How to create a yoga habit

Hello readers! First of all, apologies for the long silence - things in the non-virtual world have been super busy lately, chiefly because my partner and I have been moving house - an exhausting task now complete! Yes, as I type this I'm sitting in our new apartment that will be our home for at least the next 12 months. For a gypsy like me, that's pretty darn exciting... Too bad I'm off on a 3-month work trip in a few weeks!!

Anyway, as part of last week's giveaway, I asked readers to leave questions or suggestions for posts on the blog, and this post is in answer to one of those comments (don't worry, the rest will be coming along!). The request was for a post on how to make a daily commitment to yoga as part of a healthy lifestyle.

SUCH a good question! We all know that we feel better when we do some yoga - but many of us get to a point where we are going to as many classes as we can - a few times a week, or maybe only a few times a month - but we want to get more out of our yoga! Yet making the transition from practicing in class to a daily practice can be daunting and many of us don't know where to start.

First of all, many of us might ask: is it worth it? Well, if you are feeling the urge to bring more yoga into your life, then of course it is worth it! Everytime you follow your instincts, you come closer to living a lifestyle that allows you to express who you really are. I have had a regular home practice since about 2005. Now, I can hardly live without my yoga - and those who live with me would agree! My regular practice (usually 5 days a week) helps me stay happy, healthy, balanced, and be generally a nice person to be around.

How to create a yoga habit

Building a home practice is like creating a new habit. The good news here is that people are creatures of habit. Just try depriving us of our morning cup of coffee or our 2pm cookie-break and it becomes clear: we gravitate towards our habits, in fact, we crave them. So the secret to creating a home practice is to let yoga become a new habit. Thankfully this is something that people have been researching for years! Read some fascinating insights from a Zen perspective, here.

Step 1: Make it so easy you can't say no
The most critical part of creating a new habit is to make it easy for yourself. For most of us, the idea of taking 90 minutes every day to practice yoga is not easy. So while a 90-minute home practice might be your eventual goal, you won't be doing any favours by trying to make it a habit right away. In fact, trying to do your full goal straight away is one of the top reasons that people fail to make the changes in their lives that they dream of.

So instead of picking something difficult that you will then have a hundred excuses not to do, pick something that is SO EASY YOU CAN'T NOT DO IT. And once you've picked that, REALLY COMMIT to it. The easier you make it, the more certain you will be that you can fulfill your commitment.

My recommendation? 7 minutes. 7 minutes is a perfect amount of time to start out with. It's more satisfying than 5 but not as long as 10. Even the busiest among us can carve out 7 minutes (say, the time we spend staring at Facebook) in our day. Now, you might not be busy - you might be able to immediately commit to 10, 15, or even 20 minutes. But remember that when you're starting out, keep your minimum commitment to something that you can really do. If you do more, great, but make sure you can always do that minimum.

Then, decide what you're going to practice. Again, the key at this stage is not what you do, it's simply doing it. So start with something familiar and easy - perhaps cat and cow, followed by a few sun salutations. Or, choose a short online class and follow along.

Whatever you do, don't give in to negative thoughts! Acknowledge them, let them go, and stick with your plan.

Step 2: Pick a reminder from your daily routine
One of the hardest things about creating a new habit is to remember just to do it! And the best way to do this is not to rely on our fickle human memories, but to make sure that we are reminded.

A good reminder is not the same as a beeping noise from your smartphone. To be really effective, it should be connected to something that you already do in your everyday life, so that your new habit becomes a part of your daily routine.

First, think of the time of day when you would like to practice. For the purpose of forming a habit, it's really helpful if this can be the same time everyday, or at least a scheduled time if your daily routine varies too much. Then, think of other things that you regularly do around that time of day and make a list of the things that you do without fail.

For example, my morning list (without yoga) might look something like this:

- Get up
- Shower
- Make coffee
- Drink coffee
- Check my email
- Have breakfast

Next, decide where you want to insert your yoga practice. For me, it comes after I check my email. If you are able to pick the right spot for your practice and regularise the sequence of events around it, your yoga habit will form MUCH more easily.

Second, when you are starting out, use a strong visual cue that can't be ignored.

For example, when I used to practice in the mornings before going to the office (now I work from home), just setting an early alarm clock was not enough, so I would do 2 things to remind myself to get up for yoga in the morning. First, I would get out my yoga clothes and set them by my bed. Second, I would move my furniture and unroll my yoga mat. Setting the alarm wasn't a good enough reminder for me - I had to a) make it easy for myself and b) give myself a visual reminder that made sure I got on my mat in the mornings.

So, if you want to practice in the morning, you could unroll your mat the night before and set up your yoga space. Or, if you want to practice in the evening, unroll your mat before you leave the house, to remind you to do yoga when you get home.

Step 3: Reward yourself when you stick to it!
Getting a reward is a critical part of habit formation. Your subconscious will be much more likely to stick to your new habit if it knows that a reward is coming. For example, my reward after my morning practice is a nice hot shower and a good, big breakfast. Your reward can be as simple as just saying to yourself: "I did it! I'm awesome!"

Step 4: Take your practice with you, everywhere

The wonderful thing about yoga is that it's so much more than just a few postures or meditation. The practices that underpin yoga are things that you can take with you everywhere. I like to call these things "tiny yogas" - breath and body awareness, being present, taking a few deep breaths, and practicing the yamas and niyamas - things you can do anytime, anywhere.