You’ve been practicing for a number of months or years. Perhaps you’re still practicing in the same way you did when you set out on your yoga journey. The poses that were once challenging you are starting to become easier. Maybe it’s even starting to feel a little boring to practice, it’s becoming harder to stay present, and you feel a little restless. It’s time to consider ways in which you can start deepening your yoga practice.
Most people hit a stage of their yoga self-practice where it feels stagnant at some point or another. It’s super natural for your yoga practice to start to plateau when you’ve been at it for a little while and if you’re feeling anything like this, it’s probably a sign that you’re ready to change things up a bit.
There are so many ways you can keep your yoga practice interesting and challenging so you can keep growing and go deeper in your practice. You can introduce new elements to help deepen your yoga practice both on a physical level and an emotional/spiritual level.
In this post I’m sharing the different ways I’ve introduced new elements to my yoga practice. Mixing it up regularly has kept me feeling inspired and motivated to step onto the yoga mat. It’s helped me find new challenges to overcome in order to deepen my yoga practice.
Start deepening your physical yoga practice
Here are some ways in which you can deepen your physical yoga practice and your mindset surrounding your yoga asana (postural) practice.
Incorporate workshop-style practice sessions
Workshop-style sessions in my own yoga practice where I’m just exploring and playing around with a new pose in my own time are some of the sessions I enjoy the most. In these sessions I have taught myself inversions, arm balances, and how to go into deeper flexibility and mobility postures.
There are so many yoga workshops offered in different yoga studios with themes such as backbends, inversions, arm balances, hip openers, meditation, pranayama (breathwork), twists, and so on. We often think we have to go to a workshop to learn new and more advanced poses or techniques but there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t approach a certain pose or theme like we were attending a workshop facilitated by ourselves (if we feel safe doing so!).
Create a yoga pose sequence that warms you up and prepares you for a peak pose you want to practice. Put on a youtube tutorial for that pose or find a written tutorial with pictures online if you need guidance. Then give yourself time to try out the new pose and learn it through trial and error. In your own time and on your own mat. It doesn’t have to look pretty and it doesn’t matter if you fail or fall out of the pose because no one is looking at you.
Get rid of the yoga mat
Our yoga mat gives us a physical boundary for our practice. By removing the yoga mat you remove that physical boundary and give the possibility to take up more space for your practice or move in new and different directions.
For me, removing my mat and practicing directly on the floor or grass outside sparked so much creativity in my yoga flows because I no longer felt like I had to restrain my movements to stay within the boundaries of my yoga mat.
Blindfolded yoga practice
When we restrict or remove one element of our practice we heighten the experience of the remaining elements. One fun way to play around with this is to do a blindfolded yoga practice.
Tie a scarf around your head (not too tight, make sure it’s comfortable!). Start out slowly. Sit on your mat and notice the sensations you feel, the mat touching your skin, the flow of breath in and out your nose. Start moving gently and build up to moving more dynamically (perhaps through sun salutations) if you feel comfortable with it.
You’ll be much more aware of how you place your feet and hands on the mat to create a stable foundation. Much more aware of how every pose feels in your body instead of being able to see how it looks. It can be an incredibly freeing experience and will help you become more aware in your practice even after you’ve taken the blindfold off!
Go super slowly
When you slow down your pace you have more time to notice and sense every little part of your movement. By moving slowly we have more time to become aware of our breath, of the subtle signals our bodies are sending us constantly, and more time to go deeper into the postures.
This one is a biggie if you want to feel more fluid and graceful in your yoga practice. Slow your flow down until you can’t tell where one pose ends and the next begins. Not only does that require a lot more subtle strength because you’re constantly moving in a slow and controlled way, it also gives you time to constantly readjust in the postures and find the most efficient way from one pose to another.
Get geeky with the anatomy of yoga & movement
Knowing all the different ways the joints in my body can move has made me realise which movement directions my yoga practice was lacking in order to be well-rounded.
E.g. the spine can move in 4 different ways: flexion (forward fold), extension (backbend), latteral flexion (sidebend), and rotation (twisting). Knowing that you can become more aware of which movements you are favouring and which types of movements and poses you can add more of in your practice to make it varied.
Knowing which muscles are being stretched and which are being contracted in order to perform a specific movement or pose will also increase your awareness of where to engage to move deeper into the postures and how to engage to find more stability and integrity in each pose or movement. So get geeky!
