When I searched #yoga on Instagram, #yogaeverydamnday came up third — almost 12,000,000 posts! The lion’s share of them portray yogis in revealing activewear posing upside down, balancing precariously on some object in nature or otherwise looking very “bendy.”
Is this what most people think real commitment to a yoga practice looks like? I hope not!
If you’ve been turned off to yoga by internet images of people in unrealistic poses or the thought of doing yoga every day to make it matter, I’ve got good news for you.
Yoga is for all of us, no matter what we look like, how athletic we are or how clingy our pants are — and here’s why.
Yoga is more than challenging physical poses
While the physical poses (asanas) are what bring many people to yoga in the first place, they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what yoga is about and how it can help you.
The truth is, most people who really commit to yoga do it because it also leads to many other non-physical benefits, including:
- Stress reduction
- Mental focus or quietude
- A meditation practice
- Greater compassion and gratitude
And the list goes on! There are eight “limbs” of yoga to explore and one could spend a lifetime pursuing and embodying them.
Now that’s a reason to practice every day! But your yoga practice is for you, and only you, and it develops one session at a time. The most experienced yogis know that balance is one of the most important tenets of yoga — and in life.
Doing yoga your way helps bring balance to your practice and often allows you to take that feeling of equilibrium off the mat and into the rest of your day.
Why your yoga practice should always include rest
Yoga is not a competition. I encourage you not to think of a daily practice as only a series of difficult poses, fitness goals, “yoga challenges” and the like. Even if the intent of this kind of competition is to inspire us to reach new heights, these notions about yoga can bring on unrealistic goals and cause injury to both beginners and advanced yogis.
Pushing too hard at yoga takes the focus off the real reasons you’re doing it, and can leave you deeply unsatisfied and unsure of your abilities — exactly the opposite takeaway you’re aiming for.
Taking a rest from, or during, yoga has real advantages
- You can greatly reduce your risk of injury. I often remind my students that it’s healthier for their bodies to have days of rest so that their muscles can repair from the stress of the previous day’s practice. In fact, some people’s bodies are not structured to get into certain postures at all and are not constitutionally built to practice yang (dynamic and active) asana every single day.In yoga, there are two sides to everything. If we do it the same way each day, we will develop imbalances by neglecting to nurture the other half of our practice and of the rest of our bodies. An extremely yang asana practice cannot be sustained on such a repetitive level, day after day. The repercussions will manifest themselves as injuries, over-extended or irritated joints, extremely tight connective tissue, and pulled muscles at their attachment sites. (Hamstrings! Ouch!) And a hard and fast routine does not allow for meditative, spacious and yin practices. That’s why we need to get out of this yang-only mindset and strive for more balance.
- You strengthen the mind-body connection by giving it the opportunity to replenish, reset and regenerate. Rest is an integral respite from any repetitive practice and is a necessary reprieve from the fast pace of our society.Think of Corpse Pose (Savasana). We take this final resting posture at the end of every practice to give ourselves time to process, digest and integrate the work that’s been done.
Don’t get me wrong… it’s wonderful to be fully committed to yoga!
Depending on the approach, to practice daily is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps it’s actually what keeps you motivated because missing a day or two may make it harder for you to get back to it. A simple “do yoga” challenge may help someone with “fitness” goals stay committed. Plus, if there is a community participating together, the inspiration, support and encouragement of the group will be palpable.
That said, I do worry that the initial inspiration of yoga challenges can spoil your momentum by making you feel unnecessary pressure to over-practice, take certain classes just for the sake of doing it, or forcing yourself into some postures. If you do these things without questioning if any of them is actually beneficial, it will lead to guilt or self-criticism if you do miss a day. Plus you can push yourself to depletion or even injury.
A new focus for yoga every day
If the intention of a yoga practice is to feel good, healthy and balanced, then physical poses are not the only route to take. There are many approaches and aspects to this all-encompassing practice that can nourish us both inside and out.
The yogi who truly embodies this path inquires daily: “What shall I do on this day to nourish my body, my mind, my energy?” The answer will not always be the same; therefore, neither will the practice. In the span of a week, consider how you could bring better balance to your yoga routine.
Here are a few examples:
- When you’re just exhausted: your practice could be a single restorative posture followed by Savasana. Don’t overdo it. Too much exercise begets depletion!
- On your menstrual cycle? Take Goddess Pose on a bolster.
- Yesterday, you practiced a yang routine. Today, complement that with Yin yoga, a slow-paced style with postures you hold longer.
- Traveling or no time to fit in yoga? Silent mantra during your travels or commute, or meditation to book-end the day, are also considered doing yoga.
- Skip the asana one day. Refill your cup by reading a yogic text that inspires you.
Social media trends, fancy balancing postures and fashionable yoga gear will come and go, but the true path of yoga can last a lifetime. Let’s turn #yogaeverydamnday into simply being present and honest with each day as it arrives.
May we make mature and safe choices around how we embody this path as we age, grow and evolve.
May our practice nourish us in some way every damn day.