Unless you’ve managed to carve out a gorgeously off-grid life living beneath a rock without Wi-Fi, 4G and brightly-coloured smoothie bars, you will have probably heard about this thing called yoga practice, how pretty darn awesome it is, and how it has soooooo many the health benefits. Physical, mental and emotional health benefits. As they would say on TOWIE: it’s totes amaze-ball
But what’s even more amazing is how far your yoga practice has come since you first started out, back when you thought yoga was really weird and struggled for motivation because you didn’t think you were flexible enough to perform a downward facing dog. And now look at you, enjoying life as a mid-level yogi, glowing with confidence, and totally comfortable in class. It’s incredible. You are incredible.
That said, everyone reaches a point where they feel as though their yoga practice has reached a plateau, and that can chip away at your motivation levels faster than a woodpecker excavating its first nest.
Thankfully, we’ve got some great news for you:
Even though you’re feeling like you’ve gone as far as you can with your yoga practice, it’s still uber-awesome for you. It doesn’t matter whether yoga has become a cornerstone of your daily routine or you’re only just beginning to boss this bendy-workout – yoga has an unparalleled way of boosting your physical and mental well-being. That’s the first dollop of good news.
The second is: there are lots of little steps you can make to take your yoga practice to the next level – to go deeper and squeeeeze the absolute most out of your efforts, both on and off the mat.
And that’s what we’re going to delve into. We want you to feel comfortable in class while still feeling challenged by the beauty of yoga practice, which means it’s time to take it up a notch. So, without further ado, here are a few tips, tricks and bits of advice to help you intensify your yoga practice and keep your experience forever evolving. Namaste, yogis.
- Go Beyond Asana
So many yoga-lovers think the physical postures (aka asana) is all there is to master – but these are just one part of the yoga puzzle. The truth is, asana was originally developed as a way of preparing the body for meditation and mindfulness. That’s because yoga was, traditionally speaking, more about the spirituality side of things and less about getting your sweat-on. So if you’re serious about yoga – really serious – you should go beyond the bendy-bits and start indulging in the other components of yoga, like meditation, pranayama (which is breathwork), chanting, and even the yamas and niyamas. There’s so much more out there and understanding the poses and how they relate to the bigger yoga picture will boost your physical practise in ways you never knew possible. It’s really cool.
- A Bit Of Light Reading
A lot of people who only see yoga as a Monday-morning time-filler, don’t realise there are some deep-rooted philosophies behind yoga practice. But there are, and reading up on these yogic texts will help you learn all about them. They’re not exactly the lightest of reads, nor do they celebrate short proses, but even flicking through the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika just to read the summaries will be uber-helpful. If you just want to keep yoga as a workout or stretching routine after spending ten hours bound to your desk, that’s cool. But if you want to take your yoga-ing to the next level, reading is a great place to start.
- Take Yoga Home With You
For a lot of yoga people, nothing beats commuting to the gym, attending a class, and performing all the poses as a group of stretching enthusiasts. It’s a great feeling. And learning from an instructor is a great way to get better and better and better some more. But doing it on your own can take your yoga practice to the. next. level. It’s your chance to indulge in a more personal practise and take your experience deeper inward. But that’s not all. By rolling out the mat in your own living room, you’ll also have the freedom to get a bit more creative, experiment with new poses, spend longer doing the poses you get a real buzz from, and find a way of practising what makes you smile the most. Don’t worry. We know it’s quite an intimidating step to take, so take baby steps. Practice the most basic poses first, focus your time on yin and restorative postures, repeat the routine you did in your last class or, if you want to, try writing down a sequence you saw when peering through the window at the studio. Like your dad used to always tell you, practice makes perfect.
- Say Yes To Workshops
Like we said, practicing at home, alone, is epic. But so is being proactive on your yoga mission by seeking out more ways to learn about the philosophies, more ways to learn from your teachers, and more ways to challenge yourself. Cue workshops. You see, for most instructors offering half-hour drop-in sessions for busy people on their way to their even busier jobs, there’s only so much they can cover. That’s why you should make an extra-effort to find any yoga studios that offer niche workshops or concentrated seminars that will help you improve on certain types of poses, whether it be twists or inversions, or other topics altogether, such as meditation, pranayama, chanting, or the philosophy behind it all. Of course, it’s not just about the learning. It’s about yoga-networking. After all, there’s only one thing better than being serious about yoga, and that’s connecting with other people who are serious about yoga.
