5 Ways I Stretch My Time on the Mat

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When time is at a premium, every moment you spend on your yoga mat is precious--so you want to squeeze every ounce of peace, quiet, and stress relief out of it. Luckily, I've found that when I'm really focused on the practice a few quick minutes here and there can be every bit as beneficial as taking an hour and a half class.

Here are 5 ways I make the most of my limited time on the mat.

1. Listen to Your Body. When I only have a quick 15 minutes to get my asana on, I skip the streaming videos and structured sequences and I just move. I do whatever feels right in the moment. If that means I hold a pose for twice as long on side and flow right through it on the other side, that's what I do. Sometimes it means only practicing Down Dog and Pigeon Poses until my hamstrings and hips get the release I can tell they need.

2. Split It Up Into Mini-Sessions. On those days that I have the attention span of an overcaffeinated 6-year-old because I'm trying to get through my to-do list, I have a lot better success with practicing yoga and meditation for 5 minutes at a time. I set a timer, and I tell myself I can do anything for 5 minutes. I might meditate for 5, answer emails for 5, then come back to my mat and do Sun Salutes for 5. What usually happens is on the third attempt at a mini-session, I get into it and I'm finally able to calm my mind and practice for a longer period of time. Ironically, I learned this tactic as a way to juggle many projects at once (and shift my focus from multi-tasking so I could actually get something accomplished)--it works for me in my career and in my yoga practice. Go figure!

3. Shut Out Distractions. On the days when I'm feeling a little more focused and I think I can actually get an hour of practice in, it's important for me to go into a room with a door and shut out the distractions. My favorite practice space is my wide-open living room when nobody else is home. But when my husband is watching football in the other room (and taking lots of breaks to get more beer), my dog plops her stuffed squirrel down on the edge of my mat, and my phone notifies me of another message every five minutes it drastically reduces my chances of getting in a full practice. I have to escape from the distractions and make the time I have on my mat really count.

4. Keep At It. I've found practicing at least a few minutes regularly every couple of days is better than one long practice ever week. Missing a few days of practice really isn't that big of a deal. It becomes a big deal when you start thinking, "Well, I missed yesterday, I might as well skip today, too..." and before you know it you haven't unrolled your mat in two weeks. When this happens to me, I might not even realize I've been neglecting my practice so much until I notice my back is aching and I've become a frazzled mess. Don't let this happen to you.

5. Focus on Your Breath. On days that I don't have time for a proper practice, I make it a point to just breathe a little deeper throughout the day. On those days when I know my practice is going to be short, I try to make every moment count by being even more conscious of my breath than normal. I find that my muscles soften faster when I focus on my breath, and I get more out of every pose and every moment I'm on my mat.

How do you make every moment count during your practice time?