Warm weather is on the horizon, and just like the seasons of nature, our yoga practice tends to be cyclical and seasonal, consisting of waves and tides, ebbs and flows. You may have taken a yoga hiatus for any number of reasons—being overbooked, healing from an injury, plain exhausted, or having a case of the COVID quarantine blahs. It’s completely normal to take a break and then return. But Taoist philosopher, Deng Ming Dao, reminds us that, “A moving door hinge never corrodes. Flowing water never grows stagnant.” So if it’s been a significant hiatus, and you’re finding it hard to get back to your yoga routine out of basic inertia, read on for our tips…
…and since we’re ready for summer, we’ll also dive into more water metaphors
After a long yoga hiatus
Take the plunge! If you’re struggling to get motivated, remind yourself of the importance of personal health and self-care. Think back to the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits that come with a regular yoga practice. Try to remember what enchanted you about yoga in the first place—the peace of a focused mind, the bodily strength and awareness, the ease of movement, a confident posture, and the feeling of community and connection.
If it has been a substantial amount of time since your last practice, you may be feeling resistance due to insecurity about lost flexibility or ‘ability,’ out of shape and out of breath, or too scatterbrained and stressed to focus your mind. I encourage you to reflect on the irony here—it is akin to not drinking because you’re thirsty.
Yoga is your water, in this case. Drink and be merry!
Two mindsets for getting back to yoga
Even though it should be avoided, because it’s reductive and sometimes harmful to divide people neatly into two groups, for today’s purposes, it’s fine! The way a person introduces themselves into a body of water can be divided this way, and depending on which group you more closely identify with, it could indicate the best way for you to re-establish a yoga routine:
The Divers are those who jump headfirst right into the water before they can overthink it and talk themselves out of it. These people crave immediate immersion and gratification. They thrive on using momentum to get something going. And barring that the reintroduction is not so fast that it causes injury, and the person is in good health, to those people I say, “Pull on your favorite yoga pants, grab a friend, and get thee to the next available group class – live online or in-person!”
The Waders are the ones who stride feet first into the water, step by step, allowing themselves a slow reintroduction, a gradual acclimation. If you find yourself in this group—and anyone who has been away from yoga for a substantial amount of time should probably take this route—read on for 6 tips we have found to be useful over the years.
6 Tips for a smooth return to yoga
After a significant hiatus from yoga, coming back offers the duality of being a beginner again with a beginner’s mindset, so you can don your arm floaties once again, yet still having that muscle memory kick in.
1. Take small steps at first
If your schedule is packed, prioritize being available for 5 minutes at first. Try taking a few breaths in Mountain pose and Forward Fold, a seated meditation, or a short pranayama. Follow along with one of our 10 minute videos. Set your alarm a few minutes early or do it at the beginning of your lunch break. Every little bit counts. Seriously.
2. Center on the breath
Breath awareness is vital. Observe without judgment the inhale—its length, if you feel an expansion or tightness in your chest or abdomen, if it’s smooth or uneven, if it’s effortless or challenging. Be aware of the exhale – its length, the contraction of your chest and abdomen, if you prefer sending it through your nose or mouth, whether there is a release in your shoulders or jaw. Notice the moment between the inhale and exhale. This is the cornerstone of yoga philosophy, and it is key to retrieving stability and focus when coming back to your physical practice.
3. Observe with grace
Notice the changes in your body and the feelings and thoughts that arise with each pose. But come from a place of curiosity rather than coming to negative or positive conclusions. Maybe now it feels better in Child’s pose to take your knees wide and rest your forehead on your stacked fists. Perhaps there’s a lil more flesh on your hips, so it feels better to have your elbow on your thigh for Extended Side Angle. Do whatever feels best. Take it easy, and be proud of yourself just for showing up.
4. Go slow
During your first few classes back, listen extra closely to your body. Skip a vinyasa when needed, going right to Downdog or Child’s pose if you need to catch your breath. Maybe the teacher cues full wheel, and you’re just not up to it that day, feel absolutely free to adjust it or substitute it with bridge pose or happy baby instead. Utilize the yoga props at your disposal to make a pose more comfortable. In fact, you should always feel free to modify or skip any pose you’re uncomfortable with, so keep that in mind!
5. Commit the time
Even if you’re very busy, your personal well-being has to be a priority. Pick a class that fits in your schedule, and commit to going every week. Of course, putting too much pressure on yourself will have an adverse effect, so go easy on yourself if you miss a class here and there. It could help to have an accountability buddy with this one.
6. Track your progress
Stay motivated by taking a few notes about how you felt physically and mentally after each yoga session. You’ll be able to find patterns and see how you’re progressing, and it will also encourage you to engage more fully with your yoga practice.
Keep coming back
It may feel like treading water at first—in a good way! That first class back might be sweatier, your muscles shakier, your thoughts may be louder, and you may find yourself wishing for Savasana to come sooner. But afterward, you will walk out of the class with an extra pep in your step.
You may be a little sore the next day. Recall, though, that going back for more is the best way to relieve that lactic acid buildup. You’ll observe increased ease of movement with each subsequent session.
After only a few classes you might start to notice that you’re sitting up a little straighter and standing a little taller. Then a few more classes later, you will likely begin to regain proprioception or awareness of your body in space. You may even find it easier to focus and quiet your mind.