Saturday, April 22, 2017

How to Reignite Your Yoga Practice


            It goes something like this: you hesitantly start yoga, unsure of what you’re doing and noticeably awkward in class wondering why you came in the first place, and then time passes. As you make some progress- maybe your first confident Wheel Pose, five-minute meditation, or a successful transition from Crow Pose to Headstand- you’re on fire! Practice is exciting every time you step on the mat. The Sanskrit names, the history, the yogi community, the Instagram challenges; it is exhilarating and your loved ones start begging you to talk about something else for a change.

Then, maybe after a few years or even sooner, the fire dims. It happens slowly but it feels sudden.

Your practice becomes routine or not exciting. Perhaps you’ve plateaued and feel you have reached your best. You think to yourself, “This is the bendiest and the strongest I can achieve.” So now what? In this space, at best, you go through the motions and sequences unmoved and robotic. At worst, yoga becomes a chore and you stop practicing altogether. You’ve become disconnected. How can you reignite the fire of the novice?
Firstly, this happens even to the best of us.

I would argue it happens to most of us with a dedicated practice at some point. There are periods of time when a Sun Salutation is the last thing you want to do. Do not be ashamed, you are not alone (even though many of us will not admit it out loud). There are infinite reasons for yogi burnout or boredom. For example, life gets hectic and it’s hard to make time, we suffer an injury, we have a strict routine, or we compare our practice to others.

Whatever the case, a disconnection from our practice is actually a great opportunity!

It is a part of the yogic journey. You are fertile ground for self-discovery. If you notice you have strayed from your mat, this is a time to examine what distracted you in the first place. What is happening internally that is manifesting externally as burnout? This process will look vastly different from person to person. Take your time with this. There are no right or wrong answers and it is never too late to start back up again.

Here are some suggestions for those of us who may be struggling with re-engaging our yogic practices or are simply in need of taking it to the next level. Your practice is perfect for this soul-searching. Here is how you may reawaken your fire.

1.     Congratulate yourself for practicing awareness. Now accept it.
Sure, it sucks. You’ve realized yoga isn’t as fun as it used to be and your practices are progressively becoming less consistent (or have come to a complete halt). This feels like a huge setback physically, mentally, and spiritually, and you may worry that you are far from the flexi-newbie you once were.

However, what is now most important is that you have become aware of a change in your practice and your relationship to it.

There are many who have yet to even acknowledge their disconnection. Bring yourself into the here and now. It is easy to beat yourself up for your practice not looking how it used to, but what does that accomplish?

Look at your present state in all of its perceived imperfections and now… accept it.

You have not practiced in a week, a month, or a few months, or maybe even years. What is your reality? It is what it is. Your awareness prepares you for a space of infinite change. Congratulations. This is a beautiful place to start.

2.     Change of Pace.
Try to change the pace of your practice.

A different speed can potentially transform your relationship to each movement and, consequently, each posture (and therefore, your entire practice!).

If you tend to move faster in your practice, move slowly. Focus on each muscle that is engaged. Take deeper breaths. Spend more time with the sensations you feel. Instead of ignoring that hip that is asking you to back off, listen to it. Slow down.
            On the other hand, if you tend to stick to slower paced flows, experiment with speeding it up! Challenge yourself to create heat in the body. What does it take to break you into a sweat? Pay attention to that climatic release that comes after preserving through an intense practice.
            Practice at a different time of the day. Try a new class, a new studio, or practice at home. Practice alone or with a group of friends. Experiment with a different school of yoga like kundalini, Bikram, ashtanga, or hot yoga. Take a chance on a class you think you would not enjoy. Switch it up!

3.     Embrace the Tension.
Maybe one of the reasons you have been avoiding the mat is because you are anticipating the tension that awaits you there. If you have not stretched in a while, chances are your muscles may be a bit stiffer, your joints a bit creakier, and your mind a bit more distracted by the fact that this was not how you used to be. It is a blow to the ego.
            Here we are reminded why awareness and acceptance are so critical for our practice (and our lives in general!).

Instead of feeling defeated by a back that won’t bend as much as it used to, search for the lessons in the tension.

Is your stiff back a parallel to how you’ve become more rigid off of the mat? Are your tense shoulders a symptom of the heavy burdens you are carrying? Your body is a manifestation of the mind and spirit. So what exactly is going on up and in there?

4.     Progress.
Many of us catalogue our process and progress when we begin our yoga journey. If you gave me some time I could search through my computer’s photos and produce the evolution of almost every posture I have worked on. While this could be misconstrued as vain or egotistical, I think it is actually very useful and important for us to notate our journey. It shows us how far we have come.

If your practice is anything like mine, usually my greatest breakthroughs on the mat (like my feet FINALLY touching my head in forearm stand) is a mirror of a breakthrough I have had outside of my asana practice (learning to let go and enjoy where I am presently).

            So mark this new journey! You have decided to reignite the fire and it is important to give it the credit it deserves. Maybe a journal will be useful for you to express what your practice felt like today and what emotional, cognitive, or spiritual experiences came up for you. Or, like many of us in 2017, Instagram or a blog can be an exciting tool to crystalize your journey. Create your own hashtag of your progress for you to return to easily at any time (mine, for example, is #lacyprogress). It’s that simple! It does not have to be for anyone but you (but the interaction and support from others can be nice).

5.     Set Intentions.
It is common to attend a yoga class and the instructor invite you to set an intention for your practice. An intention is a goal or a plan that you feel is useful for your body, mind, and spirit at that given moment.

This is important because sometimes we need a concrete focus.

An intention can keep us grounded as we move through our practice and motivate us when we find ourselves challenged. They are incredibly useful and personal. An intention can be whatever you need. Maybe your aim for your practice can be to remain present, to feel peace, or to experiment with a posture you find scary. This internal promise can be just what we need to manifest our desires.
However, for those of us who are strict high achievers (guilty), not reaching our goals can be devastating. Beware of getting so attached to an intention that it overshadows what is actually most important- the journey there. Cliché, I know. But it is in the journey towards the goal that we find the lessons and love that we need. So, if you find yourself distracted when your intention was to be present- THAT IS OKAY. What is much more useful is to then meditate on why you found yourself wandering. If you end up backing away from that scary posture you intended on trying- THAT IS OKAY. What is it about the posture that intimidates you? Whatever the outcome, there is a lesson to be learned. If you achieved your goal, awesome! What worked for you? If you did not, awesome! What do you think would help you next time?

6.     Integrate Meditation.
If you do not practice mediation, I strongly encourage you to try it. I could talk all day long about its benefits and importance for a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

In short, meditation can help clear your head of the static that is keeping you from your truths.

If you are having difficulty understanding why you have disconnected from your asana (poses) practice, meditation is just the cure. It can be incredibly intimidating to start if you have never practiced, and intimidating to restart if you have become irregular. To be frank, you must decide it is worth it. The tools offered here, considering your pace, embracing tension, tracking your progress, and setting intentions, can also be applied to your dhyana (meditation) practice. You can find introductory information here.

            It can be tough to reignite the fire once it has dimmed or burnt out. There are a hundred reasons why you may feel discouraged or not want to risk trying to bring back the flame. But I promise you there are a thousand reasons and benefits of why you should search for that glow and warmth once again (because, yes, I promise it is still there no matter how long it has been). Some of these suggestions will help kick start the process and some may not quite be what you need. Or maybe you need them all! What is beautiful is that no one will know but you.

Try these suggestions out yourself and share with anyone you feel may be stuck or stopped in their journey! Comment below to share your progress.

Written by Kala Lacy

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