As more people are popping pills for a quick fix to aches, pain, and emotional strain, Science continues to reveal that a few mindful minutes carved out each daywill offer a host of benefits to your health and well being. Here’s how you can find the time.
As a yoga teacher, I am frequently told: “I love coming to yoga class, but I just can’t find the time to practice on my own. And when I do, it’s never the same as coming to class.” As a teacher, I hope that people will realize all of the benefits of this healing practice, and I know from personal experience that the best way to glean the full benefits of yoga is through a consistent daily personal yoga practice. Thousands of years ago, the sage Patanjali said the very same: Abhyasa vairagybhyam tannirodhah — “The peace of yoga is achieved through regular practice and detachment.”
Yes, I am saying you should practice yoga every single day.
Why should you be unrolling your yoga mat every day? We all know that we feel great after yoga, but let’s dig deeper. Science is proving what the yogis have touted for centuries: yoga is a complete healing practice, on all levels of being and existence. Recent studies have shown that regular yoga practice reduces levels of inflammation, which is the body’s way of reacting to pain and illness. This reduction in inflammation eases stress levels in the body and assists the body’s natural ability to heal. At the University of Maryland, researchers looked at 200 breast cancer patients who had never practiced yoga. They had 100 of the patients begin a twice weekly, 90 minute yoga class, in addition to using DVD’s to practice at home between classes. (The other 100 patients had no yoga practice at all). Blood samples were taken to look at cytokines, markers in the blood for inflammation that trigger disease and stress in the body. The researchers took samples from both groups before the start of the new yoga regimen and at the end of the study, and found that those participating in regular yoga practice had lower levels of inflammation in the body than those who did no yoga.
These lower levels of inflammation reveal potential improvements for a myriad of health and wellness benefits. We have known for years that yoga is helpful for decreasing back pain, and well-documented studies have linked yoga with lower blood pressure and improved respiratory function, both correlated with controlling heart disease. Studies have also shown that yoga practice may lead to improvements in depression and anxiety.
But how are we to go about establishing a regular practice?
Many people start off with good intentions to practice regularly, but then find themselves falling short and then giving up. You want to set yourself up for success. First, know that establishing the habit is the hardest part. Once you find the time and establish the rhythm of the practice, making time for a daily practice will be effortless. Second, you don’t have to replicate the studio yoga experience. Just 5-15 minutes a day will be enough to start the habit of the practice and to show you some benefits of the practice. This is key. Everyone has five minutes! Remember, you have total control, and the paradox here is the more time you make for the practice, the more time you will have. As your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure slow down, you will feel less struggle, more flow, and a sense of spaciousness throughout your days.
Here are a few key tips for fitting in a daily practice:
1. Pick a time when you know you can easily dedicate a few mindful minutes to yourself, and keep it short! If you have 15 minutes, that’s great – but if five is all you have, then take it! Maybe your best time of day is first thing in the morning (mine is!). Maybe it’s at lunch during work, or in the evening. If you are a busy mom, maybe you can practice during nap time. Consistency is key, so pick a time you can commit to every day and make a date with yourself. Set your phone as a reminder!
2. The three minute practice. You may find that three minutes spread out throughout your day is more realistic than five or 15 minutes at once. Or, you may be very good at practicing at home, and then find that traveling throws off your routine. Instead, set your phone’s timer (or use a fun Yoga Timer App) and give yourself three minutes. Take one minute to sit and breath deeply, and two more minutes to focus on a few poses. Try this a few times in the day.
3. Set your space. You don’t need fancy statuary and incense. You do need a clear and dedicated space. If it’s at home, clear out a corner just for your yoga mat. Maybe have an inspirational quote or some real or silk flowers. These items can make your practice feel special, and you will find yourself wanting to practice there!
4. Get a buddy! You may need accountability. Ask a friend to join you in your efforts to establish a daily practice. There are Facebook yoga groups you could also join. When we are accountable to another person, we are more likely to stay on task.
Above all… don’t give up!
Even with all these tools, you may still find yourself slipping on your practice. It’s OK. Remember the second part of Patanjali’s practice recommendations: detachment. Don’t fret or stress over your goals: intend for your best, and let life happen. If today’s practice doesn’t manifest, trust that tomorrow’s will. Ultimately, a positive attitude and eagerness of mind will become your greatest practice tools.
What about you guys– do you already have a daily yoga practice?
- Further Reading:
- T. K. V. Desikachar, “Heart of Yoga”