When you find a yoga studio or teacher that you love, it’s easy to let your yoga practice go on “auto-pilot”—just showing up for class, practicing, and leaving. In other words, getting comfortable. While being comfortable is nice, when our yoga practice stays the same for too long, things can become dull, stagnant, and limiting.
Making an effort to venture outside of your yoga comfort zone can be scary, but some discomfort will be necessary if you wish to grow. Intensive yogic practices have the ability to “stir up the pot” and drudge up old memories and hidden emotions. As you work to make a change, it’s important to include practices of integration (journaling, walking in nature, talking to friends, etc.) to allow you to assimilate and process anything that comes up.
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Remember that when you experience discomfort from having too much stirred up at once, it’s perfectly okay to back off or stop your yoga practice until you are able to fully integrate your experience.
Although the transition can be tough, renewing the energy in your practice only requires a few simple shifts. The resulting magic, vibrancy, and excitement will bring you to places you may have never thought possible.
Three paths to expand your yoga practice
There is no right or wrong way to expand your yoga practice, but it is recommended to have a detailed plan of approach, set a clear intention or goal, and commit to a schedule for learning and exploration.
It is also recommended to approach your goals without expectation. As you work on expanding your yoga practice, try emphasizing self-exploration and adventure over achievement. You can direct yourself by focusing on one of these three goals at a time:
1. Deepen your existing practice
Going deeper into your existing practice will probably be the most accessible and rewarding path towards expansion. There are a few simple ways to go about this.
Firstly, experiment with the pace of your sequence and the transitions between poses. Try slowing down and holding poses longer, or conversely see how it feels to move more quickly in and out of poses. It is easy to get distracted or bored in the spaces between poses, so try to bring more focus and attention to these transitions.
Then try adding some new poses to your practice; in particular, challenging poses that you don’t believe you can do. Receiving some private instruction will be helpful to break these poses down and practice them in a safe way.
Next, notice which asanas you avoid the most and make a point of exploring them deeply to uncover your fears and weaknesses.
Finally, give yourself some time to play with yoga props in a creative way to add more fun and adventure to your practice. A common misconception is that props are only for beginners, but they can be a big help to anyone who wants extra support or to achieve deeper openings.
2. Move beyond asana
Most classes in the US focus mainly on hatha yoga poses and often minimize the other parts of yoga, like pranayama, mantra, and mudra. Why not try branching out and adding them to your personal practice? They can be practiced by themselves or combined in interesting ways.
While pranayama, mantra, and mudra look like simple practices on the surface, they can have profound energetic effects. Therefore, I’d advise getting instruction from a qualified teacher. An excellent way to safely explore these practices is by attending workshops at a retreat center or at your local yoga studio.
Another powerful yoga practice is pratipaksha bhavana—the removal of negative thoughts by actively cultivating the opposite mental attitude. Work on cultivating positive emotions such as kindness, gratitude, joy, and self-compassion at the beginning or end of your practice or while you are moving through your sequence. Seal in the positivity by adding 15-minutes of seated meditation to the end of your practice.
3. Deepen your yogic knowledge
A more mind-focused option for expanding your yoga practice is to study yogic theory, ethics, and philosophy. Developing an understanding of the ethical practices of the yamas and niyamas is the perfect starting point. The yamas and niyamas are the guiding principles of yoga and practicing them sheds light on our belief systems and unconscious actions and behaviors.
Reading and studying the classic yogic scriptures in your search for more knowledge can be a bit daunting. We recommend getting started by reading Eknath Easwaran’s translations of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. If you are not a big reader or just need a more Western interpretation of these ancient texts, consider enrolling in some online courses or listening to podcasts on yoga philosophy.
Expanding and broadening your yoga practice can be challenging and require a lot of hard work. Approach this work with a lighthearted attitude to balance the seriousness that can arise on this path and remember that a daily practice is the key to achieving success.