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All of us have probably noticed by now how much easier it is to do things when we’re in the habit.
When yoga is just the thing you always do on a Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning, you’re in the zone and it’s easy to show up. The longer you keep that habit going—the easier it is to show up for it, and the more impact you feel in the results.
I had my first baby the year I finished yoga teacher training and the year I started my meditation training. So believe me when I tell you: I am an expert at falling out of my well-intentioned habits. But I am also now an expert at the process of clawing my way back into them…weeks and often months later.
When we’ve fallen out of practice it is so hard to get back to it.
Here are the two most important things I’ve learned over my 15 years of practicing yoga, meditation, breathwork, and good nutrition within the messy realities of parenting kiddos who are basically the antithesis to a regular schedule:
The first and most important one is don’t give up. Just don’t give up on yourself.
Part of this is: don’t mistake the short-term reality of falling out of your habit (yoga or anything else) as you having failed or given up.
The other essential aspect of this is: don’t beat yourself up.
You are a human being living in messy real life. Falling in and out of routine is part of life. There is no one who doesn’t do this all the time. In fact, the only reason someone doesn’t experience the frustration of getting into a routine, losing it again, struggling to find a way back…is if they are never trying to do anything for themselves and their health.
The number of times I have had a good meditation week and then didn’t practice for another month…or the number of times I’ve reduced/cut out sugar from my diet only to find myself back in the cake-zone…doesn’t bear counting!
Most of our problem, I think, is our distorted expectations. We think we should be able to stick to a regular habit without slipping or falling off the horse entirely. In my experience, there is a roller-coaster element to life that’s just part of it. Double or triple that if you’ve got small people in your house.
If we simply accept that coming in and out of a routine is part of it, something to be expected, then we can stop being so hard on ourselves when we slip up…again, and often that makes it easier to get back to our practice, which deep down we really want to do for ourselves.
The second thing I learned from years of trying to meditate and practice yoga while also living in the constantly changing reality of having young kids is this: lower your standards! That’s right! Allowing more messiness into your habit/practice is key.
When we stop insisting we must have a quiet, kid-free space to practice, when we stop resisting the reality we are living in, finding a way onto your mat to practice becomes easier (i.e. possible!).
This is equally true when we insist that we must have all the dishes done and the house tidied up and those last emails sent before we can do our yoga, Let’s be real, that’s not ever going to happen, and those standards mean we are never going to practice.
Mindset shifts are total medicine for this problem we all have with sticking to our health care routines.
Instead of wishing (desperately) that you can get a bit more space from your kids, or a peaceful studio-like space to spread out your mat, reimagine the impact you are having as a role model in your house when you spread your mat out at the end of your bed (shifting the piles of not-quite-dirty-yet clothes first) or in the corner of your living room. It’s not only our kids—everyone in our life is much more influenced by what they see us do than by what we say.
Reframe what you are doing when you practice “messy.” You aren’t “making do” with a substandard practice. You are a beacon of light and inspiration in your family! This is true even when it doesn’t feel like it and even when the members of your family don’t realise it. The example you set with your practice is planting a seed that will grow in time.
This “allowing things to be messy” and “lowing our standards” also applies to the amount of time we have to spend on our practice. Instead of not coming to yoga because you really only have 20 minutes, not a whole hour to practice—shift into the mindset that even a few minutes is better than nothing. I love the saying, “Never have a Zero-Sum Week!” In other words, it doesn’t actually matter how much you do, but make sure you do something every week. Showing up for a few minutes is always better than not showing up.
We know from people like James Clear’s Atomic Habits that small doses of any practice over time are scientifically more effective anyway. So don’t wait, telling yourself you’ll put in more effort with your health when things calm down a bit, when the kids are that little bit older, or when you get to that next milestone at work. Just lower your standards and get some messy practice in! (This is what makes live online sessions so great; you can come for just the start of the class, smack dab in the middle, or right at the end for that last few minutes!) Anything is better than nothing.
Ridiculously messy and doing yoga for 15 minutes is better than being perfect but never getting there!
Finally, when you’ve fallen out of the habit, one of the best ways to get some momentum back is a big dose of accountability. You know that feeling when you’re in bed and it’s dark, but you promised your friend you’d go walking/running/swimming with them and they’ll be waiting for you? What are the chances you’re not going to get up and meet them? Close to zero. So find a community, take advantage of live online sessions, find a friend who wants to get a habit going with you. We don’t have to do everything alone with only our grit and waning willpower to sustain us. We can create a support system and backup safety net.
It’s easy to look around us and think other people have these great morning routines, awesome exercise schedules, and wonderful health habits…and that they never slip up.
This misperception can be the lie that keeps us from trying to make things work in our beautiful but messy real lives. Brené Brown has given us the most inspiring mindset shift with her story of the “Man in the Arena.” The reality of being in the arena, of getting involved, of trying, is that we will fall and mess up and fail often.
This is actually what it means to be in the arena and not on the sidelines.
On the sidelines, it’s easy to imagine how it should look, how we want it to look, how it could have been done better.
Stepping into the arena to work our on health—to set up a yoga routine, a meditation practice, a sugar detox, and so on—means sometimes we will miss practice, get sidetracked by laundry, get thrown off by kids’ changing schedules, sleep in, and binge on cake.
And it also means slipping up won’t make us give up on ourselves or our practice.