How to stay motivated with your yoga practice in winter

I’m a reasonably lazy yoga practitioner — I don’t wake up at 4.30am and start my day with sun salutations, I’m not striving for second series and my practices vary dramatically in length (who actually has time for full primary, six days a week?). Despite the treasure chest of benefits yoga gifts me, I’m always fighting against my natural desire to do as little as possible, especially when the dark, damp and dingy winter months arrive.

You probably assumed this already, but I don’t like practising yoga in winter (or doing any physical activity for that matter). Darkness greets me in the morning and welcomes me home from work, it’s so fucking cold and the earlier evenings make me abnormally tired — it’s all too easy to opt for slippers, hot chocolate and trash TV instead.

But here’s the thing — a little bit of practice every day, even if it’s just a few postures, makes me feel infinitely better, body, mind and spirit. And if I skip it, I risk crumbling emotionally like an over dunked biscuit.

To prevent this from happening, I’m very vigilant with my practice during the winter months. I remove unnecessary stresses and obstacles that prevent me from hopping on my mat and replace them with motivating incentives (yes Ashleigh, you can have five mince pies and watch Love Actually in your pants after bhujipidasana).

I know it sounds trite — after all, this is an enriching spiritual practice that gives so much. But with SAD on the rise and burnout at an all-time high, finding the energy to practice in winter is a challenge, one that shouldn’t be scoffed at.

So, with that being said, here are my top tips for staying motivated with your yoga practice in winter. As always, what works for me may not work for you — so just take what’s useful or appropriate and feel free to throw the rest.

Six ways to stay motivated with your yoga practice in winter

Before we start, if you need to rest, rest.

There are a lot of shoulds, coulds and judgement within the yoga community (especially within ashtanga), and sometimes it feels like you’re never doing enough. Someone on Instagram is bendier or stronger — your friend from the studio has a daily practice — your teacher has five kids and wakes up at 4am to handstand.

And good for them! They’re doing amazing, honestly. But take your head out of their business and focus on yourself for a minute — because the only person that matters here is YOU. So, don’t compare your practice or copy someone else’s schedule — listen to your body and rest if required.

But here’s the thing — be discerning. Differentiate between bone-tiredness and “I just can’t be arsed-ness”.

Run through the pros and cons of practising before each session to determine whether it’s the best thing to do. There will be times when you genuinely need to rest, and times you need a kick up the butt — knowing the difference is essential for a consistent and sustainable practice, regardless of the season.

A snowman
A snowman

Practice when your energy levels are high

If you’re like me, your energy levels get weird in winter.

Even though I don’t like practising in the mornings (I’m barely functional before three cups of coffee), it’s bearable when it’s bright, blue and balmy. In fact, it’s preferable to lying in bed and trying to sleep while birds cheep incessantly outside. But as it gets colder, all I want to do is snooze a little longer. I have to force myself to practice, which defeats one of the reasons for doing it in the first place (to make myself feel good).

As a result, in winter, I schedule my practices for when I have the most energy. For me, that’s in the early evenings just after work, when I still have my “go, go, go” hat on.

When you’re planning your yoga sessions, pinpoint when your energy peaks and plan your flows for then — even if it means shuffling around some commitments (because you matter, and creating space for yourself is so important). There’s no right or wrong time, so experiment and adjust to honour the natural ebb and flow your power.

Make your practice more restorative

Talking of power, maybe you need to take it down a notch?

Winter is dark, icy and wet (unless you’re somewhere like Australia, in which case I’m jealous), and our bodies absorb these qualities like a sponge. Our muscles tighten and our skin cracks (so dramatic) — we suffer from colds, coughs and splutters. Really, it’s a very disgusting time, and I don’t blame anyone, including myself, for wanting to make their practice more restorative as a result.

To find out if you need to scale it back and take an extra-long savasana or push through full primary, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I full of snot, coughing or coming down with a bug?
  • Am I sleeping, eating and drinking well?
  • What kind of movement excites me at this moment?
  • How packed is my Christmas calendar?
  • Do I have a billion deadlines at work I have to meet before the year’s up?

Again, it comes back to assessing your needs before each practice. Maybe, you genuinely need slower movements, pranayama, meditation, pillows, blankets and props. Or perhaps, heating your body up with dozens of sun salutations is the best course of action. Nobody can decide for you — just do whatever keeps you coming back to your mat.

A woman practising yoga with pillows, blocks and blankets.
A woman practising yoga with pillows, blocks and blankets.

Attend more led classes and lean on community

For me, practising at home is harder than attending a led class because there’s no-one to hold me accountable or encourage me when postures get tough (and boy, do they get tough). I’m not embarrassed to admit this — we all benefit from community support and that magical shala energy, especially when we’re exhausted or uninspired.

Plus, teachers exist, in part, to guide us through these tough times. Of course, they won’t pander to us or modify their classes to suit our preferences (which is good because, honestly, sometimes we just need a kick up the butt). But they will create an environment conducive to practice and help us to cultivate discipline and commitment — skills we can take home.

Recruit your friends or find an accountability buddy

Similar to the above, practising with a friend provides essential support during the darker months. But, at the risk of sounding like a total bitch, make sure you choose the right friend…

Avoid flakes, complainers, Christmas party animals, Baileys guzzlers, serial snoozers and Taureans, who are lazy lovers of luxury and comfort it’s a joke.

On a serious note, try and choose a buddy/accountability partner with similar goals or challenges, so you’re on the same page. It’s even better if they’re well-versed in guilt-tripping (then you won’t cancel). Alternatively, find someone who you genuinely enjoy spending time with, so much so that skipping practice is a non-issue. Either works.

And if you don’t have any yoga friends, keep a practice diary or use a tracking app. They work just as well, and they’re less likely to give you grief if you sleep through an alarm.

A woman recieving a yoga adjustment from a teacher
A woman recieving a yoga adjustment from a teacher

Make your home yoga space warm and inviting

Usually, I prefer to practice without distractions, which means my home yoga space is sparse. But in winter, I crave candles, incense, blankets, pillows, props and socks. My meagre practice room morphs into an Aladdin’s cave of trinkets and tat. But it works, so I’m rolling with it.

This winter, I invite you to create the yoga space of your dreams — a place that’s inviting, warm and cosy AF. It should be somewhere you want to spend time in — a cushy cocoon, impervious to frost and flu. Whatever your aesthetic, make sure this space is more seductive than your sofa.

Join a yoga challenge, set a goal or try a new style

My last tips for establishing a consistent yoga practice in winter is to expand your horizons. Typically, winter is regarded as a time to wind-down and reflect — yet, starting something brand-new injects these drab months with a little vitality.

New challenges, goals and styles of yoga are exciting, and they give you something to work towards and look forward to. Plus, there’s nothing more stimulating than learning a new philosophy or set of postures — the process engages our brain, reignites our interest and loosens lethargy’s gnarly grip.

So, make this a season of adventure and curiosity, and see what happens. You might discover a brand-new passion that lasts well beyond December.

And remember…

Take it easy and look after yourself!

Hopefully, this advice helps you to stay consistent with your yoga practice in winter — if you have any tips to add, feel free to leave a comment and join the conversation!

Originally published at https://ashleighmayesyoga.com on October 17, 2019.

My name’s Ashleigh — yoga teacher and mental health advocate.

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