One of the greatest lessons I learned during yoga teacher training was how to maintain a consistent and fulfilling home yoga practice. I rarely practiced in the morning before I went to India (especially not before breakfast!) but by the end of my four weeks, my morning practice became as important to me as brushing my teeth. I wasn’t fully awake without it.
I can hardly believe I’m saying this but aside from a few early travel days, I’ve practiced every single morning – usually before sunrise – since I returned from training.
Usually when I tell my friends this, they either look at me like I’m a masochist or tell me they can’t believe how disciplined I am. To be honest, though, neither is true.
In fact, it’s the exact opposite. If I were forcing myself to wake up before dawn every day just because I thought it was the right thing to do, I promise I would have stopped a long time ago. Or found found some other way to rebel. I wouldn’t be doing this unless I truly wanted to.
So how did I start wanting it? And how can you do the same? Here are some of the mental and physical rituals I use every morning to keep myself grounded and excited to take the mat.
Make the space sacred.
The first thing I do after rolling out of bed (literally, even before I pee) is light a stick of incense and a candle. This simple gesture immediately shifts the energy in my room, which is especially important since my practice room also happens to be my bedroom.
Once I finally do return from the bathroom, I am welcomed by a cheerful flickering glow and a waft of sandalwood. These two little friends of mine create peace and hold it in my space for me. All I have to do is come down to their level.
Prepare the night before.
If I opened my eyes to see a floor covered in dirty clothes and laptop chargers, I can guarantee I’d close them right back up. Getting my space ready ahead of time eliminates the reasons for my sleepy brain to argue when the alarm goes off.
I lay out my mat and yoga gear the night before. I keep my room picked up and remove as many distracting knickknacks as possible. My house is cold in the morning, so I set out a pair of warm socks and a space heater. I make it as cozy and welcoming as possible so that when I wake up, it’s automatic.
Cover up the clock.
Time is one of those anchors that does nothing but pull me out of the present moment. When I have a clock in my line of vision, I find myself making judgments like “I’ve been practicing for 15 minutes, I should be on the floor series by now,” or “My sun salutations only took 8 minutes today so I must have rushed them.” That stuff doesn’t matter and isn’t true.
Lately I’ve started throwing a t-shirt over the clock on my desk before I start and it’s made a huge difference in my focus. I want my practice to be guided by how I feel, not by how long it took yesterday.
If you’re worried about being late for your next appointment, you can always set set a gentle 10-minute alarm. But to be honest, an even better plan would be to…
Rearrange your daily priorities.
For the first few months of my job, I found strange pleasure in being one of the first people in at the office. There wasn’t anything in particular I needed to do in the morning, but I just loved arriving while things were quiet. Once it became my routine, I felt a weird obligation to continue – almost a fear that I would seem lazy if I didn’t. Stupid!
After my India trip, as I was thinking about how I could fit my yoga practice in before work at 7:30, I realized I couldn’t, but also that I didn’t need to. The reasons I was coming in early had nothing to do with my own priorities. They were arbitrary and routine, so I said “Screw it!” and decided to start coming in at 8:30 instead.
Yes, it’s true that I’m lucky to work at an office where my hours aren’t strictly mandated, but this approach of organizing your priorities around your life rather than your job can be adopted by anyone in any career. It’s just a matter of getting real with yourself and deciding where you want to place your energy. This is your life!
In order to make a daily yoga ritual become enjoyable and nourishing, it’s important to release attachment to desired outcomes. In other words, it’s important to decide that no matter what your practice looks like, it will still be worth it.
I can’t emphasize this enough. More than ANY of my other tips, this mindset shift has had the biggest impact on my motivation. It also took the longest for me to embrace.
I can’t tell you how often I used to let myself think, “Well if I don’t have time for full hour-long practice, why practice at all?” or “If I have to skip inversions then I might as well skip the whole thing.” That’s the perfectionist talking, and perfectionism is a motivation murderer.
If an hour-long seated meditation is what you’re feeling today, then go for it. If you want an extra long savasana, soak it up. This is your playtime – the ONLY chance you have ALL DAY to spend time with just yourself and intentionally resist all the other stuff that floods your mind throughout the day. Trust me, for better or worse, once you get used to this “me time,” you’ll wonder how you ever functioned without it.
But just to reiterate, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to release expectations. Even as I’m reading this, I’m realizing how many judgments skidded through my mind during my practice this morning. This is something I’m constantly working on, and probably always will be.
Get clear on your purpose.
[Now entering woo woo territory.] The most powerful piece of advice I can give about creating a consistent yoga practice (or any practice) is to ask yourself why you want it. Dig deep and be honest.
A year ago, my answer would have been all about my physical body – getting in shape, increasing my flexibility, getting in a workout because it’s the healthy thing to do. Now that I better understand meditation and how it impacts the outcome of my day, my practice is more about bringing me reach to that peaceful, meditative state. Both are just fine, and regardless, it’s important to keep these intentions at the front of your mind (or maybe on a Post-It note) so you can return to them when life starts spinning.
This is the time to remove the “shoulds,” comparisons and restrictive mindsets. In my experience, the only way I could have stuck with this morning routine is if it were truly making my soul happy, not just my ego, and not just my body.
A few more rapidfire tips:
- Drown out distracting sounds with a white noise player.
- Wash your face and brush your teeth before practice. You’ll feel much more awake.
- Put a sign on your door before you start, or tell your roommates your plan ahead of time.
- If it’s tough to get going solo, wrangle a friend to join you (at your separate homes). Maybe even text each other in the morning for extra motivation.
- If coming up with poses feels daunting, start by choosing four or five that feel great and just do those. Your body will tell you what it wants to do next.
- Keep poses you enjoy on your “playlist.” This will help you feel compelled (rather than obligated) to roll out your mat.
What helps you keep consistency in your life, both on and off the mat?