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When you’re new to yoga, you’re excited to learn the basic asanas and get your body into the classic poses. Over time, though, your yoga regimen may start to become more routine. It’s not yoga that’s the problem; the practice offers infinite opportunities for growth. Your approach to your poses may be what needs a boost. When you want to take your practice to the next level, try these tips.
1. Practice, practice, practice
It might sound obvious, but when you’re looking to deepen your understanding of a particular pose, make a point to practice. Certainly work toward “peak” poses such as that Feathered Peacock Pose or One-Legged King Pigeon Pose. But don’t forget to spend time refining basics like Downward-Facing Dog or Warrior III. Developing the nuances in those poses can help you build a strong, balanced foundation for your entire practice.
2. Hold that pose
“I’m not usually a fan of holding any pose for a long period of time. (I’m impatient, and I like to move!),” says Erica Rodefer, a writer and yoga enthusiast based in Charleston, SC. But she says that most of her “breakthroughs” have come when a teacher has encouraged her to stick with it and hold a pose even when it’s out of your comfort zone. “I’m convinced that this is when real transformation happens.”
Take a deep inhale to make space in your body. As you exhale, deepen your pose—twist a little more, bend forward just a little more, and so on. Repeat. “There’s a relaxation response as you exhale that allows you to get deeper in the pose,” says Anoa Monsho, a yoga teacher based in Atlanta. Notice that your body naturally wants to exhale when you bent forward or twist. Follow that instinct. “Move organically with the breath,” she says.
4. Learn the story behind it
“When I learned that Warrior I, II, and III are representations of Shiva’s rage when he learned his first wife Sati had been insulted, the pose took on a new meaning for me,” says Rodefer. “Whenever I become frustrated that my teacher asks me to hold Warrior for longer than I’d like, this story pops into my head and I manage to stay just a few more breaths.”
5. Approach each asana slowly
Sometimes it helps to take a pose in smaller bites, rather than try to perfect it all at once. There’s a lot to pay attention to in every yoga pose—even something that seems simple such as Dandasana (Staff Pose). How is your spine aligned? Are your feet and knees pointing in the right direction? Are your shoulders away from your ears? Are your muscled engaged?
Spend time working on poses that lead up to your “goal pose.” For example, Hiro Landazuri recommends six poses to prepare for Eka Pada Koundinyasana (Hurdler’s Pose).
6. Do it with (or without) props
If you’re accustomed to practicing a posture with props, try it without. Or if you usually rely on blocks or straps, see what happens when you practice without them. Camilla Mia, a yoga and acro teacher based in Copenhagen, even suggests ditching your yoga mat. “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.” Changing your habits wakes up your brain and makes you pay attention in a new way.
7. Continue to study
Monsho, who has been practicing yoga since she was a teen, says she still turns to her favorite yoga books, particularly Yoga The Iyengar Way, for reminders. “Iyengar was very particular about the placement of every body part in relation to the other,” she says. “It never hurts to go back and pay attention to that. We think we know the poses—because how many times have we done Downward Dog, right? But do we always remember to move our shoulders toward our hips?”
8. Let go
Sometimes the best way to deepen a pose is to stop trying so darn hard! Pushing yourself too far before your body and mind are ready can cause unnecessary muscle tension. Relax and let go of expectations. The need to do more, be more, or have more may interfere with the flexibility you need to move into the pose. Deeper poses and a deeper practice will come to you in time.