Try out a new style of yoga
If you’re always practicing vinyasa yoga, iyengar yoga will probably make you much more aware of your alignment and optimal engagement in the postures. If you’re always practicing restorative yoga, ashtanga yoga might teach you disciplin, persistence, and increase your strength and flexibility. If you’re always practicing kundalini yoga, vinyasa yoga might teach you to move more freely and creatively. Maybe you’re used to only relying on yourself in your solo yoga practice then acroyoga will challenge you ability to cooperate others and give your trust over to someone else. And so on..
Most styles of yoga have something new to teach us. Trying out a new style of yoga every once in a while can help you add new elements into your yoga self-practice so you never run out of inspiration. This will also make your yoga practice truly yours because you’re not just copying one specific thing, you’re taking inspirational snippets from all sorts yoga styles and combine it to make it your own.
Add functional movement and cardio to your movement practice
Yoga can be a pretty well-rounded practice but it sorely lacks cardiovascular elements and some types of strength (e.g. there’s no pulling movements in yoga).
Even the most dynamic vinyasa yoga flows lack the stamina required to run, swim, or cycle. With improved cardiovascular health you’ll notice that you won’t run out of breath in your yoga practice and you’ll flow much easier without fatigue.
Functional movements such as pull-ups, squatting, and different crawling patterns give us strength so we can support ourselves better in the yoga poses. Strengthening your hamstrings, the muscles surrounding your knees, and your shoulders will lower the risk of common yoga injuries such as “yoga butt”, knee, and shoulder injuries. It will also help you perform the standing postures of yoga with so much more stability and integrity because you’ll have stronger legs in a larger range of motion.
Go back to basics
Sometimes when we try out more advanced postures and we feel like they just aren’t possible, it can be because we still have more to learn from the basics. It might feel counterintuitive but sometimes in order to start deepening your yoga practice you have to go back to the beginning. Going back to basics will help us keep building and maintaining the of strength and mobility that’s required to achieve more advanced postures.
Practicing the foundational postures and sequences like the sun salutations can also become an incredibly meditative experience because we’re already familiar with the postures and we know where we’re going. Practicing the familiar gives us the headspace to be more mindful of our breath, drishti (gaze), mental state.
Really feel into the basic postures. Notice all the little sensations, where you’re engaging, where you feel a stretch, all the feels. This will expand your awareness when you practice yoga.
Try to forget most of the things you’ve learned about yoga. Like how a sequence of postures is normally structured, when to inhale and exhale, where to stand on your mat, and so on. Let go of as many of those preconceived notions as possible and approach your practice with a beginner’s mind.
Be explorative, go in whichever direction that feels different and good no matter whether it looks like an actual yoga pose or not. Not matter if you end up outside of your mat space or not. As long as it feels good!
When I approach my self-practice with a beginner’s mind that’s often when I flow more creatively and discover new transitions or new variations of the yoga poses.
Aim for consistency
There’s a certain self-awareness that comes from practicing (almost) every single day. It can teach you so much about yourself and how much your physical and mental state changes from day to day. A daily practice will also start deepening your yoga practice because consistency increases the rate at which you become stronger, more flexible, find better balance in your physical practice.
Connect with a yoga community
Yoga is oftentimes quite the internal and individual experience. If we’re always practicing on our own we’re missing out on the opportunity to learn from other people, to connect with them by sharing the experiences and struggles we’re going through in our practice, and to share and receive inspiration and support.
There are many places to find a yoga community that will help you through the ebbs (and flows) of your yoga self-practice.
Search through instagram hashtags, facebook groups, or online forums (like reddit) to find like-minded people to connect with or to get inspired by. Or find a community in-person by taking classes at your local yoga studio, sign up for a yoga retreat or a training. Strike up a conversation with your yoga teacher or fellow student. Engage with people and share what you’re going through in your practice. You’ll quickly experience that you’re probably not the only one with the same struggles and you can start deepening your yoga practice by learning from other people’s experiences.
Sign up for a yoga teacher training
Participating in a yoga teacher training is THE #1 thing to do if you want to significantly deepen your yoga practice and expand your yoga tool box. You will come out with a stronger physical and spiritual practice and as a part of a close-knit community of like-minded friends who also have a deep passion for yoga.
