In this installment of “Creating Habits in the New Year” series I’m going to share a bit about the yoga of exercise and how to create exercise habits that stick. Though I lean towards practicality and mindfulness, I love exercise (I prefer to call it movement).
The human body has evolved over the ages with daily movement being the cornerstone of food, water, child rearing, group care giving and shelter. Only in these last several centuries have we become a sedentary culture that needs to “exercise” in order to get the movement that our physiology requires.
Your body is designed to move, a lot! When you look into yoga and Ayurveda’s study of the human body you discover that the reason for exercise extends far beyond having a yoga butt or being an athlete.
Exercise serves 3 main purposes: (Dr John Douillard – Mind, Body, Sport)
- Developing mind~body coordination
- Removing stress and tension from both the body and the mind
- Rejuvenating the body while cultivating the faculties of the mind
Yoga practice is a form of physical exercise that serves to: increase mobility in your body, increase flexibility, put your body in weight bearing positions that are good for bone density and get your blood as well as body fluids moving. If you incorporate yogic breathing with the movement you’ll be driving inhaled air more efficiently into the lower lobes of your lungs and therefor exhaling more CO2.
Breathing for fat loss: Did you know that 4/5 the body’s fat is removed through exhaled CO2? Check out this study with a cool little video.
One of the chief attributes of yoga that sets it apart from other forms of exercise is that the practice is geared towards you placing exquisitely, mindful attention on your bodily sensations and breath; it becomes meditative. Over time, your knowledge of your body increases and your intuition about how to best care for yourself increases too.
Once you get a firm grasp of how to pay attention to the more subtle aspects of your body, as you do in yoga practice, you can apply that same quality of attention to many of your other exercise/movement practices. When that happens the benefits of your exercise extend beyond whether or not you consider yourself to be an athlete or how you want your body to look.
WHAT ABOUT THE HABIT THOUGH?
A habit is something that has been so fully integrated into your rhythm that you don’t have to think about it much, if at all; you just do it, with little to no energy invested in “should I” or “shouldn’t I”.
Do you remember the 5 habit triggers from the last lesson I shared? The things that trigger your habits to happen can be distilled down to 5 categories:
- Time of day
- Prior action
- Other people
For every habit you already have, or for every habit that you want to create, there is always something that “triggers” you to repeat the habit.
It’s challenging to create new habits because you have to THINK and then do; it takes effort. But. Once the habit is formed you DON’T HAVE TO THINK about it; it takes on it’s own momentum and very little energy is wasted struggling to make it happen.
When people say they want more consistent routines what they really want is for their routines to become habits.
I feel fortunate that I get to help people build habits. On one hand it’s selfish; as I teach the info gets more deeply ingrained in my own brain and body. But it’s also rewarding to get to witness people’s success.
Two of the more common challenges I see come up for people are: biting off more than they can chew and lack of “stick-to-it-iveness”. The two are usually linked together. When you want to create a new routine you have to ask yourself, “can I sustain this?”
I hear a lot of people talk about how they “did good” in terms of eating and exercising for awhile and they loved the results; they felt great! But. Then something happened, life got crazy somehow and they fell off of their routines, later finding themselves back where they started. Included in this cycle is a certain flavor of failure or “I didn’t do good enough”.
So what’s the solution to this cycle of highs and lows?
Start smaller. Like, underwhelmingly, un-heroically, small. Once you stabilize a very small step, make the next small step. We call this the Kaizen approach. What does Kaizen mean?
Take a moment to think about this; if exercise, movement or yoga are to become a habit for you what will that look like on a daily or weekly basis?
What would it look like to start very small? What SMALL step could you sustain? Go for completely underwhelming yourself with the proposal. If it seems completely non heroic then you’re on the right track!
TIME OF DAY MATTERS
As you learned from the 5 habit triggers, you can use a specific time of day to initiate your budding habit of exercise. But there’s more, Ayurveda teaches us that based on our circadian clock we benefit greatly if we get our blood, breath and body moving in the morning, before 10 AM and before your body’s energy is diverted to digesting food. I call this morning exercise routine “priming the prana pump”.
For the athletes out there and those who love a good long yoga practice you can still do that later, this morning session only needs to be 15-20 mins. It could be shoveling snow, a brisk walk, sun salutations or a short routine with weights. Aim for moderate to high intensity, while breathing through your nose. The breathing through the nose part is important!
Once I nailed this habit my energy levels became more consistently vibrant, my work productivity increased and I quit criticizing my body. In fact exercise has become my “keystone” habit.
A keystone habit is a habit you have that when you do it, it makes all of your other habits easier.
Since time of day matters in terms of exercise, it’s naturally a good trigger for initiating the routine. You might want to combine it with an additional “prior action” trigger. When I was first starting out with the building of this habit my trigger was right after my boys left for school (prior action) but now it’s simply what I do in the morning at around 9 AM (time of day) nearly every day.
Can you think of a “time of day” or “prior action” trigger that will trigger your consistent exercise/yoga routine?
OVER TO YOU
Listen, learning to incorporate new habits and letting go of habits that cause you grief is hard! But. The only way to get there is by going through the hard part, by moving out of your comfort zone, by taking action. The hardest part is getting started. The next hardest part is sticking with it.
The good news is humans, by nature, are incredibly adaptable; you can teach an old dog new tricks!
I’m hoping that this habit series of emails is helpful and that it’s inspiring you to truly consider what you want to create for yourself in 2017.
The Yoga of Exercise In Review
- Exercise serves 3 main purposes
- Breathing matters
- Start small – resist heroics
- Time of day matters
Thanks so much for being here! Your self-care habits are a big part of what makes it possible for you to offer the best of yourself to the world and for that I honor you.