“This practice becomes firmly rooted when it is cultivated skillfully and continuously for a long time.” – The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 1:14
If you’re anything like me, then you may have noticed that the intensity of your yoga practice surges at times and then peters out at times. You practice regularly for a week or two, and then nothing. You move on to something else for a while and then realize one day that you haven’t seen your yoga mat for a month. It’s a strong likelihood that this pattern of inconsistency affects not only your yoga practice, but other aspects in your life. It’s human nature. While this pattern is certainly natural, for many people it becomes a habit that hinders them from taking their performance and skill in any activity to the next level. For most people, myself included, it’s not that they one day decide they don’t enjoy yoga practice, it’s just that they have not taken the necessary steps to develop the yoga habit.
“It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Habits are powerful, unconscious patterns of behavior that once formed, play a large role in influencing the direction of one’s life. To a certain degree, our lives go where our habits take us. Our bodies, the vehicle; our habits, the chauffeur.
How to Form a Habit. Habits can be both good and bad, and interestingly enough, creating a good habit pretty much involves the same process as making a bad habit. Without delving into neurological explanations for habit formation (check out Scott Young’s great explanation here), the bottom line is that habits form through REPETITION. The philosopher Aristotle nailed it on the head: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
To form a habit, all you need to do is repeat the activity over a period of time. Opinions vary on the length of time it takes to form a habit, but most agree that it takes anywhere from three to six weeks of conscious, consistent, repetitive, and focused behavior to develop a new good habit. It’s not always easy, but the end results are almost always worth it.
The Yoga Habit ~ 30 Day Yoga Challenge
If you want to consistently enjoy the benefits of yoga, then you need to take the steps necessary to make it a habit. One of the best ways to develop the yoga habit is to commit to a 30 day yoga challenge.
30 Day Yoga Challenge. The heart of the 30 day challenge is commitment. It means making a promise to yourself and following through on it. It means banishing from your life all your old wimpy excuses for failure. It means promising to practice for a certain amount of time each day and just doing it. If you commit to 15 minutes a day, then you practice for 15 minutes every day. If you commit to an hour each day, then you practice for an hour. Don’t set unrealistic expectations, but commit to a goal that pushes you. Whatever you commit to, do it for 30 days and you will drastically improve your chances of turning your yoga practice into a habit.
Here are a few suggestions for succeeding in creating a yoga habit.
1. Make yourself accountable. Another aspect of commitment is accountability. Write down your goal and/or tell someone about your plans. Memorializing the commitment on paper or telling a friend helps set it deep into your mind that you will practice yoga for 30 days in a row. Make yourself accountable to prove that you can do anything you set your mind to.
2. Prioritize your life. If a 30 day yoga challenge is something you want to commit to, then make it a priority. Use these 30 days to simplify and streamline your life. Examine your current daily routine and activities and determine what really needs to stay and what needs to get the axe. Maybe that means watching less TV or cutting back on social web surfing so you have time to dedicate to your practice. Most people have plenty of time, they just don’t use it well. Depending on how high the yoga challenge ranks in your priorities, you may also decide to temporarily give up otherwise worthwhile activities to create the necessary time. Chances are if you cut something out of your life, you won’t even notice it’s gone in a month.
3. Set a time and have a practice plan. A lot of our daily routine, i.e. when, where, and how we do things, is determined by our habits. Since you’re trying to make yoga a habit, figure out the best time in the day and place for you to get on your yoga mat. Morning or night doesn’t matter so much as picking a time and then sticking to it as best as possible. Maybe there are certain yoga classes you want to attend. Plan for it. Remember, you’re trying to form a habit, and consistency will help with that. Not many people can make it to the yoga studio for 30 days in a row, so you will also have a chance to work on your home practice. For many people, myself included, home practice is the only option available. My advice is to go to bed a little earlier so you can practice in the quiet of the morning before the world wakes up. However, when setting your schedule, also allow for some flexibility. Life would be boring if there weren’t any surprises. If you know your regular practice time won’t work one day, or something unexpected pops up, have a backup plan in place already so you’re not tempted to skip a day.
4. Educate yourself. This is also a very important step in maintaining your motivation throughout the 30 day yoga challenge. Spend some time at the bookstore or library and browse through the yoga section. If you see a book that interests you, buy it; you’ll probably never be more deserving of a purchase for yourself. Throughout the month, turn to your yoga library and other yoga-related magazines, DVDs, and websites to increase your understanding of whatever aspect of yoga interests you, be it asana sequences, philosophy, history, whatever.
Here are a few good places to start:
- General Yoga Sites: Yoga Journal; Yoga.com; ABCs-of-Yoga; Himalayan Institute
- Online Yoga Tutorials & Classes: Yoga Today; Yoga Download; My Yoga Online
- Yoga Podcasts: Hillary’s Yoga Practice; Yoga Peeps; Elsie’s Yoga Kula; YOGAmazing
- Yoga Books, DVDs, & Music: Visit the Daily Cup of Yoga Store for recommendations and reviews!
- If you have TONS of time, check out my ever-expanding list of yoga links on delicious.com (close to 600!)
5. Write about it. Keep track of your 30 day yoga challenge by writing about it in your journal or blog. You may even consider following this 30 day yoga journey designed by Florian Yoga Companion. If nothing else, at least have a calendar to mark off each day that you practice. Nobody wants to have an empty square on their 30 day yoga challenge calendar:) If you do decide to write about your 30 day yoga challenge, let us know so we can cheer you on!
Just Do It!
Completing your own 30 day yoga challenge will require discipline, commitment, focus, and sacrifice. It won’t guarantee that you have a yoga habit for life – you can fall out of good habits just as easily as you fall into bad ones – but it will be a step in the right direction. So take the leap, start a 30 day yoga challenge, and enjoy the journey of a daily yoga habit.