They don’t have time, and they assume that one must practice daily in order to be a good yogi. Or maybe they label themselves as beginners, and say it like it’s a bad thing. I can empathize. I’ve been practicing for more than 20 years and I consider myself a perpetual beginner. And that’s a good thing! But I didn’t always see it that way, because like most people I haven’t always been consistent. During my not so consistent years, I felt like a "bad yogi." I was critical of myself, and believed that to be a good yogi I had to practice daily for at least an hour and a half.
While I’d still agree that a lengthy daily practice holds true for being a good teacher, it doesn’t apply to being a good yogi. I mean, what is a good yogi anyway? Does it mean you can do headstands or arm balances for ten minutes? Does it mean you practice pranayama every day for an hour? Does it mean you’re super calm and zen-like all the time? Does it mean you’re perfect? I think not.
A few years ago, I had a disagreement with a friend. She argued that I was a "bad yogi" because I was nothing like I claimed to be, which meant I was not authentic. She said, “This new, yogi, enlightened persona is bull shit.” This upset me, because I never claimed to be enlightened because I practice and teach yoga. Why did she perceive that my love of yoga was a claim to be something I wasn’t? Was I really a bad yogi? Was my passion for yoga and my avid sharing of its many benefits sending the wrong message?
I contemplated my behavior and my reasons for getting upset with her, until I was sleepless over it. Eventually I came to the realization that practicing yoga and embracing its values, doesn’t mean that I claim to be perfect or better than anyone else. When I put on my yoga pants and practice, or I share what I’ve learned with the public, I’m not claiming to be anything but a conduit for this knowledge. Isn’t that what teachers are? We are simply purveyors of knowledge.
I practice because I love it. I feel soulful, humble, whole and happy. Being mindful through yoga has improved the quality of my life and relationships. It’s even helped me realize that some relationships are worth working on and some are not. It also doesn’t matter if I practice for one hour or ten minutes. Judging or labeling only serves to undermine its benefits.
So when people tell me they feel bad because they haven’t practiced or can’t find the time, I tell them I practice in my shower, in front of my coffee maker, in traffic, and even in the line at the post office. At first they look at me funny, but then I share the five ways I make yoga part of my daily life, and how I stopped judging whether I’m good or bad at it.
I fit in yoga for five minutes anywhere and anytime. I roll out of bed and do Downward Dog or Cat/Cow, or maybe I stretch into Eagle Arms while waiting for my coffee to brew. I lunge my way to the kitchen for breakfast or dinner. Sometimes, I backbend over my ottoman during my favorite TV show. I’ve found that five minutes several times a day is just as beneficial as practicing for an hour, once a week.
I practice Pranayama for a few minutes each day. Sometimes, I practice Ujjayi breath at stop lights during my commute, or simple breathing techniques while on the toilet. A few cycles of intentional breathing interspersed throughout the day can reduce stress, and helps to lower blood pressure and regulate mood.
I let go of expectations, at least once a day, and approach life with a playful attitude. In our outcome driven, instant gratification, perfection seeking world, letting go can be really hard to do. It’s not okay for me to let deadlines, projects or the quality of my work slide, but I can let go of other self-imposed timelines and outcomes to encourage self-acceptance.
I try setting goals for an experience I want to have, rather than an outcome. For example, I remind myself to enjoy grocery shopping, in lieu of trying to get it all done in 20 minutes. I even try to let go when I teach. Instead of trying to perfect a difficult pose during a demonstration I approach it playfully, because it’s better if I laugh and smile when I fall on my face. It’s encouraging for my students, too.
I focus on being agreeable, considerate, and friendly toward at least one person who challenges me. I get soft by letting go of labels. I focus on eliminating self-judgement first, and then not judging tends to follow. When I’m compassionate, I feel more optimistic and less stressed about dealing with that person.
I take ten minutes a day for myself. Even if I don’t use it for specific relaxation techniques, such as Savasana or meditation, I take ten minutes to take a walk, sit somewhere peaceful, or just listen to my favorite tunes. Relaxation boosts immune function, and can improve memory function and reduce depression.
These five tips have helped me realize that I am neither a "good" nor a "bad" yogi. I practice. It doesn’t matter when, where, or how, because it’s all for my greatest good.
Photo via iStock