The days you desire yoga the least are the days you need yoga the most.
Yesterday I heard an interview with Aydian Dowling. Aydian is a transgender male who is in the lead of Men’s Health Ultimate Guy Search. In this interview, Aydian mentioned routine to Arun Rath on All Things Considered:

“I definitely love to hit the gym. It’s something I do five days a week. I also throw in some cardio five or six days. I also enjoy hiking on off time with my wife and my friends. … Training is definitely a part of my life. It’s something that has become literally just a daily routine, something that I live by.”

That struck a chord with me, “…something that I live by.” I think that sums up what a fitness routine is, and what a routine needs to be: something you live by.

Routine is so important when it comes to maintaining (or improving) our health and wellness, but it can be exceptionally hard to implement. I’ve been there. Hell, I’m there right now! Creating, implementing, and maintaining a routine that is supportive of your wellness can be a challenge. By contrast, falling out of your routine can be exceptionally easy. It can be as easy as soda instead of water; cake instead of popcorn; the couch instead of the yoga mat.

When you have a routine you’re less likely to make a decision that isn’t supportive of your wellness. When my habit is to reach for water, I’m less likely to reach for a soda. When my habit is to do yoga, I’m less likely to sit on the couch.

While we know routine is important, creating, implementing, and maintaining it takes a lot of work. Here are my top 5 tips for getting a routine down.

1. Don’t worry about the numbers.

Don’t worry about how much you weigh, how many salutations you did, or how long you held bakasana. What matters now isn’t how much you accomplish. What matters is that you show up to the mat day after day. When you spend your energy worrying about the numbers, it’s easy to forget that you showed up.

2. Make a commitment.

Tell yourself you’re going to hit the mat for 7 days in a row. 7 days isn’t scary. 7 days is doable. We can do anything for 7 days in a row, right? At the end of 7 days, make a commitment for another 7 days. Before you know it, you’ll have done yoga for a whole month, without the scary idea of doing yoga every day for 30 days.

Once you’ve made this commitment to yourself, tell someone about it. When you tell someone else that you’re going to make exercise and fitness a part of your life, you’re more likely to hold yourself accountable. Generally we don’t want to feel like a failure in front of those we love.

3. Find an omie.

Find a friend to go to yoga with. Make it a date. When you’re going to class with someone you enjoy hanging out with, yoga becomes a social activity. Yoga becomes a chance to see someone you care about, and a way to strengthen your friendship.

4. Reward yourself.

Now that you’ve got your commitment and your omie, what you need is positive reinforcement. It takes a while to see the changes that yoga will bring to your body (although they do appear, trust me!), so it helps to reward yourself. A reward doesn’t have to be unhealthy, but it should be something you enjoy that you wouldn’t normally do for yourself.

My reward? I looooove green juice. I love green juice, but I don’t have a juicer, and green juice can be kind of expensive where I live, so I don’t buy it daily. I will use it as a reward for doing yoga on a day when I’m really not feeling up to it.

In the beginning I rewarded myself with a pedicure for doing yoga for a whole month straight. Get creative with your reward. Splurge on a massage once a week, or buy yourself a pair of cute yoga pants or a new sports bra after a month of yoga. When your reward is something that is satisfying yet unhealthy (like chocolate or a donut), you’re undermining your practice in a way. When your reward is something that is fun, you’ll look forward to it, without slipping back into unhealthy habits.

5. Vinyasa through the bad days.

The days you desire yoga the least are the days you need yoga the most.

When you’re tired, run down, sad, depressed, angry, there is nothing better than a good yoga practice. Yoga will ground you. Yoga will help you find your center. Yoga will help you find your balance.

It’s really easy to have a bad day and go, “Fuck it. I’m not up to doing yoga.” If I used every time I had a bad day as an excuse not to do yoga, I wouldn’t have done yoga at all during the first 7 months of 2014 when my grandmother was sick and then passed away.

Yoga is what kept me sane throughout that experience.

Every day sucked. Every day was worse than the last. I could’ve said, “Fuck it. I’m not up to doing yoga,” and believe me – I thought about it – but instead I showed up. Sometimes I cried during savasana. Sometimes I stayed in Childs Pose a little longer than everyone else in class. Sometimes I powered through the salutations at warp speed to prove to myself there is something in this world I can control.

What people often don’t tell you is that when you show up for your yoga practice, your yoga practice shows up for you. It supports you; it comforts you. It helps you find yourself when you’re lost. It helps you find your strength when your world is crashing down around your ears. It helps you find your balance when you’re feeling just a little too manic to function.

Hit the mat on the good days and the bad days, but especially the bad days. Do your vinyasas. Cry during savasana. Power through salutations at warp speed. Yoga will make you feel better. And when you use yoga as a tool to find your peace, your serenity, your sanity, and your strength, creating a yoga routine takes care of itself.

How do you keep in the habit of coming to your yoga mat? Let me know in the comments.