How to be Accountable for Practice

accountability Feb 29, 2020

Ever lie in bed on a Monday morning after hitting snooze and make excuses for why you should skip practice? I know how hard it can be to get started. In my years practicing and teaching I’ve met some people who spring out of bed prioritizing practice above all else, and others to whom the practice never really sticks. I think most people fall somewhere in the middle where accountability for practice can be a challenge.

One really incredible thing about yoga is that you’re ultimately accountable only to yourself. Your practice is YOUR practice, while this is ultimately an incredibly freeing truth, many of us are supremely challenged by holding ourselves accountable. This is just one more of the ways that our practices and our lives mirror each other.

The fact is, accountability is hard - it’s even harder when you’re the only person you’re answering to! Because holding ourselves accountable is such a central challenge, it’s also a great opportunity to learn some new things about our practice and ourselves. To start, I’ve got a few accountability tips - some from me and some from the sutras!

  • First, just decide you’re going to do it. Decide that you’re going to do your practice, and decide it’s going to be a regular practice. Make the decision and stick with it. You have the power here: decide, stick with your decision, and it’s done. You are responsible for your practice. It’s your practice and nobody can do it for you - only you can do your practice. You just need to decide to go do it.
  • Put it on your calendar. Super practical tip. Literally schedule it into your day. Personally, I block off my mornings for yoga - my practice, teaching, and that’s it. The rest of my day starts after 11am. Any time before that is reserved exclusively for practice.
  • Set reasonable goals. Setting reasonable goals can be incredibly difficult, because we don’t know what reasonable goals are. Try this week I will practice 5 times for 20 minutes a day. Or this week I will add backbends at the end of every practice. Or Before sun salutations I will sit for 5 minutes - instead of starting with a 6 day a week 2 hour long practice as your goal. Setting reasonable smaller goals only strengthens the individual elements of your bigger goal, so it feels easy by the time you’ve reached it.
  • Get an accountability partner! A big part of why it can be so difficult to hold ourselves accountable is that we don’t feel the social motivation that comes with accountability to others. That’s why it can be helpful to have an accountability partner! This could be someone you practice with, it could be a teacher, it could be a virtual accountability partner. Whoever it is, when someone has an expectation for us, we’re more likely to fulfill it.
  • Something else that really helps is to make a conscious effort to get enthusiastic for your practice. This is important because the way you step on your mat will influence what happens in your practice. If you step on the mat with the attitude that you have to do something, that’s going to be reflected in your practice because that’s the attitude you’re bringing. Start by saying things like “I get to go practice,” and get excited about what you’re going to do, because that will make a huge difference in how you approach your practice and your day.

The sutras also provide some incredibly helpful wisdom on this question.

Sutra 1.12 abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ

This one says that the vrittis, the churnings of the mind, are stilled by practice and non-attachment. Meaning that we’re trying to cultivate the ability to be steadfast, steady, and determined in our practices without focusing on the outcome. So, get excited about the whole process of doing yoga. If you commit to the practice, the practice will give you the means to hold yourself accountable. Nonattached commitment to the practice calms the vrittis, the churning of the mind, including the fears that can stand in our way when we think of accountability.

Sutra 1.13 tatra sthitau yatnaḥ abhyāsaḥ

This one says that practice is the effort to be fixed in concentrating the mind, which, in the context of bhyasa, means the same practice day after day. We don't just get on the mat and do whatever we feel like - we do some poses we like and some we don't like. Some days you’ll feel like practicing and some days you won’t, but we do it anyway. The sutras teach us to stay steadfast in this effort of practice. And there’s a lesson in that - when you do it whether you want to or not, accountability is irrelevant. It simply stops being something you need to worry about - you just go out and do it because it’s your practice.

1.14 sa tu dīrgha kāla nairantarya satkārā ''sevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ

This one says that practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a long period of time. So, practice is grounded after it is: cultivated, served, attended to, for a long time, without interruption. And of course life is always going to throw interruptions our way, but it’s about coming back to the practice time and time again after these interruptions. This is how we build a lasting habit around anything: we keep coming back.

Take these sutras in, think about what they mean to you and your practice, and then remember to honor yourself enough to give yourself this. You are making a commitment to yourself, but it only works if you hold yourself accountable. Decide you’re going to do it, know you’re responsible for it, and don’t get too attached to the outcome. Just get on your mat and do it and honor the commitment to yourself like you’d honor a commitment to someone else. The accountability is the practice, in every morning and posture and breath. Give yourself permission to hold yourself accountable. Consider it a gift to yourself.


 

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