Establishing a regular yoga practice is easy to aspire to but often hard to put into action. Ben Ralston, Sivananda yoga teacher and founder of www.premys.com suggests ways to break the inertia.
Everyone who comes to yoga, or any other spiritual discipline, will at some point ask themselves the question: ''How can I practice more regularly?''
The honest answer is that it's not easy. Practising regularly takes a lot of discipline and it's very common to see-saw between phases of diligent practice, followed by long spells of 'yoga drought'. In between, we somehow lose the energy needed to persevere.
The problem is that regular, good practice is not enough. We must at the same time eradicate the old, negative habits that drain our energy and hold us back.
These may be numerous, and often range from poor diet, to lack of sleep. This process of destroying the negative habits is called purification - and it should go hand in hand with a stronger practice.
Here are some pointers to kick-start you on the road to a regular yoga practice:
Lifestyle and purification:
Work on your obvious negative habits: do you bite your nails? Are you always running late? Do you drink caffeine and/or eat lots of sugar? Anything which wastes your energy should be systematically cut out of your life. The only thing that is required is the will to change.
Diet: we spend a huge proportion of our energy in digestion. The food we eat should be easy to digest and that means it should be vegetarian, preferably vegan. Don't take my word for it: do some research. If you are thorough, you will discover why.
Don't eat anything for at least three hours before sleeping. If you fall asleep before dinner is fully digested, you can forget about getting up early. The food will sit in your stomach all night, toxifying, and you won't sleep deeply.
Also, it may be a bad idea to drink before you go to bed - sleeping right through the night without interruption is ideal - waking up to go the loo because you had tea before sleeping prevents you from getting deep sleep. On the other hand drink plenty of water throughout the day; at least 1.5 litres.
Cut right down on all drugs - including caffeine, nicotine, and white sugar. These things play havoc with our energy levels.
Get good deep sleep. Get to bed early, with a calm mind, and relaxed body. If necessary, do a few simple asanas before bedtime - forward bending postures are the most relaxing.
Some control of the senses (brahmacharya) is important: limit the amount of sex, TV, loud music, socialising you have.
Study the first two steps of Raja Yoga: the Yamas and Niyamas, and apply these principles to your life. These principles constitute the cornerstone of purification.
The nitty-gritty: practice
Make practice your priority. If anything else comes first, then it is inevitable that your yoga practice will at some point fall by the wayside.
Set aside practice time in the morning, first thing. Get up EARLY. The very best time of day for meditation is between 4 and 6am. The stomach is empty, the mind is calm after sleeping, and the world outside the window is peaceful. How to get up at this time? A very useful 'mantra' is: 'get up, then wake up' ( not the other way round! ). Set the alarm, and get out of bed when it goes off. Don't be tempted to hit the snooze button. After a while your body will get out of bed more and more easily as it learns to look forward to the practice.
Make sure that you don't over-do anything. And work on your weaknesses. Have a good all-round practice that combines lots of different asanas ( forward, backward, sideways bending; twisting; standing; inverted; seated; balancing; relaxation ) with plenty of pranayama and relaxation. Always end the practice with at least 10 minutes of yoga nidra - deep relaxation.
Other forms of exercise two or three times a week are useful. And walk more. The ancient yogis didn't travel in cars, or sit in chairs. They had very strong bodies.
Try to spend more time in the company of wise, spiritual people. This is called Satsang. Spend less time in the company of materialistic people.
Finally, and importantly, don't be too hard on yourself. Mentally torturing yourself because you didn't practice enough last week is a form of self-violence, and re-inforces the negative patterns that prevent you from practising in the first place.
Accept yourself as you are now (self-respect), and work slowly, surely, and with love, towards how you want to be in the future. The more self-respect you have, the more you will love yourself.
And the more love you have for yourself, the more you will want to give yourself the gift of a regular and consistent practice.
Ben Ralson is a Sivananda yoga teacher and founder of www.premys.com