Keeping my yoga practice moving forward is not always easy. Firstly, my life (yours, too, I’m guessing) is busy so yoga gets squeezed in before school runs, slotted in to spur-of-the-moment drop-ins or sandwiched between story-time and sorting the laundry rather than having the quiet hour or more a day it truly deserves. Secondly, as I often practice at home, I fall into my yogic comfort zone – devoting ample time to the poses I love, rushing through those I am not so confident with. Then, there’s old injuries to take into account and irrational fears that make me wary of trying certain advanced poses.
We all have our favourite styles of yoga, beloved poses and preferred times to practice and which is understandable and what makes us the unique yogi we are, but to revitalise our yoga we need to embrace change and try something new every once in a while.
Recently, I have been trying to do this in two ways. Firstly, I’ve been adding new inspiration to my practice through practical changes – new playlists, consistent intention setting, targeting specifics (tight hamstrings) and learning a new posture (flying pigeon). Below, I have listed the changes I tried that I found helpful that you might also want to explore.
Secondly, I sat down with a notebook and spent time thinking about what revitalising my practice really meant. I soon realised that this project wasn’t only going to be about physical progress on the mat, but whether I was taking my yoga beyond my mat into my daily thoughts and actions. We sometimes forget in the midst of all our flowing vinyasas, that the true purpose of asana – the physical practice the yoga postures – is just one part of a much larger process of spiritual rebalancing, developing self-awareness, showing compassion and improving our overall wellbeing.
So here are some thoughts, tips and ideas to revitalise your practice and keep your prana flowing on your mat and out into the world.
Be your own teacher
Imagine you are your own yoga teacher. Would you let yourself skip the poses you found challenging? No, you would encourage patience, suggest a block or a strap, give assistance. My hamstrings have been getting tighter and tighter – probably a combination of not enough stretching after running combined with insufficient recovery after strength training – so I’ve been spending extra time warming them up, lengthening them out, getting reacquainted with my yoga strap. I’m getting there slowly but coaxing back that flexibility doesn’t happen overnight.
Whatever you decide to focus on, all those teeny increments of progress will make you feel amazing. You really can coach yourself through something you’re finding tough and you will feel so accomplished when you do.
Try something new
It’s pretty obvs (as my teenage daughter would say) but go ahead and try something new. A new studio, a new style of yoga or a new teacher, be brave and step out of your comfort zone. I recommend booking a masterclass or one-day retreat focused on something that has always intrigued you – singing bowls, tea ceremonies, arm balances, there is so much to explore and get excited about.
Spend time on your least favourite poses
I am not a lover of back bends. Give me a standing balance or a headstand variation any day, but when a teacher announces its time for backbends I tense up and hence find them difficult.
Remind yourself that exploring your limits is the yoga. When you do not feel like doing a posture, take it as a general sign that you probably need it the most. Even if you just do it in its most basic form, don’t skip it. If you pick-and-mix your yoga, you are simply giving into and encouraging your own strengths and weaknesses. So I’m doing the backbends even if I’m not pulling the deepest arch in class and the progress is coming.
Set yourself small goals
Take a more active, invested role in your practice rather than just flowing through the poses. Set yourself a challenge that makes you want to roll out your mat every morning. Learn how to use a yoga wheel, bring more mindfulness to your practice, hold a headstand without assistance, master an advanced pose, work on your Ujjayi breath. If you are practicing at home, seek an online resource that matches your goal. For me, this was Laura Burkhart’s Galavasana (Flying Pigeon) video. If you haven’t come across Laura before, I encourage you to do, she is an amazing instructor who has the most beautiful fluid yet meditative approach – Laura Burkhart Yoga
If you go to the same class every week, share your goal with your teacher so they can help you make progress. If you feel like you’re getting better at something valuable over time, you’ll want to continue.
Create a yoga sanctuary
It’s always lovely to walk into a beautiful, well-looked-after yoga studio, to take off your shoes and be welcomed by the scent of incense and the sound of eastern music. How about giving the space you practice in at home the same love? A beautiful space to practice can help lift the spirits and prove our sense of positivity. Clean your mat with a home-made essential oil spritz, infuse the air with sandalwood, buy a plant, check out some new yoga playlists (I love @djtazsrashid – find him on itunes and spotify) a, buy a new crystal or mala to aid your meditation.
Does anyone else occasionally feel a little isolated practising yoga – we are by ourselves all alone on a mat after all. Sometimes it’s even possible to feel lonely at a yoga class where everyone else seems to know each other or are too busy to talk as they rush off after class.
If you do feel disconnected, how about dedicating your practice to someone you love or someone you know who could benefit from the positive energy you are generating on your mat? I know this helps me.
Secondly, the yoga world isn’t really like this. There is an amazing community if you want to be involved. I find leaving comments after completing an online class helps you feel connected and in class, making an effort to introduce yourself to the yogi on the next mat and to your teacher can go a very long way. When we connect with others we become a part of something bigger than ourselves and this can really help give our yoga a new lease of life.
And one of the best ways of all to connect with fellow yogis, is to go to festival. I am so excited that Wanderlust 108 is coming back this year to London – it’s the perfect opportunity to really feel part of the yoga community. Last year, I actually attended on my own – and so did many others, so don’t worry about signing up on your own. Visit Wanderlust for updates.
Take your yoga beyond your mat
When I stopped to think how far I have come with my yoga and how it is helped me in all areas of my life this was actually enough, more than enough, of an inspiration to revitalise my practice. You may know, a few years ago, I lost my best friend and yoga buddy to cancer, I was devastated by her death. The years pass but I still miss her everyday, however, I now know I have yoga to turn to for support. It is during yoga that I feel the eternal bond of our friendship. Even though she is no longer tangibly with me, yoga helped me see our connection is boundless. Progression in practice doesn’t have to be about how deep you can get into postures or how long you can hold a handstand. If you practice long enough and challenge yourself, that physical progress will come, but think of it more like a side effect of consistent practice. The commitment to a consistent yoga practice has set me on a path towards creating self-awareness, humility, compassion and patience for which I will be always be inspired and grateful. Practice for the physical benefits but never-underestimate the spiritual ones – yoga can be your guiding light through good and bad times.
The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.
Krishnamacharya’s son, the wise T.K.V. Desikachar