Another semester has started at Cleveland State University and once again I am blessed with the opportunity to teach yoga to students, faculty and staff. This may well be my most prolific semester yet, as I will be teaching four yoga courses and an additional two staff and faculty yoga sessions.By the the end of the semester I will have played a part in lowering the physical, mental and emotional stress of more than 120 students, faculty and staff theoretically making the university a more peaceful and happy place to be. Good karma for all!
At the beginning of every semester I encourage the student to practice as much as possible outside of class, but I remind them that it doesn’t mean, “as long as possible.” When it comes to taking on home yoga practice or any kind of physical practice or exercise, it is best to aim for frequency over duration.
How many times have you started out an exercise program with the intent to workout 5 days a week for 1-2 hours at a time? Sure, an hour on the elliptical, followed by 45 minutes of lifting and 15 minutes of core work sounds good on January 2, but is it sustainable? Most of us have already experienced something similar and know that it certainly is not. It always amazes me how I can be so motivated and committed in the beginning, just to completely get thwarted shortly thereafter!
My yoga teacher, Swami Atmarupa Saraswati, tells a story about a student of hers who was frustrated on not being able to practice regularly and develop a “home practice” outside of class. After finding out what a busy and full life her student lead my teacher told her to choose the same time each day and practice one round of “toe bending.”
Anyone reading this who is familiar with this style of yoga knows that we often start with this simple practice as it is a part of the Pawanmuktasana (anti-rhuematics/joint mobility) movements in the Bihar School of Yoga.
As you can probably guess by the name as well as the picture above, the practice is quite easy to execute.
Upon hearing his the student immediately said “Toe bending, that’s it? I can do more than that.”
But my teacher told her, “No, just practice 10 repetitions of toe bending every day.”
Not quite convinced this simple directive was the answer, but willing to give it a try, the student rolled up her mat and went on her way.
A few weeks later, the student was back at the yoga studio for class. Before the start of class the student came up to my teacher with a big smile on her face. My teacher asked “So, how did the “toe bending” go for you?”
The student, continuing to smile, said something like this:
“I decided to practice yoga before bed. The first day I did toe bending like you said and then got into bed to read a book.
The second day, I practiced toe bending again, but this time I figured since I am sitting here on my mat that I might as well throw in a few repetitions of ankle bending. By the end of the second week I was up to 15-20 minutes almost everyday!
What I realized is that by setting the bar relatively low in relation to what I thought I “should” do for a yoga practice I wasn’t overwhelmed with how much time it would take and was able to be consistent. Which is exactly what I hoped to accomplish.”
The moral of the story is threefold; frequency is more important than duration when trying to establish a routine, getting start is often half the battle, and it is quite possible that you just might surprise yourself by reaching your goal.
So if you are thinking that you would like to get some kind of exercise routine or home yoga practice going set yourself up for success. Start by picking a time of day when you know you will be at the same place at the same time. Immediately after waking or before bed are generally good suggestions for most people.
Depending on your individual goal consider beginning with a short walk around the neighborhood, maybe three rounds of sun salutation, 10 push-ups, one round of toe bending, 20 sit ups, etc. depending on your overall goal. Be honest with yourself from the very beginning. While you most likely CAN do more of this, that, or the other, doesn’t mean you WILL be able to keep it up.
Next week is the starts of the third week of Fall semester. Knowing that I have to hold the energy of the multiple classes full of beginner students, it is important for me to keep up with my own practice to be authentic in my teaching and to facilitate a positive experience. So far, a 20-minute practice upon waking seems to be working with a bonus meditation in the evening if the stars align. Setting myself up for success by keeping it simple.
After all these years it is really sinking in that frequency is really more important than duration when it comes to yoga.
Of course, until I am thwarted….