Yoga is a practice best done every day.
I need to continually remind myself of this.
I need to literally nag myself many times a day to practice. Sometimes the nag wins, sometimes she doesn’t. For me, the Do One Pose—Today concept works. It feels possible, plausible, even in the midst of seeming chaos. Many of you responded positively to the blog, and I continued to nag at you, my Facebook friends and likers for a week or two, to do your daily pose. Of course then, as usual, life got in the way, and I felt I was being a little too haggy naggy. So I stopped.
Yet. I am back. Yoga Nag’s summer vacation and silence is over.
Do your pose. Today. Even better, do your pose every day. For 40 days.
Seriously, try it. There are so many reasons to create daily regularity in your practice. We know that doing something daily across a period of time can make or break habits. There are debates about the number of days required. This naturally changes with the intensity of the habit you are trying to form or curb. For example, drinking eight glasses of water a day is likely easier to ingrain than an hour-long home yoga practice every day.
A small psychology study from 2009 saw the plateau for habit forming at 66 days, a little over two months. The thing is, there are a lot of ideas out there for how long it takes to change our behavior. Some say 21 days; some follow the cycle of the moon and say 28 days; the Kundalini yogis say 40 to change a habit, 90 days to confirm it.
Personally, I like 40 days. It feels way better than 66, just shy of one devilish six. Perhaps it is the drama girl in me, linked to the Biblical rain for 40 days and 40 nights, as I seek full destruction to set out on my new ark alone with all of my carefully paired partners and habits. Or perhaps it is because it is the highest number ever counted on Sesame Street.
The truth is 40 days has worked for me.
About three years ago, when I had fairly small children, a daughter in third grade, and twin boys in first, my husband was going to be away on a work trip for over a month. At the time, I was mostly a stay-at-home so the family scheduling and juggling was not as extreme as it could have been. Yet, I am not the most elegant single parent in the world. I tend toward drama when left to my own devices. I was anxious about being the only hands on deck. On that first night, after all of the kids were in bed, I unrolled my husband’s extravagantly big yoga mat in the middle of our kitchen. I turned on some Snatam Kaur. I turned down the lights. And I started to practice.
I had rarely practiced yoga at home, just a pose here or there, mostly trying to get to one or two classes a week. That was all the exercise I did, besides the movement of life raising children and keeping house and garden. About 25 minutes in, following the cues of my body through an odd array of poses with significant intensity and a tendency for over effort, I placed my hands under my feet in a forward bend, padahastasana, and let my head hang. I began to cry. First, little drips, and then big sobs welled up from deep in my belly.
I kept my hands where they were. I stayed in my pose and continued to cry. It felt great.
There was something about that pose: the complete circuit of it and rest it was allowing me after a brief, but heavy, and awkward practice. Within that pose I felt something new, allowing myself to just be, to be there, where I was at that moment. The little me inside was feeling nurtured and understood. Understood that I needed to hang my head, even pout slightly, that I needed to rest, but that I also needed to work first to be able to rest. I knew at that moment I was approaching my husband’s absence differently than I had before.
I knew at that moment, in this simple experience in this very short period, a flurry of shifts had happened inside of me, and that the pile of angst I was feeling had been at least partially released.
I moved into child’s pose and the sobs stopped. The house was quiet. I could hear the hum of the refrigerator. I could feel my body in my kitchen. I could feel the sweetness of this home we had created. I imagined our children cozy in their beds. I remembered my husband away, feeling him missing us yet proud to be doing the work he was doing. I felt so much.
I felt clear, still and capable.
These feelings, combined with the albeit clumsy power of giving myself yoga in my house, all by myself, was overwhelming. I knew I was taking care of myself. I rolled onto my back for savasana, which I had never in my life done alone in my house on a yoga mat.
That night as I was going to sleep, I knew what I needed to do. I promised myself yoga every night my husband was away. I actually hoped I would have a similar bout of tears the next night. I knew I was onto something important, something that felt good and would help me as I made my way through my month as a single mom. I said to the undisciplined girl inside who likes to be in charge, “I am going to do yoga every night until my husband comes home.” You see, there is another little person inside who likes to feel this way and who wants this.
The miracle is that I did it. I practiced yoga every night. Some practices lasted 2 hours, some 20 minutes, some were self-taught, which is a wonderful experience in itself, and some were Yoga Glo driven. Every night, I rolled out that mat after the kids went to sleep and did yoga. And I kept doing it even after he came home. I made it 40 days straight. This process dramatically altered my usual husband-is-away behaviors and mood. And really, it was much more than that. In those 40 days, I became a yogi. I became committed to the practice, and I saw what regular practice can do for my body, my heart, my mind, and yes, even my spirit. It was major transformation. I mean major.
So that is my tale, my reason for the 40-day time frame, and my reason to practice yoga every day. It worked for me. I am not insisting on a 20-minute to 2-hour practice. You can start smaller. Commit to doing one pose a day for 40 days.
Do your pose really well, with intention and care, giving yourself time to build the pose and to really sit in it, seriously, for 6-10 full breaths. (And do the other side, with same intention and care.) Follow your body’s lead if/where it wants to take you from that pose—what a bonus!—and see what happens. I fully believe if you do this, it will change your relationship to yoga and your practice. More importantly, it is likely to transform your body, your mind, your spirit and maybe even your life.
Try it. What do you have to lose?
Start today. Start with a pose you love. This is usually a good place to start, a pose that makes you feel good, that makes you feel awesome, whether that is strong or at ease or both. Do this pose every.single.day. If you do more, great. If you don’t, great. Keep doing your pose. If you miss a day it is okay, just keep going as if you didn’t. Some people believe you have to start the count down all over again. I find that to be unnecessarily punishing and unproductive. Alternately, you could extend your time, adding a day at the end for the one you missed. Or if you missed two, or three.
The key is not to beat yourself up, just keep going, keep doing your pose, keep practicing your yoga.
I hope to poke back at you in the next week or so with more suggestions and thoughts. Yoga Nag, at your service.
In the meantime: Do one pose. Every day.
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Assistant Ed: Dana Pauzauskie/Ed: Brianna Bemel