It is virtually impossible to avoid the inevitable plateau in our yoga practice. In the early phase, we are like babies soaking up every drop of yoga knowledge available within our grasp. We are challenged by new postures and fascinated by the tranquility meditation brings. But after a while, the postures that used to be challenging are now mundane and we never seem to reach the enlightened state that meditation promises. Slowly our practice stagnates and naturally we feel frustrated or bored.
Here are nine ways (plus a bonus at the end) to deepen your yoga practice in 2018:
1. Tapping Into Your Subtle Energies
Most of us have entered the path of yoga through asana (yoga postures). We are drawn to the heart-pumping Vinyasa sequences, energizing inversions, and tranquilizing forward folds. Nonetheless, as we progress further into our practices, we should start moving our attention and intention inward. Tapping into our subtle energies requires us to turn our senses inward and observe our minds. Practicing the fourth and fifth limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, pranayama (breath extension) and pratyahara (sense-withdrawal) can help us heighten our sensitivity, concentration, and awareness. In your daily yoga, start incorporating simple pranayama exercises such as square breathing or gentle alternate-nostril breathing. Candle-gazing is an excellent technique to build concentration and sense-withdrawal.
2. Mantra and Mudra
A mantra is a sacred phrase, word or syllable that is recited to support our meditation or to invoke the divinity. Some of the common mantras are the Gayatri mantra, Pavamana mantra, and the sound of Aum. Mudra is a spiritual gesture performed with the hands, fingers, and body. Mudras are often used in conjunction with pranayama to stimulate different parts of the body involved with the breathing and to affect the flow of prana in the body. Some of the commonly used mudras are Jñana and Chin mudra. Jñana mudra invocates knowledge or wisdom; Chin mudra is the psychic gesture of consciousness. Adding mantras and mudras to your practice helps strengthen your psychic abilities, willpower, devotion, and the power of manifestation.
3. Practice Ethics
‘No Yamas, No Yoga’ is a famous quote by Sri Dharma Mittra. Yama (ethics) is the first limb of the Eight Limb Path also known as Ashtanga Yoga. There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Apraigraha (non-grasping). One of the best ways to deepen your yoga practice is to take your practice off the mat. You can practice Ahimsa by becoming a vegan, paying your taxes accurately for Asteya, and donating excess clothing to your local charities for Aparigragaha. Expand your practice by doing yoga asana one or two hours daily and keep to the ethics for the rest of the day.
4. Cardio & Functional Exercises
Although yoga makes you strong and flexible, adding cardio can take your physical practice to a whole new level. Even the most dynamic Vinyasa yoga lacks the stamina required by aerobic exercises like jogging, swimming and cycling. With improved cardiovascular health, you’ll notice your practice would flow much easier without fatigue. Best yet, take it outside and enjoy the fresh air in nature. Functional exercises like burpees, triceps dips and squats are the best way to strengthen the muscles used in yoga. Yoga in itself will strengthen most of our muscle groups, however functional exercises can specifically target certain areas, thus balancing out your body. Consider trying out the gymnastic rings, which develops coordination, core stabilization, flexibility and strength throughout the body.
5. Yin Yoga
Sometimes the best way to improve is take it back a notch. According to the Complete Guide To Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark, up to 47% of the body’s resistance comes from the joint’s rigidity, followed by its muscles and fascia. Yin yoga is the ultimate way to release the fascia and mobilize the joints. Try doing Yin Yoga 3-4x per week and see the differences in your flexibility. Click here for free Yin yoga sequences.
6. Scriptural Study
Most of us already know that yoga is beyond the yoga postures. Ultimately, the goal of yoga is to steady the mind and strive for Self-Realization. Svadhyaya means ‘self-study’ and often refers to studying ancient yogic scripture. Upon many revered scriptures, some of the classics include The Yoga Sutras, The Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and The Upanishads. These scriptures are written many centuries ago and are endowed with infinite knowledge from enlightened beings like swamis, sages, and yogis on how to reach Self-Realization. If you’re serious about yoga and its significance beyond yoga postures, scriptural study is a must.
7. Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga is the yoga of selfless service and skillful action. By selfless action, we move our ego aside and act from our True Self, which is naturally filled with love and compassion. Everything that we practice on the yoga mat is futile if we cannot see the benefits of Karma Yoga. Serving others without expecting anything in return is the best way to remove mental afflictions and reaching equanimity from within. Try volunteering at your local charity center, visiting a senior home, giving donation yoga classes or simply helping around the house.
8. Take An Advanced Teacher Training (Or Several)
A 200hr yoga teacher training is a great foundation. However, if you want to deepen your practice, the best way is to take an advanced yoga teacher training. Many schools offer 300hr training courses or shorter intensives. These are wonderful opportunities to dive deeper whether it is for your postural practice, yoga philosophy or skillful teachings. The hours are only an arbitrary figure to keep track of your learning. The idea is to keep learning, practicing and excelling.
9. Deep Relaxation
Yoga Nidra, also known as Yogic Sleep, is the best way to remove impurities in the body, mind and soul. We hold a lot of tension in our bodies and eventually toxins build up in our energy channels. Yoga Nidra is a form of deep relaxation technique that involves intense focus on various body parts and visualization. It transcends the body and mind to a separate plane where we can release the tension allowing the prana (life force) to flow smoothly.
10. Meditate More (Bonus point)
Our mind is like a monkey reigned by our senses. In order to gain control of it, we must first get to know it. Meditation is a great way to observe the mind. Without judging or changing our thoughts, we simply take notes of what is rendering in our mind stream. We soon notice that most of our thoughts are unconstructive and only drain our energy. If you are serious about developing a solid meditation practice, it is best to study with an experienced teacher who can guide you through deeper contemplations such as the Laws of Karma and Emptiness. There are many amazing masters who have online teachings including Geshe Michael Roach, Lama Marut, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.