BUILDING A REGULAR YOGA PRACTICE
Updated: May 29
Table of Contents:
Why and how to build a regular yoga practice?
How to build a regular yoga practice: make it a habit
Why to build a regular yoga practice?
Like any other activity, to receive the benefits behind yoga, the practice has to be regular.
Mozart didn’t become the genius he was by taping on his piano once every blue moon, no he was committed to it and train and train again.
The practice of yoga is no exception to the rule; a weekly yoga class just doesn’t quite cut it. It’s better than nothing to maintain you in a good shape but if you want to tap into all the amazing benefits of yoga and want to build some strength, tone your body and start to see some improvements in your flexibility, a more regular yoga practice should be considered.
Since I teach yoga, I have been able to observe the following phenomenon on several occasions: people take up yoga on a regular basis for few months by coming two or three times a week, begin to see the benefits of a regular practice of yoga, feel better in their body and in their mind and all of sudden, they disappear for one reason or another, such as holidays, illness, change of schedule, etc. And then a few weeks or months later, they return hoping to resume their practice where they left off but are surprised to see that they have lost either strength, flexibility or endurance. At this point, they find themselves demotivated, decide that yoga is not for them and disappointed, stop practicing overnight. Unfortunately, I have seen the same problem repeated over and over again far too many times but yoga is like playing guitar, speaking a foreign language, or any other practice: If you don’t use it, you lose it.
But then, how often should you practice? you will ask me.
This is the wrong question to ask because everyone has a different goal in mind. Maybe you want to feel more relaxed, relieve stress, calm your mind, relieve chronic pain, improve your flexibility, lose weight or build muscle strength…
In addition, everyone has different abilities and not everyone starts from the same starting point.
So the right question to ask is: why did you decide to unroll your yoga mat in the first place? What do you want to accomplish?
Then and only then can you get the best results because you will know why and it will work as a motivator for you.
If I take myself as an example, my why has evolved over the years but I can clearly identify them.
When I started yoga, I was looking for stress reduction and to take time for myself and I practiced once or twice a week.
Very quickly I could see the benefits on my mental and body health and I wanted more. I sought to strengthen my muscles and get back in shape physically. My practice became bigger and more regular and I was going to the studio at least 3 times a week.
Then I sought to learn as much as possible about yoga by trying many different styles and teachers. At that time, yoga became an essential part of my life and I found my cruising speed by practicing 5 to 6 times a week knowing that in 2010, online courses did not exist to my knowledge and I had to do a 30–45-minute round trip metro ride for each class, it was a real dedication. I also spent my holidays in yoga trainings, I was fully dedicated to learning.
And then from the moment I started teaching in 2014 until now, the desire to stay physically and mentally fit is my backdrop on which is added the desire to acquire new knowledge to share it with my students. Today, as I teach yoga full time with a minimum of 18 classes per week, I practice 6 days out of 7 out of necessity but regarding my own practice, it revolves around 5 times per week in the studio or online as far as the physical practice, the asanas.
So my advice is: Think about your why and everything will become clearer and easier for you to find your own practice, your own rhythm. How much yoga and the type of yoga practice depends on what you want to achieve with your yoga journey. You will have and find your frequency in relation to the result you want to obtain.
To talk about what I know, practice and teach, building strength through yoga requires regular practice. If you want to build strength quickly, I recommend practicing yoga (vinyasa or ashtanga yoga) three times a week.
Indeed, if you want to progress faster, a daily or at least more sustained practice of yoga really helps and the easiest way to do that is to create a habit.
How to build a regular yoga practice: make it a habit
To build a regular yoga practice that last in the time, you need to transform this practice into a habit.
A habit is not an easy thing to build from scratch as it requires strategy and willpower. But with a good system in place and targeted actions, it becomes easier and quite achievable.
To support my words, I was inspired by the great book of James Clear ‘Atomic Habits’ which I strongly recommend reading if you want to know more about the subject.
