How to Refresh Your Yoga Practice

This entry was posted on Jul 13, 2021 by Charlotte Bell.

Most of us are creatures of habit, and that’s neither good nor bad. Healthy habits provide a strong foundation for our daily lives. Unhealthy habits can derail even our best intentions. But sometimes, even healthy habits can cause us to get stuck, or to reinforce patterns that no longer serve us. For example, practicing yoga regularly is a healthy habit. But our bodies and minds change—poses that were healthy for us a year ago may not be today. That’s why it’s important to refresh your yoga practice from time to time.

Here’s an example: I was born with hypermobile joints. Therefore, when I started practicing yoga asana, I gravitated toward poses that took advantage of my natural flexibility. I didn’t enjoy the poses that required strength. They were way too much work, while the bendy poses were easy. Plus, they made me feel like I was an accomplished practitioner.

Yoga asana, at its best, promotes balance. But decades of focusing on flexibility left me imbalanced—hypermobile to an unhealthy degree and lacking strength. The solution? I began to practice more strengthening poses and back off my flexibility. Now I purposely don’t take poses to my end range of motion. I also do strength training. As a result, my body feels more stable and balanced. I even have more energy. Plus, my practice is a whole lot more challenging. It’s also a whole lot more mentally engaging as I challenge myself in new ways.

Why Refresh Your Yoga Practice?

You may be in the opposite category—an abundance of strength and little flexibility. So maybe you tend to enjoy strengthening poses and dread flexibility poses. It’s helpful to remember that yoga asana was never meant to be a performance (at least, not until the British colonized India and attempted to mold yoga into gymnastics). