You’ve experienced the benefits of practicing yoga asana. You’ve felt the relaxation meditation can bring about. You’ve followed a diet for your constitution and acknowledged that eating for your dosha enhances your physical, mental and emotional health. You’ve gotten stressed and instead of allowing the situation to generate anger and frustration, you breathed deeply and were able to let go.
You damn well know that practicing yoga is good for your body, your mind and your spirit. However, developing your personal daily practice, your saddhana, isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. Despite recognizing that a consistent daily practice yields incredible benefits, life gets busy and we forget to practice/we don’t have time to practice/we’re too tired to practice/we’re too sore to practice (the reasoning can become quite extensive). Why is something so good for your entire being so hard to implement? Why isn’t something that brings us health and happiness higher on our priority list?
I’ll admit, I’m guilty. I try to practice every day, but I don’t always succeed. Meditate, pranayama, asana practice, Ayurvedic lifestyle integration – sometimes I sleep in, drink a lot of coffee, let work stress consume me, watch the news and then go to sleep. I ought to fit it in, but I don’t. When I ask myself why I don’t fit it in, the answer is quite clear and it isn’t sensible in the least. In fact, when I say it aloud and I feel a tinge of shame because it’s unfounded and contradictory to my values. Despite knowing how good it is for me to consistently stick to my saddhana, I choose ignorance over health and happiness. I choose to do things that I know will add to the inner chaos rather than calm the hissing snake inside.
So, how? How can we create a stable saddhana? And what can we do to positively influence the permanency of our regular daily practice? We’re attempting to make our practice essential, needed for the benefit of our own well-being – there’s got to be some key steps that make this task more manageable.
Good news, there is. Creating a solid daily practice is very possible and you are capable of fulfilling this undertaking. The following are steps I’ve been taking to encourage the steadiness and effectiveness of my own personal saddhana. I’m hopeful that some might work for you too.
1. Change your thought patterns regarding saddhana.
Stop thinking of your daily practice as something you could do and instead think of it as something you owe yourself. The more we mentally associate our saddhana with well-being the more likely we are to view practicing as an essential component of our health and happiness. Taking care of yourself should be obligatory, not a wishy-washy maybe.
2. Make a practice appointment with yourself every day.
Can’t find the time to fit in your daily practice? I call bull. If we can schedule work meetings, coffee dates, grocery outings, phone calls, hockey practices, we can certainly schedule time to do something that is good for our body, mind and spirit. Quit telling yourself you’re too busy for your saddhana and instead start saying you’re too busy with your saddhana to cram in those stress inducers. Prioritize. Feeling good ought to come before feeling like sh*t right?
3. Create a saddhana sanctuary.
Not going to lie, my personal practice takes place in my living room. It’s not my ideal practice setting but it works. It works because I set the tone, I make it work. I roll out my mat facing east in the morning and west in the evening, I place a few lit candles at the head of my mat, I set up my timer close but not too close, I dim the lights, I shut off the dishwasher/washing machine/dryer (anything that might create a harsh background noise), I always have a cup of tea close, if I’m in the mood I'll put on some mellow music or sounds of nature and I’ll often waft a scent over my head that stimulates whatever I’m needing at the moment (alertness, calmness, playfulness, list goes on and on). This is my sanctuary in my present abode. It’s not grande, magnificent or overly soothing, but it’s what I have and when I set it up in a way that feels right for me it helps me prepare for a stellar practice. Experiment with your sanctuary. Find a space that gives way to natural light, incorporate sights, scents, textures and sounds that make you feel calm and at ease. If you don’t have a private space to work with do your best to eliminate large distractions. Creating a refuge of peace and stillness is important to the development of your daily saddhana. It will encourage the consistency and adeptness of your practice, thereby increasing the chance of practice permanency.
4. Eliminate distractions.
I briefly spoke of this concept in step 3 – turning off noise creating appliances like dishwashers/washing machines/dryers and the like. I also relate this step to step 6, don’t keep cell phones, lap tops, iPads or any other electronics that ring, ding or vibrate beside you. We may possess physical self-control to not pick up the phone if it’s ringing, but the mental self-control may not prove as manageable (we’re often stuck thinking about who’s calling us, why they’re calling us, maybe it’s urgent, and on and on). Those of you with long hair, tie it back out of your face, but still loose – stray hairs can initiate torturous tickling and too tight of a pony can warrant headaches. Wear comfortable clothes that won’t slip, slide or fall - if your shirt is coming off it’s just asking for your immediate attention!
