A response to my last post got me thinking about all the crowded yoga classes in January and February. It’s true that a lot of people flock to yoga studios at the beginning of the year because they are all amped up to get back into their yoga practice or maybe start yoga for the first time. In my experience as a yoga teacher, this initial wave of enthusiasm slowly trickles off over the subsequent months. By November and December, with all the holidays, traveling, shopping, parties, etc., New Year’s Resolutions are long forgotten, and classes are back down to a more reasonable size. Only the most dedicated students are still coming to class with any regularity at the end of the year. What’s this all about?
Certainly, one way to look at the situation is to say that the enthusiastic people who don’t stick with it are lazy, uncommitted, etc. I’d rather not get involved in making judgments like that, one way or the other. Even if there’s some truth to those ideas, thinking like that is not particularly helpful or illuminating. A better way to think about it is probably to ask why it is so difficult to stick with a yoga practice over time. Here are a few of my thoughts.
First, if you approach yoga with a certain set of intentions and expectations, it’s easy to lose interest over time. In particular, if yoga appeals to you because it’s fun, trendy, relaxing, exciting, etc., it’s likely that the these effects will diminish over time. I know a lot of people who become bored with yoga. They are the types of people who are always looking for a new fix. Yoga does the job for a while, maybe even a few months, but then they are off to something else. The problem here isn’t a lack of commitment–rather, it’s a commitment to the wrong sort of thing, namely, something like immediate pleasure or novelty.
A second reason why people seem to lose steam in their yoga practice is that they think of yoga as a hobby, a luxury, or a kind of indulgence. It’s almost like getting a massage or going to the spa. People feel that when their lives get busy with work or school, or when times are economically tough, they should give up frivolous activities and unnecessary luxuries. But this is totally the wrong way to think about yoga! Yoga is, for many serious practitioners, as essential to life as eating and sleeping. In fact, by doing yoga, you can help yourself stay strong in times of stress. Also, taking the time to do yoga will, paradoxically, give you more time, in the sense that you will be more efficient with your time when you are working. (As a PhD student, I find that when I’m practicing yoga regularly, my mind is clearer, I can concentrate for longer periods of time, and the work I do is better. I also sleep better, get sick less often, and am generally happier.) If you think of yoga as being at odds with a busy lifestyle, as opposed to being supportive of it, then there will be no way that you’ll keep up with a regular practice.
One final reason that people often fall off the wagon with yoga is that it is, practically speaking, difficult to get to the yoga studio three or four or five times a week. This is where the beauty (and convenience) of a home-practice comes in. If you can learn to practice at home, even just once a week, you are more likely to keep up a regular practice, and the amount of time necessary to do that will be much less. When I go to an hour-and-a-half yoga class at the studio, the entire process can take up to three hours. I need to leave about 15-20 minutes early in order to get there on time and to get a parking spot. Then there’s the class which goes for 90 minutes. Then I usually chat with people for 5-10 minutes after class, go to the bathroom, get some water, etc. By the time I get home, take a shower, and am ready to do something else, almost 3 hours is gone. When I practice at home, though, I usually do just an hour practice, and, of course, there is no travel time involved. Another benefit of practicing at home is that it doesn’t cost a dime. Heck, you can even multi-task and put some dinner in the oven while you do your sun salutations in the next room. (I don’t recommend putting things on the stovetop, though. I’ve burned things like that before!)