Like everything, life flows and changes constantly. We have periods of busyness and periods of quiet, periods of healthy eating and periods of indulgence (cough Christmas season), periods of loneliness and periods of connectedness, and periods of yoga and…periods of little or no yoga.
Getting back to the mat can be an anxiety-provoking experience if you’ve taken a hiatus. Perhaps your membership ran out, or you went on holidays, or you were sick or injured, or you had a discouraging class. Perhaps you got really into kickboxing, or started a new job, or made the brilliant decision to go on a date with someone in your “go-to” class and now don’t want to risk an awkward run-in with them. Whatever the reason, people take time off.
I’ve been practising on and off for the better part of a decade; there have been weeks, months, years where I haven’t set foot on a mat. And every time I return, whether it be my body or mind calling for it, a professional prescribing it, a great deal on classes… I go through the same internal dialogue: “You’re not going to be able to do what you used to in the room. What will the instructor think of you? You used to go to her class all the time. She’ll be so disappointed in your deterioration. Ugh. It’s going to hurt. You’re so inflexible, now. Wow. This is going to suck.” Naturally, these thoughts lead to feelings of dread, underconfidence, anxiety, and defeat…and that’s before I even enter the room! With those paralyzing feelings present, my instinct is going to be to avoid class, rather than attend it. And so the “yogabstinence” continues.
So, what to do? Here are some tips on getting back to the mat after taking a break:
- It doesn’t have to be all yoga or no yoga: As humans, thinking in “the grey” is not in our nature. It’s not efficient. We generally see things quite black or white—either “all yoga” or “no yoga.” You might have recently completed the 40-day challenge, or are used to going 3x a week without fail. Then, you took time off (no yoga), and the thought of going back to “all yoga” is overwhelming. Find the grey! Instead of making a goal to attend 3 -7 classes a week, or whatever you used to do, make your goal to attend one class. You can always make a new goal to attend another class that week afterwards.
- Be SMART: On the note of goal setting, we far more likely to feel motivated/realize our goal if it is “SMART”—Specific, manageable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. Instead of something vague such as, “I’m going to get back to yoga this week,” write down: “I’m going to attend Dan’s 6pm Hatha on Thursday.”
- Be compassionate to yourself going back in the room—lower or abolish your expectations: Chances are, you’re not going to be as flexible as you were when you were practising five days a week. You might not fit into your hip hugging tights like you used to. Right now, Cobra might be more realistic for your triceps than Upward Dog. So, Harbour your inner Buddha, let go of striving and expectation, and open up to whatever experience(s) you meet in the room. If you expect yourself to meet a standard or expectation, you’re creating a platform for discouragement and frustration.
- Let the instructor know you’ve taken a break: If you’re concerned about going back to a class that you used to attend regularly, and think the instructor might be judging you, casually let them know you’ve taken some time off and will be “taking it easy” today. Realistically, they’re probably paying no attention to your “performance” either way, but it can help deconstruct some of those automatic thoughts that say “you’re being judged.” However, if you’re feeling really courageous, don’t tell them. Sitting in the discomfort of perceived judgment while practising self-compassion can be a powerful experience for developing internally validated self-confidence!
- Our expectation is generally much worse than our reality: As Honor de Balzac said, “Misery is in the anticipation.” Studies have shown that people rate actually experiencing a task to be a less negative experience than what they anticipated it to be. So, know that, in spite of what your anxiety might be telling you, it probably won’t be that bad! Either way, congratulate yourself for having the courage to get back in the room. Your mind and body will thank you!!!
Megan Bruneau (M.A, R.C.C.) is an avid yoga practitioner, former Semperviva Yoga Advisor and most impressively, a Registered Clinical Counsellor. Megan draws upon her life experience to inspire people towards healthy balanced living and has first-hand experience of the life-changing effects of yoga. See more posts by Megan at https://www.oneshrinksperspective.com/.