Developing a daily yoga practice deeply changed my life. I say that not only as a yoga teacher, but also as a mom of three and a naturally anxious person. A daily practice is accessible to anyone with the discipline to make it happen. In this blog I explain: why yoga now, how to make your practice manageable, and the top 5 benefits of a daily practice. Developing a daily yoga practice can make you stronger, stand taller, more focused and feel better physically and emotionally.
Why Increase Your Practice in Such A Challenging Time?
While 2021 marks a fresh start, the challenges we faced in 2020 will not recede immediately. If you’ve been waiting to start yoga, exercise or increase your practice until after the pandemic, stop waiting! We have to take the time to breathe, move, focus our minds and rest. This is how we can manage our emotions and energy in the coming year.
Expand Your Definition of Yoga
The first step is to broaden your definition of yoga. A daily yoga practice (for most of us) is not a 60 minute sweaty Vinyasa class every day. Rather, it is breathwork, meditation, and any amount of time spent practicing the asana or postures. Your daily practice could be a mediation session, a couple of Sun Salutations, Chair Yoga stretches at your desk, a 20-30 minute flow, or a full 60 to 90 minute class. Having a shorter practice is better than having no practice at all. As the husband of one of my regular students said, “the benefits to her making the time for her yoga practice outweigh not taking the time to do it.”
It is also important to have a full body practice that works on stretching, opening and strengthening all the parts of the body over time. The opposite would be doing the same practice or, for example, repeatedly focusing on hip opening day after day. Ritual and routine are calming to the nervous system. Make your routine be coming to the mat each day, but varying how you spend your time there. Varying your practice also helps keep your your brain and body engaged, day in and day out. I also think a varied practice is good for 2021 because COVID days can be monotonous. Varying your yoga practice sneaks some fun and spontaneity into your days.
Five Game Changing Benefits of Yoga Every Day
- You feel better physically. Moving your body everyday on your mat will lead to increased flexibility, mobility, and decreased pain and stiffness. Practicing yoga poses with consistency leads to slow but noticeable gains in flexibility. For example, before my daily practice I could not lift my back leg very high in Three Legged Downward Facing Dog pose. Now I can lift it with ease. Poses that you find challenging will become more accessible with consistent practice. Moving and stretching your body daily helps prevent your low back, shoulders, neck, and hamstrings from stiffening. The days I don’t do asana (the physical practice) I am noticeably more stiff and uncomfortable.
- You become stronger. Your body will strengthen and your balance will improve. One of the wonderful aspects of Vinyasa yoga is that it is a full-body practice. We lift the lower back, and engage our core to enter poses, hold them and maintain balance. I recently saw a student who, after a year of practice, was thrilled she could “lower to the mat with control” from a held plank pose. She was now strong enough to do push ups. The more you practice, the more you will flow through classes with ease, stamina and strength.
- You stand taller. One of the physical changes I notice in students with a regular yoga practice is that they have better posture. Yoga helps counteract all our sitting, driving, and screen staring. You will notice more tone and definition in your muscles over time. Yoga also decreases Cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body. High Cortisol levels can lead to weight gain. All this helps you exude confidence.
- You feel better emotionally. The first big change I noticed once I began meditating and practicing asana daily is that I was much calmer and less anxious. Audible, expansive breath in, and extended breath out through the nose, calms the nervous system. Dropping into the place of peace and stillness in Shavasana and meditation create a familiarity with quiet and our calm center. Engaging in physical activity and breath work increases energy levels and lifts your mood as well. The days I practice, it is easier for me to stay calm when problems come up. When my kids are emotional or fighting, I now calmly observe, then engage, rather than let my emotions escalate with theirs. Your emotional benefits might be newfound calm, decreased anger, boosted energy or increased happiness.
- Your focus improves. News, social media messages, work demands and family interruptions constantly bombard us. An important part of a daily yoga practice is carving out space away from these distractions and demands. Both on the mat and meditation cushion yoga is a practice of focusing the mind on one thing and letting everything else go. For me, the practice of focusing the mind in yoga leads to more organization and productivity off the mat. Giving our minds and bodies a break from work and stimuli can also lead to more creativity and better problem solving when you return. One of my students says yoga reduced her “brain fog.”
How To Start Your Daily Practice
They say it takes 30 days to form a habit. Let’s find out! I recommend joining a online 30 day yoga program to experience the benefits of a manageable daily yoga practice. Joining an organized program will provide you the balanced practice I have been writing about. Yoga Next Door offers a one month Yoga Every Day Challenge that draws on the On Demand Class Library. The Yoga Next Door 30 day program is designed to provide participants variety in practice and flexibility in schedule.
Each week includes three full classes, three short classes and a mediation day. You pick which days you practice the recommended flows. For example, do the longer classes on the weekend when you have more time and the shorter ones on busier days. The recommended practices each week and calendar for the month are a thoughtful combination of classes to open, strengthen and balance out the whole body. Another benefit of joining the Yoga Next Door program is you have direct access to the teacher to ask questions and request modifications.
Once you experience the benefits of a more robust yoga practice, the time and motivation to maintain your practice may fall into place more easily. Accept the challenge, try something new and deepen your yoga practice. You won’t regret it!