How to Deepen Your Yoga Practice
The biggest obstacles of any practice are to maintain the habit, to keep your interest and focus, and to continue to be challenged. Yoga is no different. Our practice can become stale, boring, we may no longer feel challenged, or we may simply have the desire that there is more to learn. To move past these blocks, we move toward a deepening in the yoga practice experience.
At first, you may think to deepen your practice means to move toward impressive feats of strength and flexibility. In fact, there are plenty of articles and books that lay out the physical means to build up to more physically challenging poses. This is not one of them.
When we choose to deepen our practice, it is important to turn inward and reflect on the fact that Yoga is not just a physical practice. Yoga is the union of body, mind and spirit, and often in the modern tradition, the body receives the most attention.
Listed below are ways to deepen your yoga practice WITHOUT standing on your hands or putting your foot behind your head.
· Practice a longer savasana. This final relaxation pose is often overlooked in terms of the many benefits it offers. This is the pose where we release all effort and surrender to the stillness. It can be challenging to still the mind, to still the body, or to keep from falling asleep. Practice for 10 or more minutes and notice the difference. For an even deeper experience, explore Yoga Nidra.
· Add in a new posture or variation. While this is physical in nature, exploring new physical forms engages the mind in new ways. It’s not necessary to go for a show-stopping pose, just something new. Back off and try a gentler variation, maybe with props. Focus on the breath and notice if you can deepen or lengthen the inhale and exhale. Love Camel? Try Upward Bow. Crazy about Downward Dog? Try Dolphin Pose. Adore Child’s Pose? Try Crocodile.
· Slow down. It can be tempting to “do” your 5 favorite postures and be done. I encourage you to slow it down. Way down. Practice lengthening your breath in Mountain Pose, and maintaining the length of the inhale and exhale throughout your Sun Salutation. Normally hold a posture for 3-5 breaths? Try 6-8 breaths. Observe your body and it moves slowly. Focus the mind, deepen the breath, experience each moment.
· Read a book on yoga philosophy or theory. You may practice postures on the mat, but do you know why? What is the purpose of the posture, breath, and meditation of a yoga practice? Learn about the history, the philosophy, and the full practice. It can be enlightening and a great way to discover the practice beyond the mat.
· Discover new forms of pranayama. Typically, in yoga we use nostril breathing. But have you ever tried Alternate Nostril Breathing? Ujjayi breath? Yogic Three-Part Breathing? Skull Shining breath? Sitali breath? The practice of pranayama, or the movement of breath, can be just as full as an asana practice. Make sure to ask a qualified teacher for direction on new forms of breathwork before practicing on your own.
· Try short practices daily. Sometimes making a practice regular is the biggest challenge. You don’t need 60 minutes every day to receive the benefits of yoga. You can start each day with a few rounds of Cat/Cow and 5 minutes of breath awareness. You can take a simple Child’s pose before bed. It all counts. Over time you may notice the calm stillness of the practice more accessible even through these short daily practices.
· Switch up your practice. While many of us are creatures of habit, even if we enjoy practicing the same sequence over and over, our practice will still plateau. This is why it’s important to change things up from time to time. If you usually practice a very physical yoga, make room for Restorative or Yoga Nidra to allow benefits from the more Yin or receptive aspects of the practice. Usually practice a Gentle Form of yoga? Try challenging yourself with new poses or longer holds. Even better, if you practice Yoga often, try Meditation. Yoga, after all, was traditionally a form of preparation for the deeper work of meditation.
Overall, the best ways to deepen your Yoga practice is to practice. Remember there is more to it that the body, which is why everyone can reap the benefits of a yoga practice. Make it a habit, learn more, breathe, challenge yourself, slow down, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and always, always start with a full conscious breath.