Finding Challenge in Yoga

This entry was posted on Dec 10, 2012 by Anna Guest-Jelley.

A Challenging Virabhadrasana I Looks Different for Everyone

Finding Challenge in Yoga

When you hear that a yoga class is “challenging,” what does that mean to you? I imagine if we polled 100 yogis, we’d get 100 different answers.

The reason we’d find such variance is that the idea of challenge is highly subjective. What is challenging for one person may be a snap for another, and vice versa.

Also, when we talk about challenge in yoga, we typically mean physical challenge. But as we know in yoga, there’s also mental challenge, emotional challenge and spiritual challenge.

Because with yoga, we’re working with the whole enchilada.

Personal Definition

If you’re interested in finding a challenging yoga class, I recommend you first consider what that means to you. What is safe for your body? Are there certain poses you need to avoid? What pace of class is right for you?

When thinking about these questions, I encourage you to go even a step deeper and think about what it means for something to be “right” for you. In my experience, I’ve often had a desire to do classes that are harder, faster, stronger because I thought they were what I “should” be doing.

But did that mean they were “right?”

Not necessarily. Some days, that did feel good. But many days I needed a break, or would have benefitted from a slower class with a focus on alignment.

To me, what’s right for you will vary from person to person. But leaving the class feeling grounded and safe are good factors to consider.

Accessible Challenge

Once you’ve determined what you’re looking for in terms of challenge, begin to see how you can think outside the box. For example, if you have some physical limitations (and don’t we all in one way or another!), you have the opportunity to get creative in how you bring challenge into your practice.

Instead of going for increasingly difficult poses, or faster paces, consider inviting dynamic movement into your practice. Here’s what I mean by that:

In a pose like Warrior 1, you’re typically instructed to come directly into a hold of the pose. Instead of that, though, consider moving dynamically—inhaling and bending your knee, exhaling and straightening your leg. Repeat that two to three times before you come into a hold.

This process of moving in the pose before holding works well for a few reasons: (1) it helps you truly sync your breath to your movement, (2) it allows you to assess how your knee is feeling today, giving you an indication where it will be safe for you to hold & (3) it uses muscles differently than a hold, so when you combine movement with a hold, you’re getting the best of both worlds, (4) it allows you to invite a different kind of challenge into an accessible pose.

Moving Forward

You can bring this principle of accessible challenge into your practice in many ways. The Warrior 1 example above is just one of many—and the good news is that this is a fun place to get creative.

Where else could you invite dynamic movement into your practice in ways that work for your body?

About Anna Guest-Jelley
Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of Curvy Yoga, a training and inspiration portal offering body-positive yoga classes, workshops, teacher trainings, retreats, a virtual studio and an in-person studio in Nashville, TN, for people of all shapes and sizes. Anna is also the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. Visit the Curvy Yoga website for more details:

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