A few years ago I sat up in bed in the middle of the night and said, out loud, “I’m going to practice yoga for 30 days. Without questioning it.” I quickly fell right back to sleep. The next morning, when I woke up, to be honest I was rather dumbfounded by the proclamation. Did I really agree to that? But what really stuck with me was that I had included “without questioning.” Out loud.
Seems I knew myself pretty well. I question things. A lot. I like to analyze, weigh pros and cons, think about obstacles (real or not), come up with solutions (practical or preposterous)…And while this left brain thinking often serves me well, it can also hinder (if not outright backfire on) me. It seems my whole mind knew that if my mental chatter (my monkey mind) got in the way, I was never going to make it through 30 days. In that brief moment in the middle of the night, I didn’t simply commit to 30 days of practice. I committed to not taking monkey mind so seriously for 30 days. Oh my!
Those 30 days actually turned into 60 (another story) and was one of the more transformative periods of my adult life. It was also, however, incredibly challenging. I was challenged physically, emotionally and spiritually. My identity was dismantled and re-arranged. My world views got knocked over. My body hurt. My head ached. My laundry piled up. Nothing, it seems, was spared.
Fast forward to today, I find myself, along with many other 8 Limbs practitioners, about to embark on a 28-day commitment to practice throughout the month of February. Since this time around I actually had some time to prepare, I reflected on what helped me to honor the commitment I made to myself a few years back. Whether you’re joining us in this 28 day practice or not, I wanted to share 8 tips I learned from those 60 days.
- Map your practice schedule a week out. I wasn’t used to blocking out this much time for yoga and in the beginning found myself scrambling to get to a class or apologizing to friends about running late. It wasn’t working to wing-it. If that wasn’t enough, when the novelty wore off, I was tired and simply not in the mood, my monkey mind got louder. Having a ready-made schedule was invaluable.
- Intentionally let things go. Making a daily commitment to practice every day of the week can mean less time for other things. Deciding in advance what to let go of can mean less stress in the moment. Maybe there are things you want to eliminate. I took a break from Netflix. And maybe there are important things that just need to be temporarily scaled back. Instead of making 3 separate plans with 3 separate friends in a week, for example, I invited them all to join me at one place.
- Have ready to go healthy snacks on hand. I vastly underestimated how tired and hungry I’d get. This was (fruitfully?) compounded by less time to get a fix from a coffee shop. Stocking up on nuts, veggies, fruit that I could carry in my bag throughout the week saved me.
- Drink lots of water! Lots of stuff gets jostled and moved around when we move our bodies in such powerful ways. This can lead to fatigue and headaches. Keep your tissues hydrated and help your organs flush out the toxins. Your body and mind will thank you.
- Be kind to yourself. The good, the bad and the ugly can get stirred up during your practice. Carve out downtime, take a walk in the woods, journal, spend time with good friends…whatever works for you to recalibrate, compassionately.
- Embrace quality rest. During my 60 day practice I was in a long-distance relationship. Yoga Nidra became an essential friend for managing red-eye flights and, perhaps more importantly, enabling me to honor my other commitments. Consider integrating Yoga Nidra or Restorative classes to replenish your body and mind. Limiting evening screen time and dimming the lights a couple hours before bedtime can also bring you a more restful night’s sleep.
- Leave your ego at the door. My monkey mind chatter can get awfully lively about the asana practice I “ought to” have. As Executive Director of 8 Limbs, certainly I should be able to do endless sun salutations, be bendier, and have a lovelier pitch for ohmming! Thankfully, my ego had a melt-down early on leaving me to get back to meeting myself exactly where I was at, each day, in each moment. This meant I sometimes hung out in child’s pose while everyone around me was chataronga-ing. Or I’d take a modified pose even if I could have muscled myself into a more advanced expression. The key “C” word here is commitment, not competition.
- Take advantage of sangha, or community. Just when I thought I didn’t have it in me, the collective breath in a class helped me release the tension in my jaw or the disdain for being asked to do my least favorite pose… to essentially be precisely and graciously with myself. So make yoga dates. Introduce yourself to that practitioner you see all the time but whose name you don’t know. Hang out over coffee or tea with other students after class. Acknowledge the folks on the mats surrounding you. If you’re doing the 28-day commitment with 8 Limbs, be active in the dedicated Facebook group. The point is to do something concrete to cultivate sangha to, in turn, be more mindful of what your sangha is offering you.
Ashley Dahl, Executive Director
8 Limbs Yoga Centers