As a yoga teacher who spends part of her life teaching in intense retreat environments, and part of her life floating from place to place with no solid daily structure, it can be difficult to maintain a balance of the things that are important to me.
Last year I spent 6 months working on a yoga retreat in Cambodia, working back to back retreats and teaching every day, being constantly present in the group, being the chatty, bubbly, approachable person and putting all my energy out there for others. The discipline of a daily practice on and off the mat was easy, because the environment I was living in supported it completely. I was constantly lifted up and encouraged to be my best self by the people around me and the daily structure I followed.
The challenge, the real test, comes in the aftermath of an experience like that. Can you keep up your practice? Can you stay motivated, stay mindful, practice what you preach, be kind to others and – the hardest thing – be kind to yourself, even if all else fails? How easy is it to live following yogic principles when you are surrounded by temptation, by distraction, and by people who don’t follow the same lifestyle principles?
Transitioning from teaching and embodying the practice of yoga 24/7 on retreat, to teaching drop-in classes once a day, to travelling and living in hostels is such an interesting process. I now realise how easy it would be as a yoga teacher to spout philosophy in class for one hour a day, then walk out the doors and into a wholly un-yogic lifestyle, and no one would know.
But I would know, and that’s what really counts.
People have this idea that yoga teachers have it all figured out, that their days are filled with smiles and sunshine and beautiful bodies and wholesome food and higher living, and that they never have a moment of self doubt. I’m here to tell you that we are just human beings with all of the same problems as you. We have simply chosen a certain path to help us manage our “stuff”, and share our knowledge through experience with anyone who will listen.
These are a few things I have learnt to help me maintain the practice of living yoga, wherever I am, holding myself accountable and living with kindness towards myself and towards others.
1. DAILY PRACTICE
Taking time daily (outside of teaching hours) to dedicate to your core personal practice. Set your expectations very low – unroll your mat, lie down on it, and once you’re down there, you’ll do at least 10 minutes of yoga, which is better than nothing. Something is better than nothing. You cannot teach from the heart if you aren’t listening to your own inner teacher. Take this time to tap into yourself, to figure out what’s going on inside, where you are storing your baggage, move intuitively, and discover some new patterns of movement. If it works for you, most likely it will help your students, too. We teach from experience.
Get outside. This one is simple. We’ve all had days when we have surfaced from an Internet/ social media/ advertising/web marketing binge to feel overwhelmed, under-motivated and a little bit closed off from the real world surrounding us.
Open a window. Fling open the doors. Take off your shoes and walk in the grass. Hike up a hill and look down on your world. Lie in the sand and look up at the stars. Smell a flower. Eventually, you will start to absorb the aliveness in the natural world surrounding you, you became more calm, more focused, and quite simply, happier. Leave your phone at home, and just see what there is to see. Really look. With your eyes, not even through the lens of a camera.
Spend time with people who inspire you. Don’t feel too bad about letting toxic people drift out of your life – people come and go, and the ones who stick around are there because they bring something into your life that you are needing, whether you know it or not. They say we are a combination of the five people we spend the most time with – choose these people wisely.
Avoid those people who focus their conversations on other people and their achievements or failures in life. These are the people who have to break others down to build themselves up. This is where the conversation turns when we have nothing more exciting to talk about. Be better than that. Spend time with people who have something exciting to talk about. What we think, we become. What we surround ourselves with, we absorb.
Spend time with people who talk about ideas, projects, collaboration, happenings in the world, creative pursuits, passions, love. Spend time with people who make you laugh (I mean, deep, belly laughter, not a polite chuckle). Live large, and you will attract the people that can handle it.
When we are unhappy, we gloss over the little moments in life. We skip over things and we fall into a dull yet familiar routine, that feels far safer than the alternative. We shy away from anything out of the ordinary, because it might mean being wrenched out of our comfort zone, which, whilst not all that comfortable, has the comfort of familiarity.
We forget to notice the little things in our day because we are too busy getting to the end of it. What if you were to take a step back and watch yourself for a day? Where do you bring in the light? See if you can find the cracks on your day where the sunshine can pour in. Make those cracks wider and wider, until they shine bright light into all the little parts of your day that make up the whole.
When you wake up in the morning, just pause to consider. How does your mind feel? How does your body feel? What’s your attitude towards the day ahead? Try taking some deep breaths in peace before starting your day.
Take time to savour each mouthful of each meal. Put down your knife and fork in between. Eat without distractions, with no screens in sight. Give your food the attention it deserves, and your body will assimilate it much more easily.
As you read a book, notice the sensation of the page underneath your fingers. Notice that old-book smell. Feel the soft wool of the blanket resting on your lap. Observe the stillness in and around you.
Take care of your possessions. Create beautiful spaces in which to live, which reflect your character and your desires. What you surround yourself with, you become.
Do mundane things as if it’s the first time you’ve ever done them. Brush your teeth with care. Rub moisturiser into your skin. Take a shower and feel the water cascade over your skin. Get into bed and wriggle your toes, feeling the weight of your duvet and the silky, cool sensation of the sheets.
Smile at strangers. Be nice, even when you don’t have to. Be patient. Give without expecting anything in return. Pay it forward. Perform a random act of kindness, and try not to get caught. Be nice to someone, even if they don’t seem like “your kind of person”. Everyone deserves some kindness. Feel your sense of self-worth inflate as a result.
Look in the mirror and focus on the parts of yourself that you love. Then turn your attention to the parts that you don’t love. Love them too.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up when you fall backwards, if you miss a day (or a week) of your personal practice, if you get angry or irritable if you act out of poor habits rather than mindfulness if you get sucked into spending time with people who don’t lift you up. This is the perfect opportunity to offer yourself a little more kindness, and a little less judgement. You’re only human, after all. If you’re a yoga teacher or a devoted yogi, this can be your greatest asset – to be relatable, and inspirational, all at the same time.
Our favorite yoga books to dive deeper into the yoga philosophy and living yoga: