A few years ago, after moving back to my home town of Austin, TX, I decided I wanted to establish a home yoga practice that incorporated mindfulness, yoga, and meditation. I knew what I wanted it to look like and the results I wanted to experience, but I didn’t know where I was going to find the time. Establishing a home yoga practice can be tricky. As a busy mom of three, I had to get creative with my home practice and come up with alternatives that fit my schedule. For me to find time and motivation to get on my mat each day, it had to be accessible and affordable. It wasn’t easy, but boy was it worth it! Today, I’m a joyful mother of three teens, running a successful business and maintaining my inner peace one day at a time. Here are the five life hacks that help me find my zen both personally and professionally.
1. Mindfulness is better practiced, not preached.
Sure, we can all talk about mindfulness for days, but being present is not the same as being mindful. Mindfulness is observation without judgment, and in application it is a freeing tool that allows our practice to be authentic to our emerging experience. To be mindful, one must identify when a judgment is present, both good and bad. Then, rather than buying into the judgment, the practitioner simply acknowledges the judgment and lets it drop.
There are so many simple examples of mindfulness and how it can be woven into a daily practice of yoga and meditation. You’re practicing mindfulness when you acknowledge that your plan to practice yoga right after middle school drop off is not realistic now that your freshman needs you to wash and deliver his band shirt for his evening performance. Sure, you could get angry and judge the situation as inconvenient, but the experience turns into an act of selfless service when we let go of our judgment.
Mindfulness can also look like listening to your body when it’s tired or not quite up to an hour-and-a-half of hot vinyasa. My tendency would be to want to push through, but I’m finding that mindfulness helps me to have a more authentic relationship with my body and mind. When I push through and overexert my body to satisfy my ego, I only create more dissonance and separation in my experience. When I listen and let go of my judgments, I can be with what is, as it is, without needing to change it. It doesn’t mean that I have to settle or let go of practices that stimulate me; it just means that today my plan didn’t align with what my body was requesting. Mindfulness means loving yourself even when your plan isn’t coming to fruition.
2. Yoga is a sensory experience led by the breath.
When I first started doing yoga, I thought it was a workout or a way to move the body to align my energy… but it’s so much more than that! Yoga, when done through the gradual withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), is an opportunity to come into direct, conscious contact with each element present in the body. Sure, yoga can pack a hefty punch when it comes to strength and conditioning, but the primary purpose is to lead the practitioner into a deeper state of awareness where the senses begin to become more and more isolated.
When I use the breath to focus my awareness, I’m able to calm my thinking mind and move away from the cognitive thought process. I can allow my practice to serve as a prelude to my meditation. When I first started practicing, I was so consumed with the experiences that shaped my day, or the judgments that came up on my mat, that I would frequently go from sun salutations to savasana with little recollection of how I arrived there in the end. Recognizing that the very thing I was trying to avoid in my personal life (zoning out and moving through life on auto-pilot), was actually the exact thing calling my attention in practice has been a delightful bit of metacognition. Oftentimes yoga will reveal the patterns and loops that have been replaying over and over throughout our day-to-day experience. Recognizing these habits and adjusting to break free of them helps us to continue to grow and evolve.
3. Yoga at home doesn’t look like yoga in a studio.
Let’s face it, it is damn near impossible to get into a yoga studio everyday. From a purely logistical standpoint, it’s challenging. But, add in the cost of dropping into a studio and the opportunity cost lost in the drive to-and-from, and daily studio practice quickly becomes a luxury. When I decided to commit to my practice daily, I had to accept that cultivating a home practice was part of the process.
For me, this meant creating space within my home for yoga, meditation, and ritual that felt authentic and sacred. Thankfully, I’ve graduated from the days when Legos littered my living room, but it’s still not an easy task to create a meditation space in your home that will support an asana practice. I found that making sure my home, and coincidentally my meditation nook, was clean and tidy helped me to let go and be in my practice more readily. Creating an altar in the family room brought a touch of my spiritual practice into my family dynamic and gave me a focal point that I could easily access. All that’s required now is for me to unroll my yoga mat or set out a cushion. Here, again, I get to practice mindfulness on days when I want a full vinyasa practice and can’t spare the 60 minutes to make it happen. Whether my practice is simply lighting an incense and saying a prayer of gratitude, or the entire primary series, I have the space to be authentically me.
4. Cultivating ritual around self-love and appreciation is nourishing.
When I was learning what it meant to have a “yoga practice,” I studied intensely with a teacher. At that time in my life, I thought I needed someone to tell me what to do, or how to do things “correctly.” I wanted to know everything and I thought that “everything” existed outside of myself. Years later, I’m happy to report that I understand more clearly that everything I am looking for is already within me.
You may have heard this in some form or another, but let’s really think about this for a second. When we go seeking, we are looking for something outside of ourselves; something that is separate, and that perpetuates the misunderstanding that what we “need” is outside of our Self. From a spiritual perspective, this misunderstanding causes great suffering and can even perpetuate cognitive dissonance, which can be the underlying cause of anxiety and depression.
Sitting quietly in contemplative thought can shed light on practices that will fill your spiritual cup and help you to develop an authentic practice for your awakening and enlightenment. I started sitting quietly and asking myself questions like, “What do I need today?” or “How can I connect to my highest Self right now?” Almost immediately, my own inner knowing began to answer, giving me clear insight into ways I could cultivate more spiritual connection and integrity.
5. Inclusion supports enlightenment.
We like to focus on the “other” in a way that compares or contrasts, which leads to judgments. These judgments make it difficult to practice mindfulness because we don’t even recognize when judgments are influencing our decision making. A practice rooted in mindfulness is designed to promote self-awareness and integration. This unlocks our natural state of enlightenment. In Yoga, we call this state Samadhi, which is the eighth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Enlightenment is very often misunderstood. Personally, I believe we are born into an enlightened state where we are aware that we are Divine beings having an experience that appears to be separated. This is where the confusion begins. We look around at the duality of our world and we think that the separateness must be “true.” But, this doesn’t feel right, and the more we perpetuate this misunderstanding, the more we suffer. One day, we wake up and recognize that we are all embodied representations of creator and created. The separateness falls away and the reality of our experience is unveiled. In a split second, we forget again and the suffering returns. At least that was the pattern I experienced over and over again until I realized that the more “exclusive” I was, the more separated I felt.
Inclusion means taking the perception of good and bad and throwing them out the window. Who can do yoga? Who has a yoga body? How should “good yoga” be done? All of these perceptions are exclusive polarities that perpetuate human suffering. When I started asking myself why I was choosing exclusivity over inclusivity, my world opened up. Inclusion helped me see that I am you and you are me. Now, when I forget, I can still be in service without being in suffering.
Creating a daily practice looks different for everyone. For me, it looks a lot like accepting what the day brings, finding time to move or sit with my breath, balancing between studio and home practice, creating meaningful experiences that nourish my soul, and being inclusive of people, places, and things. Our practice is in service to our awakening, enlightenment, and realization. It looks different everyday and that’s okay. The important thing is that it helps us come back to ourselves and remember who we truly are.