Ganga White responds to students who ask the age-old question: How long will it take? How long will it take before I master the yoga postures? White’s response: It will take the rest of your life.
Yoga is not a destination. It’s a journey. Mastery of the asanas is not the goal of the practice, it is the result of it. Pattabhi Jois said, “Yoga is one percent theory; the rest is practice.” The sage Patanjali did not prescribe a period of time required to achieve mastery. He taught that through abhyasa, constant and determined effort, and vairagya, non-attachment and freedom from desire, we can establish a firm foundation in our practice. That is counter to the way many of us live our lives: we want instant gratification. A lifetime of practice? That’s way too long for many of us.
But we must practice vairagya and let go of our attachment to the goal. We must approach our practice with tapas—the zeal and willpower—to sustain a practice over a lifetime. Along that journey, we see yoga reflecting back on our lives. We learn that what we do on the mat is what we do off the mat. Our attitude as we approach a challenging pose is a reflection of how we live our lives.
How to start a daily yoga practice
Many people struggle with how to begin a daily practice. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of trying to fit in a new activity into your life and daily routine. Here are eight tips to help you get started:
- Set a time. I recommend setting aside time each day to do a short yoga routine. Examine your daily routine to find the most ideal time to take time for self care. Set up reminders on your phone to remind you to practice.
- Start small. Committing to a short practice will make it much more likely to accomplish every day. It can be as simple as five minutes of sun salutations or a few beginner yoga poses, followed by some pranayama (breathing exercises), and ending with a few minutes of meditation. You don’t have to spend hours on your mat; just start small and build from there.
- Choose an appropriate level. Make sure the yoga classes you commit to are of the correct length and intensity for your ability and dedication. If you bite off too much at once, you may find yourself feeling frustrated and discouraged. Also, consider whether you need more guidance than what they offer in class. Many teachers offer private lessons so they can work closely with their students to ensure they receive proper instruction.
- Find a yoga teacher who inspires you. Find someone whose teaching style resonates with you, and whose classes are challenging enough to push you to new heights. Ask friends or family members about who their favorite yoga instructor is. If you don’t have access to a teacher, there are tons of great online yoga classes to practice with.
- Do what feels right. Don’t worry so much about whether a yoga asana “looks” good. Just do whatever works for your body. Some days I’ll start my morning off with a few sun salutations before breakfast. Other times, I might just sit quietly and breathe deeply. Whatever makes sense to you is fine.
- Take it off the mat. You can start a daily practice anywhere, anytime, by simply taking a moment to slow down and listen intently to what’s happening inside and around you. Remember that yoga isn’t always physical. In fact, many forms of yoga emphasize mental discipline and self-awareness. When you’re in traffic, take a few moments to breathe deeply and focus on your breath. If you’re walking to the grocery store, pause to notice the sensations in your feet, the air on your skin, the touch of the sidewalk beneath your feet. Look for any spare moments to pause, breathe deeply and bring awareness to your body. Find opportunities to move into a posture—like taking three deep breaths in Tree Pose while waiting for your morning coffee to brew.
- Be patient. There may come a point when you find yourself struggling to stay consistent with your practice. This happens because you’re learning more than you expected. When this occurs, remember that patience is key. Keep reminding yourself why you decided to commit to regular yoga practice in the first place. Like anything else, the experience and benefits of yoga and meditation deepen with practice.
- Keep at it. The most important thing to keep in mind is that consistency is essential if you want to see results. The best way to maintain consistency over time is to make it part of your lifestyle. Schedule a specific time during which you will meditate or perform a yoga pose. And if you miss one day, don’t beat yourself up! Simply pick back up where you left off next week. As long as you continue practicing regularly, you will improve over time.