When you begin a yoga practice, an entirely new world opens up. You are introduced to new sensations (hello new muscle groups and easeful joints!), perhaps more moments of calm, and a 'high' or energy running through your body which you haven't felt before. Most likely you have made new friends and built community through your studio and become more aware of your actions, relationships and lifestyle at home, off the mat.
These shifts occur at different times for each practitioner, depending on the consistency of practice, engagement and receptivity. The yoga practices aim to shift our inner world through refinement of the physical, mental and emotional bodies, and create an inner brilliance (more peace, contentment and love!) which can't help but radiate outwards. The transformation through personal evolution is one of the most rewarding aspects of a consistent practice, however, to maintain growth requires steady perseverance. Yoga is a constant study of the Self and requires us to be forever students. Yoga asks us to 'see' our reality clearly and be willing to do the work to heal and better ourselves.
Here's how to deepen (or re-invigorate) your practice for personal growth:
1. Return to a beginners mind: Remember the first time you stepped on your mat and the experience you felt as you moved into your body with absolutely no expectations. For many students, the first few months (even years) of the practice are incredibly purifying and humbling. With so much 'crap' (stress, trauma, etc.) to move out of our bodies and minds, we are incredibly challenged in the asana to stay present with our breath. It is always important to return to the foundations of our practice, and even more so once we feel strong in the asana and calm with our pranayama, in order to refine the experience within. Like with anything we can easily become conditioned. It's not uncommon that most of us practice with incorrect alignment, flowing through poses without proper engagement or integration, etc. Try a beginners class or workshop to revisit the basics, and do your best to let go of any other knowledge you have acquired. Let yourself be fully present and open to receive new ways to be guided into your body, breath and mind.
2. Try a new style of yoga: Experiencing a new lineage/style is one of the most exciting ways to deepen your practice. Yoga is incredibly diverse with various class styles and teachings, yet they all encompass the same underlying philosophy. You will not be 'cheating' on your regularly practiced style/teacher/studio or forget what you learned before by trying something new...instead, it will benefit your practice as you will learn new ways to access the teachings. Any longterm practitioner will tell you that they enjoy aspects from many styles, and overtime you will learn to use your discernment to fuse together a personal practice that is unique to you.
3. Practice with experienced teachers: Teachers are vital for the depth of our practice. Our teachers gift us the knowledge, but most importantly share with us the accessible ways to then absorb the knowledge. Most important our teachers should act as mentors (on and off the mat) and inspire us to practice with a sense of empowerment and accountability. Everyone needs continual guidance throughout their yoga practice -- and as your practice evolves, so should your teachers. It's natural to outgrow teachers and have the desire to dive into another aspect of the practice. A true teacher (one who has your best interest at heart as the student) will understand this and never hold it against you.
An experienced teacher will have years of consistent teaching and refined skills to guide students into the more subtle depths of the energetic bodies through theming (philosophy), pranayama, meditation and contemplation. Do your research and try different teachers until you find someone who can support your practice as it advances. If you don't feel the studios near you provide a teacher you feel aligned with, look for workshops with international and renowned teachers which many of the more established studios will offer throughout the year. If this is not an option, look for online resources such as Gaim TV or Yogaglo which offer classes and guided mediations with some of the top teachers around the world at your fingertips!
4. Develop a self-practice: A home practice is one of the most beautiful aspects of yoga. The desire and ability to roll out your mat (anywhere, anytime!) and intuitively guide yourself through movement, breath and meditation is a priceless gift. A self-practice doesn't have to look a certain way (there is no fixed time/number of poses, etc.) and is not about 'completing it' rather than the consistency of coming to the mat, even if it's for 5 minutes some days. Your self-practice is your own and can be shape-shifted to align with your schedule and current physical/mental/emotional states. It gives us the ultimate freedom to create our own experience, which can often be totally overwhelming when we first begin. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on tips and resources for building your self practice!
5. Meditate more often: Meditation is not only practiced with our eyes closed, in stillness on our mats. The ultimate meditation practice is to cultivate more mindfulness throughout our days through our thoughts, words and actions. Many of us need to begin that process of inner stillness on our mats without stimulation, but with consistent practice, we can learn to tap into states of awareness at various moments in our life. To take your meditation off the mat, get creative with the ways you can incorporate moments with less stimulation where you can put attention on your breath and thoughts. Put away all technology and go for a walk, free journal/draw/paint, listen to a guided meditation while on your commute, or fall asleep to Yoga Nidra. There are so many ways to practice mindfulness in the day, it simply takes the desire.
5. Go on a yoga retreat: Yoga Retreats are immersive experiences into living yoga. You will experience yoga through nature, self-reflection, like-minded community, consistent practice, high vibe foods and deep sleep - which are the recipe for transformation! Along with these aspects, any quality retreat will include a progressive program with the intention to evolve your practice. A retreat is an intimate experience with ourselves, but also with our teachers who guide us for the extended period of time and get to know our practice in order to help us refine. Retreats give us the necessary space to disconnect from our daily lives, in order to reconnect with what is truly important in life. For tips on how to choose the right retreat for you, read here!
6. Go to a Yoga Festival: What's better than a weekend spent outdoors in nature listening to music, enjoying art and practicing yoga alongside some of your closest friends (and thousands of others!) ?! Yoga Festivals are all the rage and for good reason. With the rise of yoga over the last century, more people are seeking mindful and healthy ways to have fun, spend their money mindfully on experiences and be a part of community. Yoga Festivals provide the platform to play and practice within the diverse world of yoga. Experience Wild Vibes for a festival that gives back to charity or Wanderlust for a global event.
7. Do a Yoga Teacher Training: One of the best ways to dive into the vast teachings of yoga is through a Yoga Teacher Training course! Teacher Training's are not only for those who have a desire to teach - they are incredibly beneficial to learn proper alignment, build a self-practice, understand the philosophies and learn ways to incorporate a more holistic lifestyle for optimal health and happiness. See tips for how to choose a Yoga Teacher Training here!
8. Infuse your day with more yoga: Bring more positivity and knowledge into your life through the information and entertainment you take in. Similar to the foods we eat, everything we ingest into our bodies and minds have an impact on our physiology. Choose healthy and empowering options for technology through holistic health talks on Wanderlust Speakeasy, Tedx or podcasts. Spend your time reading books, following blogs/social media channels and watching documentaries that inspire you. Create sacred spaces in your home which are cozy and inviting where you can practice, relax, and do whatever it is that brings you a sense of peace.