“When the world is crumbling around you, cling to your practice,” my yoga teacher once said. My yoga practice is an important part of my routine, the structures in place in my life that make me feel good and help me move forward.
There are so many things that I’ve found over the years that center me and prepare me for life. Meditation, journaling, a daily inventory, showering and getting ready for the day even when I have nowhere to go, yoga, long walks in nature listening to podcasts, putting effort into a creative work in progress, reading. When I do these things on a regular basis, they become my routine. They are the known things in my day, the things I can count on, the things I look forward to.
Then, like someone with schizophrenia who stops taking their meds the moment they start working, I fall off. We all do that. I used to spiral so deeply into shame over the things I was not doing that I could not bear to face doing them again. The routine I should be doing became a wall against which I banged my head. Even though I knew that it would feel so good when I stopped.
Over the years, I’ve learned to return to my routines quicker and quicker, as the veil of self-hatred slowly lifted. It was only a few years ago when I would go months without meditating, writing, or doing yoga, talking about how I wasn’t doing it, how I needed to do it, and how I should do it, the whole time. The longest I’ve fallen out of my routine this year has been two weeks, and this year has given us all more gusts of wind to knock us off course than any previous. I don’t measure my life by how often I fall down anymore, but how quickly I get back up.
What follows are four tips to help you return to routine.
Start Practicing Self Compassion
First you must forgive yourself. Being angry at yourself or shaming yourself about what you have not been doing will make you more depressed, feel worse about yourself, and feel less worthy of doing things that make you feel good. It happens to everyone. Humans are cyclical. We are not robots. And even robots don’t function perfectly all the time. Have a conversation with yourself. Tell yourself it’s okay that you got off track and that you are going to start getting back on track because it feels better, not because it should, but because it serves you. Whatever reasons lie behind abandoning the routine temporarily were valid. And now it is time to return to yourself.
It is not necessary to jump back into doing all the things you were doing at the apex of your routine. I am an Ashtanga yoga student. Ashtanga is a certain series of poses in an order. I do it Mysore style, which means I learn the entire series piece by piece, and keep adding on. I didn’t do any Ashtanga for about six months in pandemic. When I renewed my commitment, I couldn’t go all the way to navasana as I was when I left off. I started by just doing the opening postures, by beginning as a beginner again. It took me two weeks of daily practice to get back to where I was when I stopped. The first few days were really hard even though I was doing so little. My shoulders ached in the mornings. Every day it got a little easier. I kept adding on. Today I went two poses further than where I was at when I stopped. It’s so easy to forget how good our routines make us feel. It only requires a willingness to begin again to remember.
Start in Today
Just as you can’t really catch up on sleep, you can’t really catch up on routine. Thinking of how behind you are in all the things you need to be doing will overwhelm you into paralysis. There is no catching up, there is only moving forward from this moment. Similarly, trying to plan out all the things you will do tomorrow can make you abandon today. If my diet starts tomorrow, I will eat five cheeseburgers today. Tomorrow never exists. Today is the only thing that’s real, the only place of power and potential. Today I will do one thing that’s part of a healthy routine, I will meditate, if only for five minutes, knowing that when tomorrow is today I can build on that.
This is the year that I went from getting upset at myself for not doing certain things if I got tired or felt uncreative by the afternoon to restructuring my routine based on priorities. For me, morning brain is the best brain. A friend of mine can’t do creative work until after 11 pm. I began accepting myself for who I am and how I work best and rearranged my day to reflect that. Writing, journaling, meditation and yoga must come in the morning, or else I may not do them. And those things are most important to my well-being. Some days, like this one, I find myself motivated to write in the afternoon, but I can’t count on that. Once I have written, the rest of my productivity feels like a bonus. The day feels like it truly belongs to me now, and I feel like my life is moving forward. We all have something like that. Find yours, and prioritize it for the best possible time of day for you.
I leave you with the single best piece of advice for getting back into your routine: Start.