Having practiced yoga for over 20 years now, there have been times when I've paused my practice, phases when I've stopped and fallen off the horse completely, and seasons when I've not practiced every day.
There are times in life where a regular asana practice, the physical practice of yoga is not appropriate. You might be recovering from an injury or dealing with another aspect of your wellbeing. Perhaps you've entered a phase of restoration where resting has become the next indicated action to take instead of doing a physical practice.
So what happens when I stop a regular yoga practice?
At first, you might not notice any dramatic difference. You might enjoy the time you've bought back for yourself. After a while, you may notice that you feel more sluggish, have less clarity, and have more brain fog. You won't lose everything you've gained from yoga as some things you can't unsee once you've seen them however the age-old adage, move it or lose it is a real phenomenon. You may start to notice some poor postural habits creeping back in or your body starting to atrophy into a state of less movement. Sugary food items may creep back in, exacerbating the slow acclimatisation to the sedentary lifestyle.
One yoga client shared with me this week that during the week he missed his regular yoga practice, his wife woke him up in the middle of the night elbowing him and saying, 'What are you doing??' He'd been dreaming about doing yoga and had ended up in happy baby pose while still sleeping! I said to him, "Yes, imagine the nightmares that would have ensued if you'd not come back to yoga this week..."
In an ideal world, we'd notice we had stopped and simply start again at the appropriate time. Unfortunately, human beings are typically not wired that way. We insert all sorts of mental mind blocks and obstacles in our way which can make things seem daunting, un-doable, or too hard.
What can I do about it?
If your situation is a case of not being able to do a physical practice, it doesn't mean your yoga practice needs to stop. There are 8 limbs to Yoga and asana, the physical practice is only of these 8 limbs. You could practice Yoga Nidra relaxation or you could start a meditation practice. There is plenty of yoga to practice off the mat too - even the practice of being present by noticing when you're not counts as practicing yoga. Practicing the philosophy of yoga such as the yamas and niyamas, universal principles for how to live life is valuable to study. These include principles such as non-stealing, non-harming, truthfulness, and contentment.
How to show back up to the mat after a break.
1. Give up any invalidation of yourself for having paused, stopped, or fallen off the horse! Stopping is a human phenomenon shared by many many people and not a moral issue. It's not a reflection of who you are or your self-worth. You can simply start again.
2. Ease back into it and don't try and catch up on what you've missed. All there is, is the present moment, so don't worry about what has been before. Trust in the divine timing of everything and begin exactly where you are.
3. Remind yourself, there is no top to the mountain of yoga, so there's nowhere to get. Know that your only job is to roll out the mat and show up to the practice. Everything else is taken care of from there.
What happens when I start again?
The number one thing people notice is how stiff they have become. They may not have even noticed this until they show up to the mat again. Stiffness has a way of creeping up on us. Weight gain can sometimes be the same. We spend hours at the desk, working away and weeks go by and we haven't moved much.
We can feel defeated that we lost all of that flexibility and ease in the body. Rest assured, it actually comes back quicker than you think. There is nothing lost from having done a yoga practice.
And finally, what people notice is how GOOOOD they feel in their bodies. Showing up to the mat after a break might not feel good, but you will always feel better after a yoga practice. Every time.
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