Why It’s Important to be Flexible with Your Yoga Practice

Our popular contributor Kara-Leah intimately understands the psychology of maintaining a home yoga practice. Here she breaks down five ways to stay flexible and fluid even as your life shifts and changes so you can maintain a regular practice.

by Kara-Leah Grant

Author of Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice.

Life is busy.

Most of us are juggling some combination of work, family, socialising, passions & hobbies and health & well-being. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, the things that we know make us feel the best – like regular yoga practice – can be the most difficult to maintain.

This is especially true when we go through a life change, or a particularly stressful period.

Right when we need it most, our yoga practice falls away. Our job changes, or we shift house, or we have a baby and that change of routine means we can’t make it to our regular yoga class anymore, or we don’t have the same time to do our home practice.

Sometimes the change is physical or emotional – we injure ourselves, have major surgery, experience some type of mental illness, or experience a family crisis like the death of a loved one. It becomes physically, or emotionally impossible to continue on with the practice we love.

Yet in these moments of change the biggest  barrier to continuing our yoga practice is not the shift in our life’s circumstances but our mind’s inability to accept and roll with those changes.

We’re attached to the practice we have been doing and find it difficult to consider doing something different.

  • We want to continue our strong physical practice.
  • We want to keep going to that studio or that teacher.
  • We don’t want to practice at home because it requires more determination, more discipline, more effort form us.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realise that there is a desire or want that flies above all of these – the desire or want to reap the benefits of continuing to have yoga in our lives. When we can keep our eyes on that want, on that desire, and let it guide our actions, then all the other smaller wants of the ego fall away.

And this of course is what yoga is all about – not just about flexibility of body, but also flexibility of mind.

It means we’re able to accept that we can’t make it to that particular class anymore, but we can get to a later one if we’re willing to change teacher or studio. Or maybe our time is so limited that we realise getting to and from a studio isn’t possible anymore, but we can carve out half an hour a day if we’re willing to dedicate ourselves to a home practice.

After giving birth to my son in 2010, an emergency c-section meant a far longer period of recovery than I’d been expecting. It meant I was unable to dive back into my asana practice at all. Having a newborn in the house also meant nights of unbroken sleep. It would have been easy to just let my practice go completely, and come back to it once I was physically stronger, and getting some more sleep.

However, I was fortunate enough to know enough about yoga to understand that just because I couldn’t get on a yoga mat and physically move through postures didn’t mean I couldn’t still practice.

And I knew exactly what the perfect practice would be for me at this time – Yoga Nidra.

Far more than just a guided meditation,  Yoga Nidra was devised by Swami Satyananda to specifically work with the deep subconscious.

In Satyananda  Yoga Nidra the distractions of the mind are contained and the mind is allowed to relax – truly relax – via the practice of pratyahara.

Pratyahara is the fifth of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga and is best translated as ‘withdrawal of the senses’. It bridges the external limbs of yoga – like asana and pranayama – and the internal limbs of yoga, like samadhi. In  Yoga Nidra, you lie flat on your back, eyes closed, withdrawing from all external inputs as you listen to a Satyananda teacher (or CD) take you through the  Yoga Nidra practice.

Nothing is required except your attention, and your presence, yet  Yoga Nidra has a profound transformative effect because it systematically induces complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation. During the practice, one appears to be asleep, but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness.

It’s said that a Yoga Nidra practice is worth two to four hours of regular sleep – perfect for a sleep-deprived, physically incapacitated new mum. All I had to do was plug my headphones into my iPhone when the baby was sleeping, lie down, and push play.

While a small part of me still felt like I wasn’t really practicing yoga, the rest of me knew that this practice was perfect for right now. Despite only getting four to six hours of unbroken sleep every night, I didn’t feel tired during the day at all. The  Yoga Nidra practice was providing the appropriate nourishment for my daily life.

It reminded me that no matter what is going on in your life right now – no matter how stressful it is, no matter how busy you are, no matter how crazy your routine, or lack of routine is – there is a perfect yoga practice for you.

The trick is figuring out what it is, learning it from a qualified instructor, and then committing to it.

1. It helps to start with the commitment – to acknowledge how much you gain from practicing yoga daily, and how important it is to you to continue on with that daily practice. Sometimes writing down this desire can help solidify our commitment to it.

2. Once you’ve made that commitment, take an honest look at the daily circumstances of your life and ask yourself what it is you need most. Not what you want, but what you need.

  • Do you need something to help you manage anxiety?
  • Something to help you rehabilitate an injury or from surgery?
  • Something to help you get healthier and make better eating choices?
  • Something that provides a sanctuary and some ‘me’ time?

3. Armed with commitment, and an understanding of what you need, do some research to find out what your perfect practice is. The best research is to talk to an experienced yoga teacher who can give you a specific practice. But if that person isn’t available, search the net, do some reading, talk to some yoga friends.

4. Take that practice and decide how often you’re going to do it, and when you’re going to do it. Make this decision according to what you need, rather then what you want. You may not want to get out of bed half an hour earlier, but it may be what’s needed.

5. Just do it. OK, so this is likely the hardest part of it all… but all you need do is show up on your mat. Truly. Get on your mat, and then whatever your practice is will flow. (Assuming your practice requires a mat. Maybe the perfect practice for you has turned out to be an hour of silent chanting while commuting to work in the morning.)

6. Pay attention to results. All kinds of results. How does it feel when you stick to your commitment and do your practice? How does it feel when something interferes and you don’t do your practice?

On the days when I didn’t do my Yoga Nidra… boy did I notice it. I felt tired, grumpy, spaced out, and stuck in my head. It was all the motivation I needed to get back to my daily practice.

I was definitely excited to get back to asana when my body had healed sufficiently. But in those first five weeks, it was really beneficial to regularly practice Yoga Nidra. (Here’s a link to the Yoga Nidra I used.)

About Kara-Leah

Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29. 

Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga.  She’s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel. 

She’s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice in 2013. Her second book, The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yogahas just been releasedShe’s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal 

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