melbourne yoga class

Building a yoga habit

Morning yoga has become a ritual for me. 

I roll out of bed and do a few yoga poses on my bedroom floor in my pjs. I do this every day, sometimes just for ten minutes. It doesn't always feel good, but it tunes me in to how I feel, and I am usually calmer afterwards. 

This habit has a significant impact on the rhythm* of my day, my productivity in my work, and how stressed I do or do not feel. 

Rituals and habits are closely related. 

I think of rituals as habits that give us a little space to find meaning, or to remind ourselves of it.  

The dictionary definition of ritual is “any practice or pattern of behaviour regularly performed in a set manner”, and there’s plenty written on how rituals can give meaning to events (even a study that showed that performing a short ritual before eating food increased the enjoyment of eating it!), and how the things we do repeatedly are who we become. 

(These two, on the relationship between personality and habit, and on how long it takes to form a new habit, are particularly interesting.)

What does this have to do with yoga? Well, yoga is a tool both for noticing our habits (in posture, movement, thoughts, emotions) and for changing our them so we spending more time with the ones that help us.

And, of course, yoga itself can be a habit or ritual. 

Do you want to build a yoga habit?

I’ve written here before about how a home yoga practice can be an antidote to Busy. It’s also a way of noticing things about ourselves and how we are in the world, and, potentially, to begin to build more helpful habits in other parts of life.

But how to start?

I’m going to give just one piece of advice.  

Start small. 

A small change is easier to do regularly, and to form a habit we need regularity. (There's a great post here on the Zen Habits blog about forming habits.)

So perhaps start just by standing for a minute (yes, just a minute) each morning or evening in tadasana with your feet at hip width apart, spine tall, face muscles softening.

Or, you might like to try just a minute each day of any of these simple postures:

Build a yoga habit

Pick a time of day, and do it each day at (or roughly at) that time. Be flexible though. If the time doesn't work, change it until you find a time that does. Then stick to it. And that one little change may lead to bigger ones. After all, from little things big things grow.

*A note: I prefer the word ‘rhythm’ to ‘routine’ because it’s a little more flexible and a little less mechanical (and hey, life isn’t always predictable).

How to get (and keep!) people excited about yoga at work

Yoga at work. Obviously we think it's a great idea: it's our specialty. (Also, infographic on yoga for blokes here.)

When we did our survey, a fair number of you wanted to know how to get people excited about yoga at work. It's true: running successful and well-attended yoga classes at work can be a challenge, even if you and your colleagues really do love yoga.

So we thought we'd ask the organisers of a couple of the longest-running and most successful MmYoga classes for their expert tips! 

Alyson has had MmYoga classes running consistently in her workplace for about five years; Rosanne for about four.

How do you go about organising for people to get involved? 

Both Alyson and Rosanne use email to gauge interest and inform people about classes, and Rosanne also uses word of mouth.

“About three weeks prior to the end of term, I send out an email to the group asking for their intentions for next term,” says Alyson. “So I need to know if they want to continue, and if so, how many sessions are they wanting to attend,” she says.

Flexibility with the number of sessions helps, Alyson says. At her workplace, the terms are 20 classes long, but participants are able to attend 5, 10, 15 or all 20 of those sessions, which allows them to work around annual leave. 

“I keep a list of email addresses of anyone who has EVER expressed an interest in anything remotely related to yoga,” says Rosanne. “We also have a social yammer network at work and this has been used occasionally with mixed results,” she says. 

Both Alyson and Rosanne say it helps to occasionally open the invitations to classes out beyond the current list of attendees.

“If it looks like I'm not going to get the numbers, I send out a global email to all people in the building, with a bit of a spiel about the yoga,” Alyson says. “I always get a lot of interest from this,” she says.

Rosanne says she has found it useful to have an ‘open’ class towards the end of a term and invite people who haven’t already enrolled in a term to come along and try.

How do you keep them involved?

Alyson says people are more likely to stay involved if they feel like the space is a safe one and that people from all levels within the organisation can feel comfortable in. 

“We also have a bit of fun, and joke around a bit so everyone feels comfortable,” Alyson says. 

Money also comes into it. Alyson says keeping the numbers up means the cost is more manageable for everyone, and this is something she is clear about when she’s organising the classes — which encourages people to recruit their friends and colleagues to come along too. 

Having one term roll into the next helps to keep the enthusiasm up too, Alyson says. (Building a habit helps keep up the enthusiasm in a home practice too — here are some tips about how to do that.)

What are some of the challenges of organising a yoga class in a workplace?

Alyson says that finding the time to keep things going and keep the lines of communication open can be difficult at times because there is quite a bit of organising and chasing people involved. There are also lull periods where the organiser needs to amp up the advertising to get the numbers. Rosanne says it can be difficult sometimes to find an available space in which to hold the class. 

Tips for meeting the challenges

While every work place is different, Alyson and Rosanne have some good general tips for getting around some of the logistical challenges of organising yoga at work. 

“It really is about making everyone aware of it,” Alyson says. “So talk about it, publicise it, get it talked about in the workplace,” she says. Getting the support of the Workhealth team or Occupational Health and Safety representative is useful too.

Being knowledgeable about the bureaucratic ins-and-outs of the organisation really helps, Rosanne says. 

“And, trite but true — professionalism and being courteous always helps,” Rosanne says. 

Unexpected benefits

The challenges of organising yoga at work are worth it though. Rosanne says she’s had good recognition from her workplace for organising the yoga classes.

“I used to worry about the potential for injury (even minor) of a work colleague during a yoga class that I’ve organised,” Rosanne says. “I feel responsible for their safety (particularly for new participants). On the other hand, I also get a nice warm-fluffy feeling thinking that I’ve contributed in a small way to peoples’ health,” she says. 