- Show Up Early
Life’s a rush. All of it. You set an alarm in the morning so that you’re not late for life, but one semi-conscious press of the snooze button throws that all into disrepair as you get dressed in a hurry, swallow a mug of coffee in one glug, inhale your brekky, and then rush into the yoga studio with a flustered mind at the last minute, only to check if you have any Instagram likes before even rolling your mat out. This is not the way to kick off a yoga practice session. It doesn’t matter whether you are at home or in a studio, you need to ease yourself in and out of a session to get into the right headspace. The best way to do this is to try and give yourself at least an extra 10-15 minutes than normal so that you have a healthy chunk of time to take a deep breath, get changed into your yoga gear, find a nice spot to unroll your mat, sip some green tea and begin. And then, after your session, take some time to reflect and enjoy that post-yoga practice glow for as long as you can.
- Try, Try And Try Some More
If all you ate was chicken nuggets, you would think they were the best thing since, well, chicken nuggets. And the same principle applies to ye olde yoga. If you only use one teacher, you have no reason to think anyone out there is better. But the more classes you can try, the more styles of yoga you can practice, and the more teachers you can learn from the more you will understand about yoga and what works best for you, and that’s when you’ll really start to progress. It’s about finding a setting that’s perfect for you. You may already have a studio or a teacher that you feel super-comfortable and happy with, but they may not be enough to take you to the next level. They may be a chicken nugget. Like we said, each style will offer you something a little different, and every teacher is bound to have a slightly different perspective or understanding than the next. So the best thing you can do is spread out, expose yourself to as many different styles, settings and approaches as possible, make a note of all the factors that work best for you, and then add them to your own yoga practice.
- Pose Knowledge Is Power
Believe it or not, there’s a perfect way of doing every single yoga pose. It’s about getting the alignment right so that you a) don’t end up breaking instead of bending and b) squeeze the absolute maximum out of each pose. So study your poses and learn about the little things that make that pose perfect. Making sure your hands are shoulder-distance apart during downward facing dog, making sure your knee is right over your ankle when nailing the warrior poses – there are so many little things to learn about. Of course, class is a good place to start, but it’s not going to teach you about all the little tweaks and adjustments. Thankfully, the Internet is at your fingertips. This means it’s uber-easy to swot up on the poses, understand what their proper alignment looks like, and help you start practicing them correctly in front of a mirror.
- Props Aren’t For Beginners
We get how it looks. You walk into a class, spot a couple of yogis using props in the corner and immediately think, “awww cute, we have some beginners that need help with their poses.” But this is what the President would call Fake News. The truth is, it’s usually the more experienced and serious yogis that use props. Why? Because props can seriously enhance your abilities. So, the next time the props come out in class, don’t roll your eyes and think, “I don’t need a prop.” Try them out. You will probably find props totally change the sensation of the pose. Then, once you’ve become a believer and made a shrine to the prop gods, try and find a way to introduce them into your home sessions, even if that means using things like belts and pillows and throw blankets, large books, and rolled-up towels as alternatives.
- Book Yourself Onto A Retreat
The reason you got into yoga in the first place was probably to find some peace, tranquility, and wellness in the midst of living a crazy-busy life. And you’re right, yoga practice is invaluable for this. But taking a few days, a week, or even a month to totally disconnect from the world and your daily stresses, and completely immerse yourself in yoga is an experience that will make your mind fizz, your body dance, and your yoga practice reach the next level. That’s what we aim to do at the Sumalee Yoga Studio. We take you deeper into the philosophy behind the poses, the importance of meditation, help you become an alignment superhero, and get all the individual attention you need to push past your yoga plateau. But that’s not all. Heading to a retreat celebrates all things community, giving you the chance to connect, chat, practice and improve with like-minded yogis. It’s a huge step. Of course it is. But if you’re lucky enough to have this opportunity, grab it with both hands and enjoy it for all it’s worth because nothing will boost your yoga practice more.
- Have A Mat Intention
If there is one thing yoga teachers love talking about more than anything else, it’s having an intention. At the beginning of every class, your instructor probably mentions it – and they’re totally right to. From our experience, setting yourself an intention is one of the most effective and easiest ways to get more out of your yoga practice every time you step onto your mat. It doesn’t matter whether your practicing at home or in a class, setting an intention and chasing it will give you something to focus on throughout your session and beyond. It could be the intention to perfect a pose you’ve been eyeing up for some time, but it could also be a feeling you want to embrace, something as simple as relaxing, smoothing out your movements, or feeling at peace. It could also be a behaviour that you intend to cultivate, such as treating yourself with respect or being grateful for where you are and all you have achieved. You may even want to use one of the more traditional mantras you read about as your intention, in which “So Hum,” is our absolute favourite. There is no direct translation, but it pretty much means “I am what I am,” and what more is there to celebrate than that.
Thanks for reading!