The beginnings of a regular yoga practice can be like a honeymoon period. With every class you noticeably gain strength and flexibility. And, you become fascinated by your body’s increasing capabilities, and how good it feels as it opens, loosens and becomes more powerful.
But your yoga practice can go from growth phase to maintenance as you plateau, and you start to feel you’re no longer making significant improvement. You want to go to the next level, but your body no longer seems to be responding and progress slows.
This is the time when many people give up. The thrill of the first learning curve has gone, so the temptation is to rush off and start something new. It doesn’t have to be that way, and perseverance, determination and enthusiasm – along with a few changes in strategy – will take you to your next level.
So if you want to take your yoga practice to the next level, read on for how to do just that.
1. Get deep in to your breath
It’s very easy to view yoga as a workout or fitness class, where it’s all about cool poses, strength and getting a sweat on. But at the heart of any yoga pose is the breath. Your breath is the fuel for your strength and your flexibility. Through the breath you can hold poses for longer and go deeper in to stretches, and your yoga practice. So make your breath your primary focus, and the yoga poses your second. See how strong, deep, controlled and calm you can make your breath, then notice how this impacts on your poses and grows your yoga practice.
2. Get back to the basics of alignment
Your yoga practice can become very habitual and you don’t notice where you’re out of alignment or dumping in to poses. So strip your practice back to basics and really focus on things like the bend in your front knee in a Warrior pose, the rotation or angle of your hips, the position of your shoulders, and tucking of your tailbone. You’ll be amazed at how much of your practice you do on default setting.
3. Get active in your poses
Activating your hands and feet throughout your yoga practice sets off a chain reaction in your muscles which brings deeper engagement throughout your body… which in turn means you work harder. So bring your whole body alive in your practice – from the tips or your finger tips to your toes – and notice how your practice intensifies, and your strength and stamina grow.
4. Get in to your bandhas
Engaging your bandhas during your yoga practice will create transformational results. Bandhas are energetic locks created when you hold and engage certain muscles. Mula Bandha – the pelvic floor lock – engages the muscles you use to stop yourself peeing, and stops energy flowing down. Engaging this throughout your practice is a huge achievement and takes real focus. With Uddiyana Bandha, the abdominals up to the diaphragm are enagaged. Use this lock in twists, inversions and jumps. Uddiyana Bandha moves energy upwards with more force than Mula Bandha, and creates a different level of engagement around your diaphragm.
Engaging Mula Bandha for even just a few minutes takes real effort. Your aim is to engage for a whole class.
5. Get in to the poses you hate
It’s time to get 50 Shades with your yoga practice, and start loving the torture of the pose you hate ; ) Everyone has poses they avoid - the ones that make you groan inside at the mere mention of the pose name. Most of the time we dislike a yoga pose because we don’t have the flexibility, balance or strength to do it well. Our bodies respond by tightening, shaking or resisting. Whilst our egos respond by disliking. As with anything, perseverance and continual practice – even over a period of months or years - leads to improvement and eventual ease. So put your ego aside, and persevere.
6. Get slow, detailed and conscious
Many of us love to flow through yoga poses and the fluidity of the movement. But speed doesn’t allow the time to focus, feel in to your body and really notice what’s going on. So slow it down, maybe do a few beginners classes, and take the time to scan through your body in different poses and really notice what’s going on for you – notice where you’re holding tension, where your areas of weakness are, when you compensate and pull other parts of your body in to poses. Get really conscious to your body and all the sensations you experience throughout class. Building a deep connection with your body has benefits beyond your yoga mat, and learning to listen to its messages is a key apart of managing your wellbeing.
7. Get the camera out
Whilst mirrors during your yoga practice can be distracting and lead to self criticism and judgement, capturing your progress with a pic is a great idea. Unless you’re in the position of being able to dedicate hours a day to your yoga practice (we wish!), building strength, opening your body and growing flexibility will take time. When things take time it’s harder to notice the difference as changes are small and gradual, but a picture captures your progress over months or years, and can be very motivating.
8. Get focused on what you CAN do
The progress plateau is a frustrating place, so switching your focus helps put a positive light on your position. Celebrate the focus you’ve made, how far you’ve come, and the things you CAN now do. There will always be some things you can’t do, and where your body stops will be different to someone else’s. I badly injured my back in a trampolining accident in my teens so have very restricted mobility in my lower back. I’ll never be able to do Scorpion or crazy deep backbends, but the fact I can do any kind of backbend feels like a miracle versus the level of mobility I’d been told I would be able to achieve. So, I celebrate that I can do any sort of backbend, and put my focus on opening my hips and building more strength in my upper body.
9. Get feedback
If you want to know how your yoga practice is getting on and what to work on to take it to the next level, then ask one of our teachers. They’ll be able to give you feedback on where you’re out of alignment because of a muscle weakness, where you’re collapsing in to your lower back or hips, and what to focus on to build strength.
So stick with it, take it steadily, and watch your yoga practice grow to the next level.
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