Practicing yoga as a form of exercise or stress relief is great. There are tons of benefits you can gain, many of them backed up by an increasing number of studies. For some people, the physical aspects of yoga eventually create the urge to go deeper, and to examine ways that you can bring yogic ideals into your entire life. Making big lifestyle changes in areas like diet, spiritual activities, or consumer habits can be worthwhile endeavors, but require intention and commitment. If you want to make a few changes, big or small, here are some tips to support you in that change.
Think about your intention and motivation – When I started taking yoga classes I was mostly curious to see if the practice would change my life or if it would just be some extra exercise. Little did I know that a few short years later I’d be changing my diet, changing the way I care for the outside of my body, and trying to find time to do a little yoga or chanting every day. Yoga sometimes has that effect, opening you up to new ways of relating to yourself and the world around you. But resist the urge to take on changes willy nilly. Just because your teacher or mentor observes some practice or dietary style doesn’t mean that will be right for you. Every person and every body is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. So think carefully about why you want to stop using soap and deodorant, or give up sleeping in so you can greet the sun during morning sadhana. Trying to force changes is a recipe for disaster, so be still and listen to your body and your soul. They will tell you what is best for you if you slow down and listen!
Choose your changes carefully – There are so many ways to change your life, how can you know where to begin? Well, start small and don’t do too much at once. If you want to build a daily yoga practice, start with a few days a week, or 15 minutes a day. If you want to change your diet, think about making small changes that will build up over time. If you want to use less plastic and reduce your environmental impact, pick one or two things you can do to start down that path, like buying a reusable water bottle to take around. Some people can do things cold turkey, or 100% right from the start. Others need to ease in. Know which kind of person you are, and do your best.
Yoga Friends – When making lifestyle changes, it’s really beneficial to have supportive people you can rely on to keep you motivated and grounded when the going gets tough. It could be as simple as having a friend who knows what you are doing, someone you can talk to about the cool parts and lean on for the tough stuff. Or perhaps you and a friend will be partners, both making the same change and talking and comparing notes through the process. Whatever the case may be, friends are a great tool. And they don’t even have to be physically near you. The power of the internet to connect people around the world is immense, and with active online communities such as Spirit Voyage, you’re sure to find some people who can help you with whatever you are trying to do!
Respect the Feelings of your friends and family – making lifestyle changes can be tough on friends and family who may not understand why you no longer want to eat or drink or live the way they do, and the way they have always known you. Assuming that you have an otherwise good and healthy relationship with them, navigating the waters of change is doable. Remain open to hearing their feelings and feedback, and try not to get defensive. If you can meet then with love and openness, it will go a long way to showing them that you that you haven’t been brainwashed by some crazy yoga cult. Present your point of view honestly, and with as much solid data as you can to back it up. And remember, your friends and family love you and want the best for you. If they don’t understand what you’re doing, that love can manifest as fear. Stay calm and work together to find a balance.
Be gentle with yourself – When you’re starting to make changes in your life, sometimes obstacles arise. Maybe you forget to do your meditation one day, or you find yourself craving a taste of the food you gave up. Rather than beating yourself up about it, forgive your lapses and remember why you are trying to make the change in the first place. Take a look at the circumstances surrounding the problem and see if you can learn something that will prevent it in the future. Reach out to your yoga friends for support, and don’t give up!