1. Set aside a regular time for yoga. Once you make a decision to do something, you’re telling yourself that it is going to happen. If you’re new to yoga, it may not be a practical idea to practice yoga daily, especially while you’re getting used to yoga in your life. Instead, aim for at least one practice a week outside your regular class (if you attend a class), and gradually increase the days you’re practicing until it becomes daily without you finding this a hurdle. As you become more aware of the philosophy behind yoga and find yourself more attuned to it, daily practice will soon become part of who you are; there is no point rushing this natural realization – as yoga instructor Christina Brown says: “First, it becomes habit; then it becomes a lifestyle; then it becomes who you are.”
- Some people find that keeping to a routine of the same time and same place each day is most beneficial. Your mind and your body will associate that time and place with yoga sessions, which can serve as great internal motivation. Be sure to pick a time when you know there will be no interruptions or distractions, such as early in the morning or late at night. The best times to practice yoga are considered to be sunrise and sunset.
2. Be kind to yourself when you practice yoga. Go slowly, especially in the beginning, and listen to your body. It knows what it can do. If it says “stop,” then stop. Don’t push it. Yoga is not a competitive sport; indeed, if you feel that way about it, you will not progress. If you push too hard, you probably won’t enjoy it, and you may hurt yourself.
- Whenever possible, work with a teacher, and use books, videos and websites to supplement your classroom instruction. Most of all, stick with it. If you practice, you will improve.
- Choose routines that work for you now. If you try to do yoga positions before you’re ready or keen to do them, it’s likely that you’ll set yourself up for a fall. Keep in mind that a little done often is always best for you and your body and giving 15 minutes of your time a day soon adds up over a week. Eventually you’ll be able to do more difficult routines as time goes on
3. Be regular, not rigorous. It is far better to practice a little on a regular basis than to push yourself into a long practice on an irregular basis. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do certain poses for now. Do the ones you can do; better still, do the poses you enjoy. Perfect those before moving on to the ones you experience more difficulty with. Remind yourself that it is better that you’re doing some yoga than none at all.
- Avoid adopting a negative mindset in which you tell yourself you “can’t” do certain poses. You can, it just may take some time and you may need to practice a great deal on the build-up poses that lead in to the more difficult ones. Practice does help!
4. Prepare well for each yoga session. Part of the comfort factor of yoga will be derived from how you prepare for it. Ensure that you have comfortable clothing that allows for freedom of movement and leaves the abdominal area and rib-cage free to expand; avoid tight clothing. Make the area where you are practicing comfortable as well. Lay down a sticky yoga mat or a folded blanket and have a cushion handy to support your neck if needed. Ensure that the practice space is warm and quiet but well ventilated.
- Practice yoga on an empty stomach. This is the best time for yoga practice, and it is a good idea to allow the digestion of a meal to be done before practicing yoga, so leave 2-4 hours between your meal and yoga practice. Yoga before breakfast is an ideal option.
- If you feel hungry prior to a yoga practice, drink a little diluted fruit juice or warm milk with honey.
- If you feel the cold easily, have a blanket to cover yourself for the relaxation phase of your practice.
5. Study each posture. The practice of yoga exercises or Asanas can improve your health, increase your resistance strength, and develop your mental awareness. Doing the yoga poses requires you to study each pose and to execute it slowly as you control your body and your mind. Read widely online and in yoga books so that you can understand both the mechanics behind the poses and the philosophical underpinnings of yoga.
- Maintain full awareness when practicing poses. It is far better to stay aware and take it slowly during a pose than to hurriedly proceed through a whole group of them without pausing to reflect.
- When you’re starting out in yoga, choose the easier exercises indicated by your yoga book, DVD, or teacher. Find the ones that fit with your physique naturally and perfect the basic instructions before moving on to the more challenging ones
6. Decide on your best starting position. This may change over time depending on what you’re most comfortable with but it is important to have a starting position that grounds you and prepares you for the rest of the yoga session. A starting position is best when it helps you to focus awareness on breathing and the body, helps strengthen your lower back and opens the groin and hips. Here’s an example:
- Sit cross-legged with hands on knees. Focus on your breath. Keep your spine straight and push the sit bones down into the floor. Allow the knees to gently lower. If the knees rise above your hips, sit on a cushion or block. This will help support your back and hips. Take 5 to 10 slow, deep breaths. On the next inhale, raise your arms over your head. Exhale and bring your arms down slowly. Repeat 5-7 times.
7. Rest between poses. Again, nothing should be rushed in yoga, and resting in between poses gives you time for reflection and your body a chance to take a break. Keep all movements slow and breathe calmly
8. Fit yoga into your daily life. As well as dedicated yoga time, practice small elements of yoga throughout the day where possible. There are yoga moves you can practice using your office chair, simply standing, or while waiting. Practice inhalation and exhalation exercises anywhere at anytime. Close your eyes and do a few minutes quiet reflection amid the busyness of everything else going on around you.
9. Expect gradual improvement, not miracles. Daily practice will start to flow through in evident changes in your life but it won’t happen immediately and sometimes you might feel things are not happening at all. Give it time and suddenly you will realize that your daily practice is beneficial and is having a positive impact on the rest of your day. The body is happiest with regular practice and will respond well to your daily efforts.
10. Balance your routine. As you get more used to yoga and you’re into the swing of daily practice, aim for a balance of yoga exercises. Yoga expert Christina Brown recommends including at least one exercise from each of the following categories:
- A flowing activity that increases your awareness of breathing
- A standing posture
- A side stretch
- A forward bend
- A back bend
- A twist
- An abdominal strengthener
- A balance
- An inversion
- Another forward bend
- Final relaxation (Pranayama and meditation). You can choose to spend as long as you like in this final step.
11. Remember that time is always on your side in yoga. The more you practice, the better you will get but at your pace, not any pace set by a training manual or coach. Yoga is a journey, not competition or expectation of achievement. The great thing about yoga is that you continue to improve through life, and age has nothing to do with ability in yoga. Indeed, practicing yoga daily into your senior years is a goal to aspire to as it will keep you fit, confident, strong, flexible, mentally and physically balanced, and self-disciplined.
- Don’t make a huge issue out of missing a day here and there. It happens, just pick up from where you left off. Body memory is powerful, so let your body ease back into it without allowing your mind to infect it with anxiety over missed practices!