• Florence Cross

Yoga Every Day... Or Else?

For the last 5 years, give or take, I’ve practised yoga every single day, or at least tried to. Whether I was feeling energised or tired, joyful or dull, whether my body wanted to move or wanted to find rest and ease, I’ve worked with my body and mind to include my practice every day.


Sure, I’ve missed days. Sometimes, when I’d been too ill to move, or plans changed suddenly, my ‘yoga slot’ would be sacrificed, but this was always accompanied by a feeling of guilt. Even when I had a procedure on my spine and lost control of my leg for 2 days, I felt bad for not practising, fearing I had let myself down and lost the physical, mental and spiritual progress, control and understanding I had been working on.


My daily yoga practice has been my way of maintaining my mental, physical and spiritual health for a long time now, I felt like I relied on it to keep equilibrium, and frankly, to keep functioning. When I would miss a day I’d feel like I was a fraud for not being committed to my practice and for not taking my own advice, and I’d fear the mental and physical unravelling that was clearly unavoidable due to this single missed session.


As I write this, I’ve just come back from a 5-week trip. Before I left, my main concern, amongst many other things, was how I was going to maintain my daily practice. How could I keep up my daily morning yoga, which I’d stuck to so religiously for 5 years, when staying in hostel dorms with barely enough space to dump my bag? Nevertheless, I tied my yoga mat to my rucksack, hopeful that I wouldn’t break the magic spell this daily practice had created, and set off.


As could’ve been expected, I was not able to maintain a regular yoga practice while travelling. What with shared dorm rooms, busy communal areas, and green spaces being hard to get to and crowded, the practicalities often prevented it. That being said, I was able to find a few nice parks, some hostels had secluded terraces and gardens, and one even had a free yoga class I went to, so my practice wasn’t completely abandoned. But if I’d realised before I left that I would only have a handful of dedicated yoga sessions over a 5 week period, I would have believed my mental and physical health would have been suffering.


But instead, my body and mind have been just fine.


In Buddhism, there is the concept of the fetters which is better translated to English as a chain or shackles that are hindrances to reaching enlightenment. One of the 10 listed in the Sutta Pitaka is the fetter of attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāsa), which came to mind when contemplating my practice, or lack thereof.


Although I wouldn’t say that my regular practice is a hindrance to my life, on the contrary, it is one of the most important parts of my life and I did sorely miss it while travelling, I think my perceived reliance on it for my happiness needs examining. After all, any attachment, even to yoga itself, is attachment. When we rely, or rather feel like we rely, on something for maintaining our wellbeing, whether that's your morning cup of coffee, your evening dog walk or your lunchtime noodles, we give that ritual power over us.


That's not to say that this is a bad thing, it’s these rituals that give us structure and control, and they can genuinely have a really positive impact on our wellbeing (for one I will certainly not be giving up yoga anytime soon!), but when we start to feel we can’t live without them, perhaps we need to take a step back and reflect and why exactly we are continuing these practices.


After this trip, I’ve remembered just how important yoga is for me, but also reconnected with how diverse my yoga practice can, and should, be. Although I was only able to roll out my mat a handful of times, I continued my practice in other ways. I spent long train journeys gazing out the window contemplating, I met and connected with interesting people from all over the world and learnt about other cultures and beliefs, I spent hours staring at beautiful views and sunsets, allowing myself to slow down and appreciate the tremendous beauty of the world, and I danced and danced and allowed myself to let go of my ego and have fun!


Of course, I knew that there is more to yoga than the work on the mat, but sometimes you need to prove it to yourself.


While I have been getting back on the mat every morning, it feels empowering to know that I won’t unravel if I do ever miss a day, or even a few days, because sometimes just being is practice enough.