MOVEMENT, SOUL

MY JANUARY CHALLENGE + TIPS FOR DEVELOPING A MORNING PRACTICE

Crow pose

I don’t really like the concept of New Year’s resolutions.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the concept of personal development and creating goals to support that. My issue with “New Year’s” is the time.  I like to think resolutions can come at any time and are not just waiting for a new year. Sometimes I make resolutions at the start of a new month or during a full moon. Sometimes I write them down and sometimes I just keep them to myself. My point is that a new year is not needed for resolutions, they can come whenever I feel the need to set a new goal.

Recently I’ve been faced with a problem I’ve labeled practice fatigue, or a disillusionment and boredom with my own personal yoga practice. At the beginning of quarantine, back in late March 2020, I found myself thrown into a rather athletic and intensive version of my personal yoga practice. I practiced every morning, usually early like around 7, for an hour at a time, and often included strength building drills like dolphin pushups or downward dog knee tucks. I was extremely diligent and felt strong and accomplished after almost every single session.

Childs pose
Childs pose

Something changed in me over the summer and fall, however, and my personal practice felt less like an exciting workout and more like a daily chore like making my bed or doing laundry. As a yoga teacher, this was incredibly frustrating as I constantly pressure myself to set a personal standard of practice and yoga skill development.  Simply put, the best yoga teachers are also the best yoga practitioners. However, it was a struggle to just drag myself to my mat and often times when I eventually made it there, I found myself staring at my mat, my mind wandering.

Halfway lift
Halfway lift

So in the spirit of the new year and my personal goal to recommit to my practice, however that may look, I have developed a challenge for myself for the month of January.  I would like to commit to 20 minutes of a personal practice every morning and then journal about my experience and how my body feels on any given.  My goal is to commit to every day in January and then reflect on my experience and use that to inform my practice moving forward.  To keep myself from feeling uninspired, 20 minutes is allowed to look however I want it to. The goal is just showing up and creating the habit.

A morning practice benefits me in a lot of ways. The first, and most notable, is it makes me aware of my body. Usually if I ran the day before or had a particularly strenuous workout, I am sore and can focus my practice on stretching and relaxing those muscles. I have found that stretching those muscles gently in the morning actually lessens my soreness throughout the day. Another benefit of my morning practice is the feeling of motivation and accomplishment that it gives me. Prioritizing myself and my physical and mental bodies first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. I am much more productive and much more motivated to continue good habits throughout the day. Finally, I am learning to love the fluidity of my morning practice. Some days are much more energetic than others. Some days I spend my 20 minutes meditating and stretching my hamstrings.  But each day is different and with every morning, I am excited to discover how that difference is reflected on my mat.

The emphasis is on just showing up. I selected 20 minutes for myself because I think it’s a comfortable time for me personally to commit to.  I invite you to integrate a similar challenge, no matter how long or for how many days, simply for the experience. Whether it be 5 minutes once a week (my 5 minute energizing yoga flow is a great way to wake up) or an hour of meditation every morning, try something new for the sake of discovering something amazing.  Below, find my top tips for integrating and staying consistent with a morning yoga practice.

Hero pose
Hero pose

Helpful for developing a morning practice:

  • Allow light into the room

I live in an area where winter is the longest season and usually the sun doesn’t come up until at least 8 am.  Despite my own personal preference to burrow in my blankets and keep my blinds shut, opening my blinds and allowing natural light into the room has a significant effect on my mood and on my motivation to get out of bed. In fact, multiple studies have proven that exposure to light in the morning actually leads to lower stress throughout the day and improves sleep at the end of the day. (Article here for more information on the benefits of natural sunlight in the morning)For me, seeing natural light in the morning motivates me to get out of bed and start moving.

Forward fold
Forward fold
  • Have some water prior to practice

I recently made the commitment to drinking more water throughout the day. This starts in the morning, usually first thing.  Since I am asleep for at least 6 hours straight, I am incredibly dehydrated when I wake up. While my inclination may be to reach for coffee for energy, I actually feel like I have more energy and am more alert when I drink a glass of water first thing.  Of course, I don’t chug water first thing because if I have too much, I feel full and bloated.  I recommend starting with drinking a small cup of water, first thing, and notice any difference in your body.  (Article here for more information on water consumption in the morning)

  • Set away any distractions

I try my best to limit my phone and screen time throughout day because I don’t like the distractions from my work and productivity. This is especially emphasized in the morning because I can get easily distracted and fall down some Twitter rabbit hole and lose the time I have set aside.  I have remedied this by setting a no phone before 10 am rule. Sometimes there are exceptions, but I have found my ability to focus and prioritize my time much stronger when I keep my phone on Do Not Disturb for the first few hours of my morning.  I like to tell myself that the time in the morning is my time to be selfish because I have little control of what may happen after the morning. Therefore, I would much rather spend my time on activities that are important to me, rather than those that distract me. Besides my phone, I sometimes get distracted with setting music. If I happen to be in this mood (meaning I skip songs and focus more on what is playing), I will shut the music off and practice in silence.

King pigeon
King pigeon pose
  •  Set yourself up for success

I find that it’s much easier to make excuses for not practicing if I’m not properly prepared in the morning. It becomes an internal dialogue with myself along the lines of; “Well I’m so cold and practicing will just make me colder” or “My mat isn’t rolled out so I can’t possibly begin to practice now.” Making excuses becomes much easier when I am not properly prepared. For me, this means turning on my portable heater and laying out a change of clothes the night before, making my transition from my bed to mat much easier.  I also almost always have my mat rolled out in my room and any props that I need close by. Preparing the night before always lessens the excuses that I can potentially make for not practicing.

  • Reflect and Re-evaluate

I like to journal following my practice to reflect on how I personally felt while practicing and then how I feel after. I like being able to look back on certain days and relate the day’s events to whatever may have transpired on my mat that morning.  I also like the exercise because it reminds me that my practice is different every day and that is completely fine. One of the most important lessons for me to learn is that my practice and my relationship with yoga looks different every day. When I first started practicing, I had goals like holding a headstand or a full split and would work on those skills every time. As my relationship with yoga has progressed, I’ve started to focus less on specific poses and more how my body feels while I am practicing. It’s not wrong to practice in a vigorous way; just like it’s not wrong to want something slower.  Journaling after my daily practice reminds me of the fluidity of my practice and encourages me to embrace all spectrums and styles of yoga.

Journaling
Journaling post practice

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