“Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time.” ~Shunryu Suzuki
Two years ago, I reached a breaking point. I was miserable in my job, unhappy in my marriage, disinterested in my graduate school program, and struggling with multiple medical issues.
One night, while fighting with my husband, a deep sense of dread overcame me. Who is this person, so beaten, broken, and miserable? I’d become completely unrecognizable to myself.
I knew I had to make a decision: continue on a downward spiral out of fear and lose myself completely, or let go, fall, and see where I landed.
I chose to let go. In a single week I quit my high paying job, left my PhD program, filed for divorce, sold all my stuff, and bought a plane ticket to volunteer in Brazil. Completely exhausted, I left the US with only one goal in mind: to heal my life.
The first step toward that goal was the development of a daily yoga practice. This became a key component in my healing process, serving as an anchor during a time when everything in my life was dreadfully unstable.
My yoga mat became a safe space to reconnect with my mind, body, and spirit.
When I arrived back home after six months, I was a completely different person. My daily practice helped me move through anger, sadness, fear, guilt, and shame. It taught me how to feel gratitude, compassion, inner strength, and happiness.
If you’re feeling stuck in your life, developing a daily practice can be a huge catalyst toward growth and healing. Your practice doesn’t need to be yoga and meditation. It can be almost anything as long as it gives you the time and space to let go and reconnect with yourself, each and every day.
Here are 7 steps to help you develop your own daily practice:
1. Be clear.
While my goal was “to heal my life,” my main motivation was actually to tackle the pain surrounding a lifelong struggle with an undiagnosed eating disorder. I knew this was the one issue I’d been avoiding for decades, and that it was the first area that needed to be addressed.
Ask yourself: “What value can come to my life by devoting a few minutes a day to my self?” The more specific you can be, the better.
If you don’t know, just be honest. Part of developing a daily practice is learning to be in touch with why you want things. Be patient. It will come.
2. Develop a vision.
Once my goal was clear, I developed a vision of what it would look like to attain that goal of healing my life. It meant being off all medications, being gentle with my body, eating nourishing foods, and surrounding myself with supportive people. Visualizing what I wanted made my motivations for developing a daily practice more tangible.
A simple way to develop your vision is to create a Vision Board, or a collage of images, phrases, and words that serve as a visual representation of what you want out of life. By writing a few words about the images you’ve placed on the board, you set a clear intention for your vision.
3. Create a safe space.
Every day, when I step onto my yoga mat early in the morning before anyone else is awake, I create a safe space to perform my daily practice. A safe space is one in which you can express yourself fully and freely.
Identify a time and space where you won’t be interrupted. While it would be nice if we could all have a room to call our own, that isn’t always possible. As an alternative, to establish your safe space it can be helpful to have a specific object that you place in your environment when your practice commences, like a yoga mat or candle.
4. Get in touch with your body.
At the beginning of my daily practice, I do a short breathing exercise to get in touch with my body. Getting in touch with my body means being present with all it’s physical sensations and figuring out what they’re trying to tell me. This body awareness sets the foundation for deeper levels of self-awareness.
Every time you start your daily practice, take a few minutes to focus on your breath moving in and out of your nostrils. See if you can direct the breath to different parts of your body, and notice any physical sensations that occur, such as tingling, tightness, or throbbing. What are these sensations trying to communicate?
5. Get in touch with your emotions.
Awareness of my physical body helped me tap into my emotional body. The physical body is a direct reflection of your emotional body, and every day is different. It’s important that you feel that difference, both physically and emotionally, and reflect that change in your daily practice.
If you feel tired, do something relaxing; if you feel energized, go out for a walk; if you feel creative, paint. That’s how you create a sustainable daily practice that you can be excited about, each and every day. That’s also how you create an environment that supports both your physical and emotional well-being.
At the end of my practice, I take a few moments to write down my reflections for the day. After that, I list five things I feel positive about and an affirmation I’d like to focus on for the day. Even on days when I feel sad and frustrated, I push myself to identify five positives, helping me develop a sense of gratitude for everything I have in life.
Start a journal and every day list five things you are grateful for in your life. Based on the things that come up during your practice, create a positive affirmation to carry forward throughout your day. This is one small way to bring the energy you create in your safe space into other areas of your life.
When I started my daily practice, I made a commitment with myself to never miss a day on my mat. But some days, especially in the beginning, I didn’t feel like doing my practice; it seemed like just another obligation I needed to force myself through.
However, as I became more comfortable in my space and more receptive to the things that were coming up during my practice, I learned that the days I resisted my practice where the days I needed it the most.
But things happen, and you may simply forget one day. Every moment is a chance to recommit. If you miss a day, start again. If you don’t know what to do one day, be still. Strive for progress, not perfection.
Take it one step at a time, one breath at a time.
It’s been over a year since my yoga practice became a non-negotiable part of my daily life, and I am still amazed at the insight, growth, and healing I experience because of it.
So what does a daily practice look like for you? Is it writing, painting, dancing, or playing the piano?
I encourage you to take a few minutes today to work through step one, and ask yourself: “What value can come to my life by devoting a few minutes a day to my self?”
That’s all it takes to be on your way toward developing a daily practice of your own.
Photo by Urbanicsgroup