In 2015, after teaching part-time for three years, I decided to make the leap and become a full-time yoga teacher. While I loved the shift in focus of my life, by the end of that year, I was disenchanted with teaching and found myself robotically, mindlessly, offering sequences and intentions for practices that felt more like doing what I had to do to make ends meet instead of laboring with passion and love. I dropped back to part-time teaching, aiming to develop my own practice and uncover more pieces of myself that might expand the horizon of what I could offer my students. It worked. I typically did yoga five days a week, at a wide array of studios and for myself at home. I took bigger breaths. I read more about yogic philosophy. I travelled. Teaching began to feel like a privilege again. Now, I find myself with an incredible opportunity to teach-full time once more, and as I begin down this familiar road, I am trying to learn from my past mistakes.
Now, back to the hips and that time you found yourself bawling in Sleeping Pigeon Pose after ten minutes. Okay. The hips are home to the largest ball and socket joints in the body which interact with seventeen to twenty-five different muscles depending on who you ask. Sitting for long periods of time (as many of us are want to do these days) shortens the hip-flexor muscles including the psoas, rectus femoris, and sartorius as well as the hip-rotators including the piriformis, and gemellus and obturator muscle groups. Muscles that originate from the hips attach at the pelvis, lumbar spine, sacrum, and all the way down to the femur. Tight or underdeveloped muscles can cause chronic pain, spasms, and knots, and reduce blood flow and oxygenation. Make no mistake, tightness in the hips can destabilize the spine and negatively affect core strength. From a simple mechanical perspective, regularly stretching the hips has indisputable benefits whether you are trying to maintain basic mobility or training as an elite athlete.
Once you have answered the question: to yoga or not to yoga in the affirmative, the next consideration is when. Busy lives, hectic schedules, and the knocking of the unexpected on the door of your carefully cultivated calendar should tell you anytime you can make it to the mat is the right time. Your body and mind will reap the benefits of a practice no matter when you do it. That said, morning practices have different benefits than evening practices both physiologically and mentally. This doesn’t mean you can only choose one. Perhaps your schedule is varied. Consistency is the key to sustainability, however. According to one study, it takes about two months of repeated behavior for action to root in the body as habit. So, reach towards your ideal schedule, let life happen, and stay flexible. When you are considering when to practice, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:
When I first started practicing yoga, I treated it like an all-or- nothing physical experience and approached it the same way I approached ballet and running: I had not satisfied my purpose until I was beat up, exhausted, drenched in sweat, my feet literally bleeding through my shoes. Being barefoot on the mat, making unfamiliar shapes slowed me down, but yoga was another physical, exercise-oriented activity. I did not conceive of yoga as a counterpoint to my rigorous routines; it was an additional source of passionate heat to add to my athletic fire. After a couple of years of practice, one teacher training, and some major life transitions in my relationships, my habits, and my career, I lost the joy of making it to the mat.
This Yoga Love Affair: A Collage of Views on How to Keep Your Yoga Practice Sustainable Over One Year
As the chill of December ushers in the close of another year, it is a fitting time to reflect on habits, routines, resolutions, and aspirations. Where did your yoga practice take you this year? What were the elements that kept you coming back to the mat? If you are just beginning to explore yoga, what have you found that makes you curious about cultivating a regular practice? Even after seven years of practicing and teaching, my relationship with yoga runs hot and cold. I know that I love it, that because of yoga I see my life through lenses that were previously unavailable to me, and that I would not be the same person without it, but I still resist my mat. There are times when I want space from my practice in the same way I crave space from a lover: Baby, I want you, but I just don’t want to play today. I don’t have it in me to work this hard right now. I am still exploring what it means to keep this practice sustainable – for one year, and yes, for a lifetime. To help offer some strategies for the rest of us, I asked several amazing yogis who make the practice their livelihood how they keep faithfully coming back to the mat in the 365-day cycle of a year:
Gratitude is a remarkable sentiment to incorporate into our lives every day. With Thanksgiving, a day of graciousness and gluttony fast-approaching, now is a fitting time of year to reflect on how we as teachers hold space for giving thanks. During the holiday season, it is easy to get complacent and teach from obvious, well-intentioned metaphors that are beautiful to say, but more complicated to present authentically. I cannot help but reflect on the many Thanksgiving-themed classes have I attended wherein the teacher tells me to open my palms to the world, to give and receive, and then follows with a practice seeped in heart-openers.
I have heard most yoga teachers I know, at one point or another, say something along the lines of, “I have been teaching so much, I haven’t had time to practice.” This statement usually precedes weeks or months of the dreaded but all-too- familiar malaise of yoga-teacher- burnout. In professions in which holding space and giving to others is paramount, such as teaching of all kinds, caregiving, public interest work, social justice, medicine, counseling, and so forth, the threat of offering so much there is nothing left in the tank is a constant occupational hazard. When burnout happens among yoga teachers, however, there are additional layers of expectations and stereotypes that must be overcome. Just because yoga fosters calm, relaxation, and balance in students does not mean that teachers reap the same benefits simultaneously. Second, just because a person teaches yoga does not mean it is easier for that person to recognize and confront the signs and symptoms of burnout.
Think back to why you first took a yoga class. To rehabilitate an injury, perhaps, or as way to counter stress? Because you needed some exercise? Because it just sounded fun? What was your “aha!” moment in which you realized there was change that lasted long after the practice was over? What are the transformations that keep you coming back to the mat?
Sound therapy practitioner and meditation teacher Sara Auster explains how yoga and sound therapy can work in a variety of ways.
How many times at the beginning of a class has a teacher stood up and said, “You made it to your mat. The hardest part is over.” Yes and no. Many barriers to students finding a steady practice schedule are practical: time, cost, and convenience. There is a growing body of research to suggest, however, that the key to students finding a sustainable practice runs deeper than managing logistics; it cuts to the heart of what differentiates yoga from other exercise choices. Students are more likely to return to class when they find a connection to a teacher’s holistic presentation of the mental and physical aspects of yoga.