Summertime, and the living was l-a-z-y… Does that sound familiar? Somehow, when it’s sunny outside, the allure of our indoor exercise regime dips, doesn’t it? Rather get a bit of extra vitamin D than hit the mat or the gym. I know I’m guilty of it myself, swapping my usual twice-a-week sessions at yoga class for extra-long walks or swims in the sea.
Well, if you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ll know what it’s like occasionally to lapse. There’s generally a lot of self-reproach that goes on, sometimes a feeling you’ve ‘blown it’, so what-the-hell: why not head straight for the biscuit barrel…? It can be the same with exercise – especially if summer’s left you feeling healthy, and you’re not necessarily panting for it like a dog with a lead in its mouth.
So: rather than be derailed completely, here are some of the tips I’ve learned for – in my case – helping myself to get back on track, yoga-wise. (They could almost equally apply to anyone who goes to a gym.) I liken it to meditation: when the mind wanders, we’re encouraged simply to refocus and begin again. If you fall away from your practice, just come back again. In fact, these are practical ideas – adapted from my book Yoga for Life (which you can of course find here on VH) for getting your exercise mojo back again – not just in this season of ‘back-to-school’, but anytime you hit the ‘slumps’.
Reward yourself with your absolute favourite postures. If you’re practising at home, you can coax yourself back into a regular practice with the moves you love the most. If it was me, I’d go for Downward Dog, Wide-Legged Forward Bend, Lying Twist, and Savasana, which is basically just lying down and relaxing. Far, far better than doing nothing at all, and when you feel energised (and yes, less guilty) after doing these, you’ll almost certainly find yourself ready to go forward with more difficult poses. (And if you’re a gym bunny? Get back in there and start by using your favourite machines.)
Set manageable goals. Five, ten, 15 minutes of yoga a day can be all it needs to get you back into your regime, provided you stick to it regularly. Even if you simply lie on your mat and breathe deeply, it’s enough to get you in the ‘yoga zone’. If you used to make it to several classes a week and it’s bothering you that you can’t get there that often, drop into a class or to the workout studio once a week, and pat yourself on the back for making it.
Try a different class. Maybe it’s boredom that’s stopping you picking up where you left off. Maybe you feel like you’ll scream if you go through the exact same sequence one more time. (That’s not exactly the state of mental acceptance that yoga is supposed to inspire, but we’re all human.) Checking out a new teacher, or a new centre in a different part of town can often be a great way to get your yoga mojo back again. Variety is truly the spice of yoga life.
Maybe even try a beginners’ class. If you’re finding your regular class challenging after a break, be kind to yourself and take it down a notch or two. You can catch up and enjoy the practice instead of feeling like you’re being over-challenged, and it can restore your confidence.
Get over the idea that you’re ‘too busy’ for yoga. Plenty of busy people find the time for yoga. Personally, I have a deal with myself: I am never too busy to do yoga. In fact, I am never too busy not to do yoga, because without it I can’t deal with my many and varied responsibilities. On the mornings when I do yoga, I have the clarity to sail smoothly and in a considered way through the challenges of the day. (I sometimes feel it’s like putting on blinkers in terms of helping with my focus.)
If your teacher leaves, look for a new one fast. My yoga ‘breaks’ have almost invariably come about when a favourite teacher left town and moved away, or stopped to start a family. It’s really, really easy to get out of the habit of going to class when that happens, so my advice is immediately to start looking around for an alternative, trying on a few classes/teachers for size, if necessary. Otherwise a week becomes a month becomes a year, before you know it.
Make yoga ‘dates’ with a friend. If you promise to go to a class or to the gym with a friend, you won’t just be letting yourself down if you go, you’ll be letting him/her down. (However, if they cancel, stick with your intention.)
Try a little music, to inspire you. Stimulating beats can boost energy; meditative sounds can make you calm; drums can ‘ground’ you when you’ve got a case of ‘head-frazzle’.
Treat yourself to some new props. We all love a gadget (even when apparently seeking to live a more minimalist, possession-free life…) A yoga belt can help with leg openings; a big inflatable physio-ball can enable you to sit and find your ‘center’, improving posture; a new yoga or workout DVD can open your eyes to a new style or technique you haven’t tried before.
Sign up for a yoga conference or workshop. These can be great for getting you out of your comfort zone (it is often the too-comfortable-ness of that zone that dulls our passion for yoga), by exposing you to new ideas, new teachers, new styles. Open your eyes and widen your horizons, and you will almost certainly return to your mat with new commitment.