According to him, ‘A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.’ How wonderful would it be to visualize yourself getting on your mat on a regular basis without any objections and difficulties?
1. Create systems
The first thing that James Clear suggest is to create systems instead of creating goals.
Honestly, how many times have you tried to implement a new routine/habit when the new year comes around under the guise of new year's resolutions and find yourself at square 0 after trying to implement all those changes for a few days or even weeks? Yes, I hear you!
The reason behind these failures is simple: by creating goals, the bar is set too high, the changes are too big all of a sudden.
What James Clear advocates instead is:
· First, to create small habits over a long period of time.
We need to stop thinking that massive action will lead to massive success. It is better to make a 1% change in our daily life and stick to it every day for the long term, week after week, month after month than trying to reach the star, feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated and stop doing everything once.
It is difficult for us to recognize this as a reality because we are looking for the immediate result or reward while it takes patience to see the result for small changes in habits.
For example, doing 1 yoga push up (Chaturanga Dandasana) per day does not transform your body but it votes to be the person who does this training (hence the importance of the creation of identity that we will see later).
· Second, to create systems that cause the results in the first place rather than goals.
Why is that you are probably wondering? the answer is simple and based on the motivation (and then the lack of motivation) which is directly linked to the goal to be achieved.
Indeed, once and if the goal is reached/achieved, everything stops, it’s done, the change was just momentary.
For example, if we think of the runner who trains for the marathon: once this is done, the runner stops training, the race is no longer there to motivate him.
And as James Clear puts it: “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building system is to continue playing the game.”
Transferred to the world of yoga, one could say that the goal could be to master the headstand (once that is done, one stops practicing yoga and says goodbye to all the benefits of the practice at the same time) and that the system could be to create a regular yoga practice that would last over time and bring you much better performance.
To create a regular yoga practice, you must become a regular yoga practitioner. Which means you have to embrace that identity and for some it might means changing your identity to that new one.
2. Change your identity
The second thing that James Clear suggest is to change your identity regarding the habit you want to implement in your life.
For instance, if you want to become a regular yoga practitioner, you have to think, do and act like one. You have to embody the version of you who is already the regular yoga practitioner you want to be by getting the beliefs, behaviors and choices in alignment with the version of you who is a regular yoga practitioner.
As James Clear says: “Identity change is the north star of habit change” and it involves a two-step process:
· Decide the type of person you want to be:
If you want to become a regular yoga practitioner to get stronger and fitter, you can say to yourself: I am a yoga practitioner therefore as a yoga practitioner I will practice yoga on a regular basis and maybe one day, I will become stronger and fitter.
· Prove it to yourself with small wins:
Take it one small step at a time and constantly ask yourself, "Who is the yoga practitioner who builds muscle through yoga? What would that yoga practitioner do to get stronger and fitter?
For example: What will a yoga practitioner do to get stronger and fitter? Will he do a yin yoga class once a month? Well, not sure about that… Will he practice a more strength-based type of yoga like Vinyasa or Ashtanga Yoga at least 3 times a week or daily? Yeah, I think that's more like it.
By continuing to do so again and again, you will eventually become that person. Because when you have adopted that identity, you are not pursuing behavior change anymore, you are acting in alignment with the type of person you already see yourself to be.
3. Stick to it and look for the delayed gratification
One of the reasons bad habits persist and last so easily is the immediate reward they provide and our ability to prioritize immediate gratification over long-term one.
Let's take the example of sweet cravings. When you want to eat cakes, sweet snacks or candies, it’s because you know (even unconsciously) that the consumption of sugar and sweet products leads to immediate pleasure. The reason is the secretion of dopamine in the brain (the famous “pleasure hormone” involved in the reward circuit) which provides a feeling of well-being or even happiness at the moment T.
But what happens at T+1 month, 1 year, 10 years?
Well, no more surprise, everyone knows that refined sugar is bad for us and leads to increased blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes and many other unsavory diseases.