5. Ensure your seat is comfortable.
A comfortable meditative seat is so important for an effective journey inwards. If your butt is going numb, your lower back is throbbing and your hips are cramping up, chances are you won’t be able to focus on anything other than pain and how badly you want to readjust then, let alone everyday. Been there, done that. First off, know that you don’t have to be sitting on the floor in full lotus to meditate. You can take up any position that feels comfortable for you; a cross-legged seat, half lotus, kneeling Seiza position (my personal favorite), you can sit in a chair, you can lie down in Savasana, do whatever feels right for you. If you’re working towards an upright seated position try to ensure your hips are higher than your knees and your vertebrae are aligned, lengthening the spine. Do this by drawing the navel slightly inwards towards the spine, reducing curvature in the lower back, and lifting up through the crown of the head. Prop a cushion, pillow, bolster, shallow foam block, blanket, anything that provides some extra padding, under your sit bones if you’re finding the hardness of the floor distracting (this can also assist in getting the hips higher than the knees). Lastly, build up your meditative practice. Give your back, shoulder and abdominal muscles a chance to strengthen and develop so they can support you in your seat. You may be shocked initially to feel some “ghost muscles” that have atrophied from prolonged time spent sitting in chairs. Keep in mind that a meditative seat is a posture intended for relaxation and letting go. Eventually, we want this position to be effortless and still – eventually. But in the meantime, work on being comfortable so the mental practice of meditation can materialize.
6. Set a timer for your meditation and your practice if you're under a time constraint.
If you've got somewhere to be and you're worried about meditating or engaging in asana for too long, set a timer. It will give you that little extra reassurance you need to practice calmly and without stress. Set a timer, but not a timer on your cell phone, iPad, computer, anything that would ring or flash when a text comes in. Clocks and timers that are just, well, clocks and timers, do exist. Get one and use it for this purpose. This step ties into the fourth step. Don’t let your modifying mind tell you that your cellphone is your only timer. It’s a distraction. So, eliminate it. Set yourself up for success.
7. Take time to reflect post-practice.
For example, ask yourself:
Was it difficult to initiate your practice?
Were you able to quiet your mind at all during meditation?
How did you feel physically in meditation, was your seat comfortable?
Did you practice pranayama? Did it bring about any sensations?
How was the transition from meditation to asana?
Were you able to connect your breath to your movements?
Did time move slowly or quickly while you were practicing?
Did you experience ease in savasana?
Ponder it, journal it, speak it, whatever works for you. Just find a way, any way, to reflect on your practice, to feel the echo of your practice and to contemplate how you’re feeling post-practice. Doing so will help you better understand how your saddhana is benefitting you and also if there’s anything you could do differently to enhance your personal practice.
8. Tell a friend about your intention and your practice outcomes.
It happens to us all, our good intentions can be faded out by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. My desire to practice every morning can easily be overpowered by an amped-up work load, which causes me to stay up late and subsequently sleep in. It never hurts to tell a family member or friend of your aspiration to practice each day. In telling someone your intentions, you’re not only self-accountable to keep your word, but you’re enticed to prove you’re capable of carrying through with the task - they’re holding you accountable as well. On a side note, it’s always nice to have someone to discuss yoga with. After all, yoga is a discipline littered with ambiguous questions that have subjective answers. A conversation about objective yoga realities can be hugely relieving.
So, there they are. Eight interventions, which I’ve found contribute to the consistency and efficiency of my daily saddhana. If even one sentence of this article helps you solidify your practice, I’m a happy yogi. There are more ways no doubt, many more ways to help you stick to your daily practice. If you’ve discovered a trick of the trade I’d love to listen as I’m always looking for new methods to strengthen my intention of daily practice. Please feel free to share in the comments section below!
Here’s to hoping your yoga practice is stimulating, lovely and light. Best wishes always. Namaste.
The honest learnings and raw reflections of my practice and my life. Unedited.