The benefits of a consistent yoga practice have been well documented and discussed.
- Increased flexibility.
- Increased muscle strength and tone.
- Improved respiration, energy and vitality.
- Maintaining a balanced metabolism.
- Weight reduction.
- Cardio and circulatory health.
- Improved athletic performance.
- Protection from injury.
Then we have the ‘other’ benefits such as:
- Boosts immunity.
- Helps manage stress and anxiety
- Increased awareness and mindfulness in daily life
- Better relationships.
- Sleep better.
- Accessible for everyone
In these days and times, there are MANY types of yoga to choose from. And on top of that, there are many different yoga teachers, each with their own style. A wise teacher once told me, “not every yoga teacher is for every student nor every student for every teacher.” I think this applies to both teachers and types of yoga. It can be daunting to find the place, person and style that best suites you but if you stick with it, it is worth it.
I want to introduce you to a concept that is not uncommon in some styles of yoga but may not be one you are aware of. The idea of doing the same poses in the same sequence each time you practice. This is the cornerstone of Ashtanga Yoga and Bikram styles. As Patabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga states, “Practice Practice, all is coming.”
For many, myself included, doing the same thing every time started off as a bore. But trust me, if you stick with it and to it, you might be surprised, I was. Practice, practice, and it will come.
“After a decade of being a yoga tourist, I changed the way I practice yoga. Three years ago I began practicing very consistently. The same sequence of 20 poses, at the same time of the day, in the same place 6 days a week. The shifts in my practice, and the way I’m living my yoga off the mat, are night-and-day compared to the yogini I was even a few years ago, when I had a strong daily practice, but no real consistency.”
For her, and for me, this has been one of the most amazing discoveries along the path of yoga. She eloquently outlines three benefits she found and that I have personally found in having a consistent yoga practice:
1. It Takes Willpower and Decision-Making Out of the Equation
When you have a wide variety of classes that you could go to, at a handful of studios, all with full rosters of teachers, the task of just picking which class and what time you’re going can become a bit of a chore.
By cutting down the choices to one sequence at the same time every day, you don’t have to think about it. You know exactly when, where, and how you’re practicing yoga. Every single day. The freedom in making this choice once, instead of a bunch of choices every week, is awesome.
2. You Can Monitor Progress, and Change on the Mat
By doing the same poses daily, you give yourself a chance to watch how your practice is progressing and changing over time. As a yoga tourist, you may do back-bending poses two days in a row and then not again for three weeks. It can be tough to move forward with certain postures unless you’re revisiting them often.
Almost all yoga poses have many layers to them: there is no perfect pose, there is no being “done” with a pose. Just when you reach a new level of strength or flexibility, a whole new echelon unfolds for you. By practicing a carefully sequenced set of poses day after day, you give yourself the opportunity to really understand and open up into those poses.
Bonus: when you do go to a workshop or a different class every once in a while, you’ll be pleased with how much your entire practice has changed. Daily repetition of a handful of poses will easily translate into depth and openness in poses that use the same strengths and flexibilities.
There are hundreds and hundreds of yoga poses, but there are only so many joints and muscles in your body to build up and stretch out.
3. It Provides a Touchstone for Your Life Off the Mat
This is maybe my favorite, and certainly most life-changing, part of a consistent practice. By returning to your mat daily to go through the same sequence of poses, you create a point of reference for everything else happening in your life.
You can more deeply understand the impact of a change in your diet (or even just a night of pizza and wine) because you have something to measure it against. You will have more clarity around the quality of your sleep and when you feel fatigued versus energized. Emotionally, you become more even-keeled because there is a common thread through your days and weeks and months that ties things together.
I struggled in the beginning with both Bikram and Ashtanga. These two yoga styles repeat the same series of poses in every class. I mentally, more than physically, became challenged with the same sequence every time I stepped on the mat. But the more I stuck with it, the more I began to notice a shift; just like Kelly noted above. I didn’t have to listen so intently to the instructor and the verbal cues, I knew what was coming next so I could focus on my transition, my breath and on how my body was feeling.
As I progressed, I also noticed how my body and my postures were changing, deepening. I could really feel and understand the cues that the instructor was giving and translate them into my expression of each pose.
My practice also became much more meditative. I moved. I breathed. I could increase awareness on my practice. Just me on my mat.
I was able to begin a home practice and feel confident in what I was doing. This one for me was the ‘aha’ and the key piece to the regularity, the consistency, that was missing in my practice. I did not have the time or access to attend a studio class regularly. Once I was able to know the flow, feel confident and successful with in it and with it, my practice went to a whole new level.
Each morning, I do my poses. I can do them anywhere. I flow. I breath. I pause. The FREEDOM that gave me was liberating, empowering and enlightening. In a life that is already full of plans, schedules, responsibilities and decisions, the consistency of my practice is a cornerstone of my sanity.
For all of us, it’s about living our best life, and being the best version of ourselves possible. Maybe yoga provides that for you. Maybe it’s something else. If it’s not yoga, perhaps you should give it a try?