Conversely, good habits are just the opposite. The immediate reward of doing physical activity (especially intensive) is not that great, your body may be sore and looks the same, your weight has not changed. But after 6 months, 1 year or 2 years, 10 years, if you stick to this practice, it will first become a healthy habit, a second nature for you and second, it will create a favorable reward for yourself.
You must learn to seek the delayed gratification of showing up and committing to your regular yoga practice day after day so that over time you will feel stronger and stronger.
Yoga is not about the end result, the goal or the destination, yoga is about the process, the journey.
If you only focus on the end result, and you are constantly searching for the dopamine hit, you won’t be consistent and it’s not your fault, it’s just how our brain has been wired. So instead of looking for that external reward, the dose of dopamine for doing something, you instead want to decide that you're more interested in the long-term outcome, in delayed gratification rather than instant gratification. And at that moment, it's a totally different hormone that acts in your brain, it's serotonin and no longer dopamine.
What serotonin does is that it is involved in the regulation of behavior, mood, anxiety, learning as well as motivation and decision making. Who doesn’t want that?
In parallel, if you find this change complicated (and it is!), know that there is an alternative to help you naturally increase your dopamine levels: play sports and engage in physical activity… in other words, the practice of yoga is good in every way!
At this time, it is interesting to ask yourself another series of questions: Why do you want to be consistent in your practice? Where do you want to be a year, 2 years or 10 years from now? And once again (to close the loop): what are the small actions that you can put in place right now?
For a good habit to persist, you have to cling to it, use your willpower, believe in yourself and your ability to evolve without forgetting (and I can't say it enough) that consistency is the key!
The 4 steps to create a habit
According to James Clear, there are 4 distinct stages in creating a habit which he calls “The four laws of behavior change”:
1. Make it obvious
This first stage is a question of designing a favorable environment around the cues. You want to put fewer steps between you and good behaviors and more between you and bad behaviors. You want to set up cues that trigger the brain to create an action
If we stay on the creation of the habit of practicing yoga on a regular basis, it will be a question at this stage of highlighting your yoga equipment. For instance, take out your yoga mat or sportswear as a reminder to practice yoga today.
The action to avoid at all costs here is to make the habit invisible.
2. Make it attractive
In order to make creating a habit easier, the second stage is to make it irresistible or at least more enticing.
When it comes to create the habit of a regular yoga practice, you can treat yourself to a nice yoga mat, comfortable clothes to practice on or create a nice and attractive environment where you want to go and practice.
You can also create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy right before a difficult habit. In our example, it could be lighting an incense stick if you like that just before you roll out your mat to work out, or playing your favorite music at that time, etc.
3. Make it easy
For this third stage, you have to reduce the friction in the environment for the habit you would like to develop which means that you have to decrease the number of steps between you and your good new habits.
For example, for the creation of a regular practice of yoga, it is interesting to take into account the time and the place of practice. It will be easier for you to develop this habit if you practice in the comfort of your home either online or with a private teacher who comes to your home rather than having to take your car and travel miles and miles to practice.
4. Make it satisfying
The fourth and final step is to use reinforcement, to give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit. Try to attach some sort of gratification so that we can make the habit immediately satisfied.
In our example, in addition to the natural glow of yoga that comes after practice, you can indulge yourself with a massage, a good cup of tea or coffee, a moment of rest like reading a book, taking a nap, take a bath or watch your favorite tv show or just add a check mark to your calendar to track your progress and mentally reward yourself.
Don’t forget that habits are the entry point, not the end point: the entry point can be put on your yoga clothes, unroll your yoga mat and open your computer to practice yoga online. If you can master that habit, this little decisive moment, that determine what happens in the next chunk of time, then the rest falls in line and the momentum carries through the rest of the task.
As I often tell my students: 50% of the yoga practice is to make the decision, to prepare yourself and to unroll your yoga. The rest just follows.