happened and why.
What if you just started over? Is there a brief window of time – just a few minutes – that you can make your way to your mat today? Can you do a feel-good stretch, take a few deep breaths, or simply sit or lie down and feel your body on the floor? What if you decided that the most basic, most minimal practice was a success, that by practicing in any way, you have fulfilled your commitment? What if pausing right here, right now and taking one full, deep, conscious breath was your practice for today? How would that feel?
I would love to know how your practice is going, whether you are in a beautiful, fulfilling period, struggling to make it to your mat, or considering starting a yoga practice. Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.