How to form a yoga habit

At the start of lockdown 1.0, I made a decision. I was going to be one of those annoying people who makes the most of the extra time gained from working from home and get back into running. 

And I did. Over the course of 4 months, I ran two or three times a week, and went from just about managing 5K to happily(-ish) running 10K. I felt great. I smugly thought about aiming higher, maybe a half-marathon? And then summer came, I went on holiday, it was too hot, blah blah blah. I lost it. My running shoes were gathering dust by the door, mocking me for losing fitness every second of every day. 

While my running habits have sadly become transparent, since my Rocket teacher training I’ve been practicing between 20 min to an hour basically every day. Habits are slippery, temperamental things.

Which got me thinking…

What is it that creates a health habit? 

And how can we apply this to forming a yoga habit?

In my other life, my focus is understanding behaviours in health, whether that’s patients or healthcare professionals. This mean identifying what stands in the way of adopting a new behaviour and defining what we need to do change that. A regular running or yoga practice is exactly the same. We need to understand what stands in the way of regular practice and address these barriers in a tailored way.

For the sake of simplicity, here I focus specifically on habits, but if you are interested in learning more about behaviour change please get in touch!

Habits sort of straddle two area of behaviour

And both would need to be considered when trying to understand the barriers to behaviour change and designing relevant interventions:

1. Behavioural regulation

This is me back in the summer, tracking my runs with a running app, creating a special Instagram account to log every run and how I felt (yes, I was one of those). It’s also me, more recently, deciding to focus on my hamstring length (ok I admit, it’s me deciding I want to be able to do the splits), and practicing the same sequence every day to track how my body is changing. The Ashtangis knew a little something about habit formation!

It’s basically our ability to take control of our behaviour.

2. Reinforcement

This is me back in lockdown 1.0 knowing it’s Wednesday and Sunday, and that means going for a run after coffee number 2. This is leaving your running shoes by the door the night before to stimulate a run first thing in the morning. This is also me leaving my mat out the night before as a reminder to practice in the morning. It’s practicing something (whether that’s 2 sun salutes or a 40 min practice) between said coffee number 2 and starting work.

It’s brushing your teeth because you are about to go to bed (you just do it, no thought, right?). 

It’s our learnt behavioural patterns that don’t require any brain power; a stimulus simply triggers a response.

So how do you develop a yoga habit?

Obviously, when it came to running, there were other things at play too. I had a goal (run 10K), I believed that achieving that would make me healthier and lose weight (in case you are wondering, no, it didn’t work) and that it would make me feel better overall.

Likewise with my yoga practice. I’m focusing on hamstring length. That’s because I believe it will make my inversions effortless. That’s because my goal is to get a more stable pincha mayurasana and a better handstand. And let’s not get into beliefs about what we all think this means in yogaland (nirvana anyone?).

All of these elements fuel habit formation alongside behavioural regulation and reinforcement. Things are never that simple. 

But, like I said, for the sake of simplicity, let’s start with the core of habit formation and see what we can tap into to make yoga a regular habit.

Use behavioural regulation
  • Think about what stops you from regular practice. Do you get sucked into social media, for instance, every morning? Make a plan to overcome your own personal barriers, eg try to not play with your phone until after practice or swap scrolling through your Instagram feed with 5 minutes of breath or meditation practice.
  • Create a plan of what you want to do. Design or pick a specific sequence and practice it once, twice, three times a week, every day if you fancy. Whatever that is, be realistic about your expectations.
  • Track your behaviour and your progress. If you like apps, use an app. If you like pen and paper, do that.
Make it brainless
  • Create associations that prompt your practice. Leave your mat out at night or all the time if you have space. Practice at the same time every time so that it becomes just something you do (whether like me it’s after coffee number 2, or before lunch, or before bed).
  • Consider practicing the same thing every day. I love writing sequences (it appeals to the writer and editor in me), but my practice is most consistent when I take the guesswork out. Right now, I’m enjoying my gentle Rocket self-practice so much, I don’t actually want to do a class!

It may take 21 days (that’s the popular belief anyway), it may take 66 days (the only scientific reference I could find in an admittedly very very quick search). But hopefully these tops will help you get there.

What has helped you create a yoga habit?

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