Practice outside (or elsewhere)
Practicing outside or in a different place than your usual spot can change the entire experience of your yoga practice. Practicing outside adds so many extra sensations to your practice. You can notice the wind on your skin, listen to the sounds around you, and breath in the fresh air. Practicing in a different place can help you start deepening your yoga practice by giving you more or less room to practice on, sparking your creativity because you’re in a different environment, and forcing you to adjust your practice to the new circumstances.
Working with your mindset
The mindset we have when it comes to our yoga practice makes a huge difference for our overall experience of it. Self-reflecting on the way you practice is an incredible way to start deepening your yoga practice.
Ask yourself: how is your breath maintained throughout the practice? How is your energy level sustained and regulated during your yoga practice? Do you leave feeling energized? Depleted? Do you find joy in the moment? Or are you more excited for it to be over? Where is your head at while you’re practicing? Distracted? Absorbed? Are you driven to practice out of fear or obligation? Or do you genuinely want to step onto your yoga mat, grateful and excited to be there? Are you willing to question your practice, to take a step back and become curious about what experience you are having and whether the experience is beneficial to yourself and your relationships?
There are so many things we can learn about ourselves and the way we show up in our life from our yoga practice if we start using the practice to tune in and reflect on why and how we do the things we do.
Motivation and Intention
Knowing your motivation and intention behind your yoga practice keeps you on the right track. It is very easy to get distracted by the shoulds and musts and feel like our practice have to look like some other person’s practice. All that does is to distract us from where we really want to go.
When we let go of comparison and tune in to our ‘why’ we can practice in a way that is right for us and move deeper and closer to the goals we have in our yoga self-practice. It enables us to stay true to our purpose and deepen our practice in the way we wish for ourself.
Start deepening your spiritual yoga practice
Here are some ways in which I have gone deeper in the spiritual and mindfulness side of my yoga practice and how you can too! I hope it provides inspiration to you.
Taking up meditation can be such a transformative experience on many levels. Meditating daily teaches you patience, presence, to tune in, to focus for longer periods of time. All of the things you learn from meditating are endlessly valuable life skills that will always enrich your physical yoga practice.
Through meditation you will start deepening your yoga practice because you’re teaching your mind to be present for longer periods of time, staying focused on the task at hand without being distracted as easily.
Pranayama is the practice of controlling the breath. When we learn to control our breath we can better control our emotions. Breath-work is helpful for all kinds of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia, etc. Like meditation it also improves our focus and concentration and our self-awareness.
Incorporation pranayama into your yoga practice adds a new element to the practice, which will help you control your mind better. Different pranayama techniques will also teach you to control the breath in ways to calm you down or to energize you.
The Yamas and Niyamas are the two first limbs of the yoga philosophy. They are the ethics of the yoga practice and will help you take your yoga practice off the mat.
Reflecting on the yamas and niyamas will help you get to the core of why you’re doing what you’re doing and help you to see whether you need to adjust your behaviour to be more aligned with your own values.
A mantra can be any word, phrase, or sound, the most commonly known mantra is OM. Mantras are one way to practice mindfulness because we focus on a word or phrase as a way to calm and center the mind. In this sense, mantras help us slow down our brains and allow for more space in breath, mind, and body.
You can choose words, phrases, or sounds as your mantra in your yoga and meditation practices can help to keep you tethered to your mat, and keep your mind focused.
A mudra is said to be a hand gesture that guides the energy flow to specific areas of the brain. There are many types of mudras designed to bring different benefits, depending on what we specifically need.
Many people use mudras to increase their presence and focus because the mudra gives us one more element to focus on when we meditate, do breathwork (pranayama) or practice yoga asana.
Keep a practice journal
For my yoga teacher training I was asked to start a journal of my yoga practice. To write how my body and mind felt during my practice, what I practiced, any accomplishments or struggles in that practice, how my breath felt, and so on.
Noticing all these things about your practice will teach you so much about how your own mental state on a given day affects you and your outlook on life, how your body changes daily, how you react to obstacles and challenges on the yoga mat, and so much more. It also serves as a brilliant reminder of how far you’ve come as you can start to look back on early practices and see how much your yoga practice has evolved over time.
We learn more quickly from our mistakes and struggles when we write them down and we also enforce the positive aspects of our lives when we write that down. This is why journalling is so so important to me. I really believe we learn and grow quicker when we make journalling a regular part of our practice.