Although by now most of us are aware of the many wonderful benefits of a regular yoga and meditation practice (even science has caught up), it can be tough to retain the discipline to keep on choosing our mats or cushions over time on the sofa, a night on the town or an hour lost to some other distraction.
Why you might ask? Well it’s as hard to create a new habit as it is to break an old one. This is because the behavioural patterns that we repeat most often, become quite literally carved into our neural pathways - which govern our emotions, thoughts and reactions - like a well trodden footpath.
Fortunately, through continuous repetition and the practice of feeling, thinking and acting, it's possible to rewire these pathways and develop and maintain new habits like a regular yoga and meditation practice. Below are a few ideas to help get you started.
Find a style of yoga or meditation that you enjoy.
Find a style of yoga or meditation that you enjoy and a teacher who you connect with. You’ll find it easier to develop a consistent practice if it gives you some sort of pleasure or peace. An intensity of emotion and feeling is vital to take an experience and turn it into an unshakeable habit. The more emotion you feel, the more neurons you engage to form well-worn neural pathways. Fortunately, there are a variety of yoga and meditation styles and numerous teachers to choose from, so experiment until you discover the best fit for you. Be open to the fact that your preferences are likely to change over time.
Create a motivational list
Think about what you wish to gain from having a regular practice. Write a list of your motivations and put this list somewhere you’ll always see it - like your fridge. Your reasons will act as positive reinforcement whenever your commitment wavers.
Step by step
Start with small goals. Try meditating for five minutes or practicing yoga for fifteen minutes at home every other day. Psychologist and Stanford University researcher B.J. Fogg, believes that the best way to create and maintain a habit is by training your brain to accomplish small adjustments and gaining confidence from that success. He advises that these adjustments need to be easy to achieve and should be able to seamlessly slip into your existing routine. B.J.Fogg offers more advice on his Tiny Habits website.
Prepay for your classes
Book and pay for your classes in advance and schedule them into your phone’s calendar. The very act of booking and paying for your class in advance means that you’re more likely to show up on your mat come rain or shine.
30 day challenge
Sign up for a thirty day yoga or meditation challenge. This involves attempting to take a yoga or meditation class every day for thirty days. Not only will you have the opportunity to start to create the habit of a regular practice, as your neural pathways become strengthened through repetition, you’ll also have fun trying out an assortment of different classes and teachers. Alongside all the usual benefits that you can expect from a sustained practice, you’ll have the chance to become part of a community as you get to know other yogis taking part in the challenge and the studio team. There’s no pressure to complete the full thirty days but with a delicious blend of restorative and energising classes on offer, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to stop you.
Build a support network
Your partner, family, friends or colleagues can often be your biggest supporters if only you’ll let them. So if staying motivated is a struggle enlist their support. Tell them about your plans to start a consistent practice and ask them to help you stay on track. They can do this with regularly check ins to find out how your practice is going, by spurring you on when your motivation is flagging or by joining you for a class or two. Being held accountable can be the difference between you reaping the full bountiful benefits of your practice and you languishing on a sofa alongside the bittersweet memory of your goals.
Chart your progress
If you’re more of a visual person, get a wall calendar and add a gold star or a tick for every day or week that you complete your practice. Seeing your progress at a glance might just help to keep you on track.
Have a plan for when things go right and when they go wrong
Recognise your efforts by giving yourself a pat on the back for maintaining a regular practice. Organise rewards for practice milestones i.e. a month of regular practice, three months of regular practice etc.Have a plan in place for how you’ll deal with slip ups. Think about what is likely to make you neglect your practice and how you will bounce back. Taking the time to think about these things in advance will help you to be prepared for most eventualities.
Develop a ritual
For at-home yoga or meditation, have a ritual that you perform before you practice. Science has shown that this can help you to be consistent with your practice. For meditation you could burn organic incense, dim the lights, listen to soothing music before you practice or set an intention. Alternatively you could attach your practice to something that you already perform regularly so for example you could have your morning coffee or herbal tea after your morning meditation
So you’ve missed a meditation or yoga class, don’t let it phase you. You can still coax your neural pathways into establishing your new habit by spending ten to fifteen minutes visualising yourself at class. See, feel and even smell the experience and get in touch with the happiness and calm that you feel as a result of your session.
Good luck and see you on the mat!