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How to Overcome Barriers to Practice

barriers to practice obstacles to practice Jul 26, 2018

Let's face it, we all have them.

Recently I've polled Ashtanga practitioners on what their most common barriers are to practice, and thought I’d share some thoughts on what their responses and solutions were.


The fact of the matter is, the solutions to injury suck. What’s worse, though, is letting that stop you from practicing at all. For better or worse, you have to decide: do you modify and change your practice to work with whatever new challenge you’re up against, or do you just stop practicing?

To me, that doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all. Here’s something I’ve learned in almost twenty years of practice and more than fifteen of teaching: the practice, when done correctly, heals us. Avoiding practice because of an injury (and, of course, there are exceptions to this) usually doesn’t help anything. When done correctly, the practice heals. It keeps our joints moving, it gets our blood circulating, it calms us and helps us deal with the present moment.

Injuries are discouraging — I know how difficult, scary, frustrating, and humbling they are from first-hand experience. And, knowing this, nothing inspires me more than a student who shows up humbled by an injury but ready to adapt and work through it. 

If you are working through, with, or around an injury, try reframing your mindset. Don’t focus on what you can’t do — focus on everything you CAN do. Think of it as an opportunity to learn. You might get to feel like a brand new student again. You might get to re-pattern your body. You might get to share this invaluable information with others. The point is, you can still reap tremendous benefits of the postures and practice even if you aren’t achieving the full expression of a pose.


Fatigue is a hard barrier to overcome, and one we all face. Sometimes, there’s no worse feeling than waking up exhausted at some ungodly hour.

Ultimately, you want your practice to give you energy — if you go into it already feeling wiped out, the point is definitely not to leave feeling worse. One of the most important lessons I try to convey to my students is that it’s better to show up more often and do less. I think this can be a good lesson in general, but it definitely applies when talking about facing fatigue in your practice. This can be so hard because we don’t want to feel like we’re somehow less by allowing ourselves to scale back. But let me assure you: we aren’t. You aren’t.

This is why I apply the 70-30 rule to practice: whatever your maximum capacity feels like at any given time, practice at 70% of that. When you’re feeling great, 70% will still probably look and feel like whatever your idea of a great practice looks like. And when you’re challenged by fatigue, you might need to sleep an extra thirty minutes and do a shorter practice, and that’s also completely fine! Ultimately, this supports your practice, both long-term and in the here and now. Maybe you do a shorter practice, maybe a longer seated practice, or a longer closing sequence  - something that restores you. Maybe it means you have to skip vinyasas.

Whatever it is, the point is that your practice is your own. You are doing it for you. It should rejuvenate you, not deplete you. Why not take the chance to try to make yourself feel better with a healthy, relaxed practice, rather than adding to your fatigue with a stressful one?


Relationships are complicated, and they’re different for everybody. One thing that’s pretty consistent, though, is that our lives tend to reshape themselves around our significant day-to-day relationships. If you’re seeing someone who supports your practice and your interests, great! Maybe sometimes you need to shuffle things around on your practice schedule to get some quality time, but that’s okay if you’re mutually able to compromise with each other.

It can be tough to know, though, whether somebody’s going to be supportive. There’s not much generalized practice advice to be given around relationships, except this: keep going. If your practice is important to you, keep doing it. Communicate why yoga’s important to you and why the consistency of your practice is important to you. If someone can recognize and respect it as an important part of your life, that’s fantastic! But if the parts of your life that are important to you seem like an inconvenience to them? There’s a good chance that the trouble doesn’t end with yoga, and you might want to take a closer look at that aspect of the relationship.

The truth is, you can’t achieve your goals without the right support system. Research shows that its easier to achieve our goals when we aren’t trying to go it alone. Most of us can recognize the value of having a support group for help changing our habits, learning new things and achieving our goals. The more conscious we are of the support of others the more conscious we become of how well we offer support. Whether at home, at work, or at the shala - our support systems matter.


Well, to be honest, Ashtanga is a reason that things never worked out so well between me and a traditional 9-5 job. And now, as much as I love it, Ashtanga is my work. It can still run up against my practice, and there are definitely still times when I have to adapt my practice to my teaching. Sometimes - when I’m teaching a training, a weekend full of workshops, or a retreat, for instance - I might dial back my own practice so that I can maintain my energy and so that I can actually support my continued practice by making it sustainable in the present moment.

When I’m teaching a lot, it isn’t the time to add new poses. It isn’t the time to try to go deeper in a pose than ever before. Sometimes, we have to accept that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to go into maintenance mode. Demanding boss? Shit-ton of work to do? Deadlines? You probably need yoga more than ever right now, but it might also feel impossible to fit your normal practice into your day. Even if you can only fit in a quick 15 minutes, though, rather than the 90 minutes you want, isn’t something better than nothing?

When I worked at the US Coast Guard (😂 seriously though), I would escape on my lunch break into the tiny gym in the building. I’d take 30 minutes to squeeze in however much of a practice I could do. I’m pretty sure that I was getting funny looks from the people in the gym, but I never wore my glasses so I couldn’t really tell.

Fit a little bit of your practice in wherever you can. Schedule it into your day. Put it in your calendar. It’ll certainly make you feel better about your practice, and it might even make you feel a little better about that job.


In Ashtanga, we talk about seventh series or family life. This comes up particularly around the holidays, but kids and family are 24/7. I’ve never been a mom, but I know from watching my own mom and my aunts and sister and friends that moms are never off duty, and I really have no idea how so many are able to make it to the mat as often as they do.

I thought it best to ask some parents how they incorporate kids into their practice. It was pointed out to me that kids aren’t actually an obstacle to practice, but rather they help parents take responsibility for their practice and stay steady and committed to the practice. Here’s what I took away:

  • It gets easier. (This is great news so I thought I would start with it.)
  • You might only get to practice a couple of times a week. It might only be for a few minutes during nap time. Thats okay — it’s something to build on.
  • Practice on your kids’ schedules. Swim lessons, play group, school, when the kids are asleep — this is your chance to practice. And it doesn’t cut into the time that you get to spend with your children.
  • Share babysitting with other moms and dads who want to practice.
  • Remember that being a parent is another type of sadhana (Thanks Amy!).
  • And I love this from Jessica Walden - learn to practice in utter chaos.

Ashtanga yoga is a householders’ practice. It was never meant to be everything, it was meant to support us in our everything. We aren’t always going to be making forward progress in our practice, and that forward progress isn’t always the point.

Sometimes we might feel like we’re going backwards, sometimes it might feel like we’re at a standstill. Ashtanga is not inherently rigid or linear; physical practices wax and wane, pranayama and meditation included. Sometimes we have more time to devote to practice, and sometimes we have less. Sometimes we gain or lose weight, sometimes we’re injured or tired, sometimes we feel burned out or bored. Sometimes we’re busy at work, have an impossible deadline or a sick kid or parent. And, of course, sometimes we feel light and energetic and practice feels magical and easy. 

The key is to be compassionate and to accommodate our actual self — not our imagined self. And, at that point, truly anybody can practice. 

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About Jen René

Hey there! I'm a dedicated Ashtanga teacher and fourth series practitioner. I'm also a Pilates enthusiast. I taught my first class in 2005. And since then I have learned lots of amazing tricks that can help you on your own yoga journey.


Connect with Me! @jenreneyoga