Alyson has noticed a huge improvement in workplace culture: people from different teams talk to each other, and people from all levels come along - from junior to senior.

Warm and fluffy, plus a better work environment. Yay!

yoga at work

How does it feel? Learning how to experience yoga

Here's the thing: yoga looks weird. For everyone. 

This is because how yoga poses look is almost entirely beside the point (I say ‘almost’ for a reason — I’ll come back to that.)

What is instructive in yoga, and really what’s most important is how it feels.

How yoga feels is a challenging question. Yoga is not (at least not entirely) about feeling good

Instead, yoga is about working with what’s actually there. I like to call this working with what you find, rather than what you hope, fear or expect to be there. Sometimes this is bliss and happiness, sometimes not. 

The point is, yoga is about learning to notice what's there in the first place. 

The physical postures are about learning to feel our stance, gait, gestures, and breathing; essentially they’re about becoming more intimate with our physical bodies. That is, yoga poses are about learning to notice what it is that we experience in our physical bodies. 

To fully understand what that means, it’s helpful to look at a dictionary definition of the word ‘feel’: to be aware of or experience both physical sensations and mental or emotional sensations.

Becoming more aware of physical sensations through yoga poses can and usually does make you more aware of how you feel emotionally and mentally about your body, yourself and other stuff more broadly.

For example, for me lately, by far the most challenging physical posture in my yoga practice has been savasana. Yes. Just lying on the floor. What I’ve felt lying on the floor at the end of my practice is the tightness in my neck, shoulders and upper back, their unwillingness to relax. I’ve also felt frustrated with and disappointed in myself for not being able to let go. I mean, it’s just relaxing right? Why can’t I just do it? This tells me a lot about what's going on for me just now. (I'm feeling Busy.)

Lying on the floor is really difficult sometimes. 

Lying on the floor is really difficult sometimes. 

Many of us are not in the habit either of noticing how we feel — physically or mentally/emotionally. Many of us need practise at noticing our experience. To notice which sensations are stretch or effort and which are pain. And, especially at the beginning, taking the time to notice how we feel or what we’re experiencing can be confronting and challenging. 

For this reason, it’s important to know that you can always back off if something becomes too much. If a feeling — physical, mental or emotional —  is overwhelming. 

How you, specifically you, feel in a yoga class is important. Your experience of yoga postures is more important than how you look.

If you need to rest, do. You don’t need to wait for the teacher’s instruction. 

If you need to rest, you might choose child's pose...

If you need to rest, you might choose child's pose...

...or perhaps what I like to refer to as 'constructive rest pose', whichever feels most comfortable for you. (Can you see those tight shoulders I was describing before here, creeping up off the floor?)

...or perhaps what I like to refer to as 'constructive rest pose', whichever feels most comfortable for you. (Can you see those tight shoulders I was describing before here, creeping up off the floor?)

If you have questions about your experience, ask them, either at the time, or at the end of class. Most teachers I know are very welcoming of questions. And, trust me, there’s no such thing as a stupid question — bodies are odd and complex and there are endless questions that any one of us could ask about them. This learning is an ongoing process. It’s one that, despite its challenges, can be very satisfying, and does, of course, come with some pleasant sensations too (yes, yoga can and does often feel good).

Let me come back, for a moment, to how you look in yoga poses. 

How you look is not totally irrelevant (though let me reiterate: it is not, by far, the most important thing). Particularly when you’re learning a pose you’re unfamiliar with, looking at how the parts of your body line up with one another can be a helpful way to get familiar with good alignment. This is part of what your teacher is looking at when she walks around the room peering at you. So, for instance, you might look to see that your front knee is directly above your ankle in a lunge so you’re not putting extra pressure on either of those joints. 

Keeping in mind that each of us will be working with different body sizes, different tight bits, strong bits, flexible bits etc, you can see how considering how your body looks in this specific way is very different to making sure you look the same as the person next to you or the teacher. (You don’t and won’t. But that’s the beauty of bodies: their variety is endlessly fascinating.)

What I’m trying to get at here is that how you look in yoga is not totally unimportant, but it’s essentially a stepping stone to noticing how you feel.

How you look is not the endpoint.

For practise at noticing how you feel, try this witnessing exercise, lying or sitting on the floor. 

Notice the parts of you that are touching the floor in the post. Notice everything you can about how those points of contact feel.

Now notice how the air around you feels on your skin. Is it warm or cool? Is there a breeze or is it still?

Now notice your breathing. Where in your body do you notice it most? Is it fast or slow? Does it catch anywhere? Are your inhales longer than your exhales or vice versa?

Throughout this process, you might notice certain emotions or thoughts come up. That’s okay. That’s normal. If you find you get caught up in one of those thought trains or emotions, that’s okay too. When you notice that, start this witnessing exercise again from the beginning.

You might also notice physical discomfort or pain. That’s okay too. Notice what you can about those physical feelings. But if they become too much and you need to move, do. And then just start the witnessing exercise again from the beginning. 

It doesn’t matter how many times you start again. 

Just as how you look in a yoga pose is not the end point, being calm and super-focused is not the end point in this exercise either. Instead, you’re just trying to practise noticing how you feel, in all senses of that word. 

Learning how to feel is difficult. Many of us tend to think of our bodies and our minds as separate entities — and possibly we identify more readily with our minds. The thing is though, our bodies are not merely vehicles for our minds. Our bodies are us too. We are our bodies. The messages between our bodies and our minds go both ways, and our bodies hold tensions that come from stress in the mind.

Which is a pretty good reason to have some idea what the messages from our bodies are saying, don’t you think?