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Shifting the Balance: How Yoga Helps Create New Habits

Yoga Practice: You don't have to be "good" at yoga. You just have to keep showing up!

It’s a whole new year. Like many people, you may feel motivated by the fresh start the new calendar offers. Because it’s going to be awesome! You are going to quit eating sugar and exercise every day and quit yelling at your kids and dance like nobody’s watching, dammit! 2016 is IT, man!

And this year really might be it. The one where big change happens all in one week and then lasts all year (I mean, we can dream, right?) But listen, in case it doesn’t work out that way: welcome to real life. I’m not saying dramatic change can’t happen—I’m in a line of work where I see it happen on the regular. I will tell you that it takes time.

But I will also tell you that the beginning stages of potentially life-altering change can be part of your experience NOW. Right now. You just have to figure out what handful of things you’re already doing that are really, really working for you. And then…keep doing them.

One of the most excellent, and most difficult, elements of yoga practice is the, uh, PRACTICE of it. Meaning the doing over-and-over of the thing. Growth in yoga happens because you do it regularly, not because you do it well. THAT’S RIGHT. You don’t have to be “good” at yoga for it to make a difference in your life. You don’t have to be good, period. Which leads me to one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard when I first starting practicing.

An excruciatingly cool girl from Spain, whom I met while studying yoga in India, told me one day: “don’t freak out about being one of those “yoga people.” They think way too much about how healthy their food is, or how much they drink, or don’t drink, or how much Sanskrit they know. Just show up and practice. If you fall in love with it, you will soon find that you choose it over other things. You drink less, maybe, because you want to feel good when you practice. You eat things that make you feel strong. Your choices change, because there’s not room for everything.That’s it.”

To my shock, she then lit up a cigarette (SHE WAS EUROPEAN YOU GUYS, CHILL) and was soon riding off down the road on a motorcycle. I can’t deny she made an impression on me. Though I’d been a teetotalling straight edge nerd for most of my young life and found cigarettes disgusting (that hasn’t changed, actually) I was grateful for the underlying message of her words: you can have bad habits and be an imperfect person and yoga will STILL change your life, if you want it to. You just have to keep showing up.

And while you’re getting busy on the mat, the insights start coming: I feel so clear-headed right now, not like when I’m staring at my phone for hours—interesting! Huh, my back seems to feel better when I activate my lower abdominal muscles, which I can’t do slumping on my couch–fascinating! I really like how I feel when I breathe deeply and evenly—maybe I should keep going!

Anymore, lasting commitment is the thing that impresses me most in students. I don’t care how strong they are. I don’t care how flexible. Wicked handstands? Meh, I’ve seen a lot. Hour-long meditation practice every morning? Great, if it’s making you a nicer person. But what I flat-out adore is consistency and integrity. If you say you want to feel better, and yoga makes you feel better, and you follow through on practicing regularly, I will probably want to cover you in gold star stickers (LOOK OUT!) Because if I’m honest, commitment, consistency and integrity are rare. But when they’re present, all kinds of currently unimaginable things become possible.

So my proposal is this: sure, knock yourself out with resolutions. But don’t forget to pay attention to the person you are already. Did you do even one thing today that required you to pay attention to and care for your body or your mental state? Keep doing that thing. Whether it’s yoga or lifting weights or Wu-Tang Clan dance parties, do it. Over and over. Six months from now, do it still. See what happens. It’s going to be awesome. Really.

Much love and thanks for reading,

Erin H./Grassroots Yoga


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