I love yoga, but sometimes I don't feel like practicing yoga.
I’m fairly sure everyone experiences this from time to time, especially when suffering from the dreaded "morning brain." My morning brain is not particularly enthusiastic, but it is devious and will happily expend energy coming up with elaborate avoidance tactics.
It can also be a case of being low in motivation or energy in general – especially after illness or injury or when we’re feeling down. Times like these throw us out of our habits and our flow. It can be a challenge to get back into doing things that we love – the things that will actually make us feel better.
As with any tendency, we need to arm ourselves with tactics. Below are my time-honoured tactics and ways to practice yoga and to get going when the get-go is low.
1. Get Creative and Start From Where You Are… Even if That’s in Bed
We are wildly creative creatures and can naturally find what works for us if we drop the dogma and tune into our bodies. Personally, I love bed yoga. Morning stretches feel so good, so be generous with your body and allow it a few more as you gradually work up to getting up.
Try hugging your knees into your chest, followed by a gentle reclining twist. Come to sit on the edge of your bed and inhale your arms up above your head, then exhaling as you fold forward over your knees. You might just find yourself unrolling your yoga mat as you exit the bed.
2. Do Less, But Do it with Feeling
Mini-hits of yoga throughout the day are another good way into your practice. Sometimes just practicing one pose (with attention and awareness) can do more for us than slogging through a longer practice with a wandering mind.
Also, because you are choosing just one pose, you can tune into what your body needs most in that moment and really notice the effects of it.
Try doing Chair Pose while you wait for the kettle to boil or stand in Eagle while your shower water heats up. I find that Chair really powers me up, and Eagle is a great stretch for my shoulders and hips with the balancing aspect helping to rein in my wayward mind.
I feel these effects even more when it is an isolated pose.
3. Engage Your Heart and Mind
For many of us, our minds and hearts run the show. We can be very good at ignoring the polite (and not so polite) requests of our body, but if our mind or heart suggests we go after something we are there in a shot.
Notice if you have this tendency and use it to your advantage. If you don’t feel like practicing, you can try reading a chapter or two of a yoga book to help get you fired up.
And when I say "a yoga book," now is probably not the time for the sutras. Reading accounts of contemporary yogis such as Matthew Sandford, Donna Farhi, and Colleen Saidmen Yee are more likely to engage your heart and mind as you get fired up to the possibilities of living and loving more through the practice of yoga.
Or you could watch an instructional video to learn something new about a pose, and then you’ll be itching to try it for yourself. Before you know it, you’re on your mat and your body is breathing a sigh of relief that you haven’t just forgotten about it.
4. Ignore Your Mind
This is pretty much the opposite advice to the above and can be deployed if you have built up enough mental strength to ignore your mind completely. This mainly relates to morning brain, which really is not capable of making sound decisions and should probably just be ignored.
The resistance is worse than the doing, so bypass all the resistance and find yourself on your mat without entertaining any inner discussions about whether it is a good idea or not.
Get there and then listen to your body instead. Your brain will thank you later.
5. Take the Pressure Off and Fool Yourself
The idea of practicing yoga for 60 minutes (or even 30 minutes… or, let’s be honest, even 5 minutes some days) can be a little off-putting, especially if your enthusiasm or energy is low.
As with a lot of other things that are good for us, we really enjoy them when we get started but, ugh, it can be really hard to get started. The problem is the shifting from one gear to another. Make the shift a little easier by promising yourself you’re only going to do three Sun Salutations, or two poses. If you do any more then that’s a bonus.
This approach is win-win. If you only do your three Sun Salutations or two poses, you can feel oh-so-satisfied with yourself for keeping to your plan and the positive reinforcement will make you more likely to practice again the next day.
But I find that what normally happens is that, with the pressure off, you will likely enjoy it more and actually want to practice longer. The "extended practice" just feels like a bonus and you enjoy the feeling that it is totally freely chosen, rather than something that you feel you "should" be doing.
6. Do Your Practice
If you’re finding that motivation is an on-going problem rather than a temporary blip, then it might be worth trying a different style of yoga or a different teacher. Perhaps you haven’t hit on what works for you just yet, or maybe you need a change.
For me, the workings of the mind interest me more than the workings of the body, so I naturally lean towards meditation and any practice that encourages contemplation and insight. Perhaps if you attended that kind of class you’d find it mind-numbingly boring. In that case, maybe the physical challenges and dynamic mastery of a style like Ashtanga would keep you coming back for more.
Sometimes you’ve got to spend some time in the yoga playground before you figure out what works for you. And sometimes you’ve got to recognize that we need different things at different times and it’s time to shake it up a bit.
7. Power From the People
If you struggle to motivate yourself or to commit to things (like the majority of us mere mortals), then get others involved to help galvanize your commitment. Feeling like you're part of a group or community is a strong motivator, and everyone can help to rally around each other to keep the energy and enthusiasm high.
An easy approach is to sign up for a block of classes at your local yoga school. Once the commitment is made you just need to turn up and don’t need to have the "should I, shouldn’t I?" debate each week.
Or you could try an online challenge like the 14 Day Power Yoga Challenge. As goal-oriented beings, having that focus and treating it as a project or a challenge really helps. Your confidence grows along with your sense of achievement and before you know it, you’re utterly hooked on yoga again.
I hope some of these ideas might help you get going when motivation is running low. Please feel free to share your tactics in the comments!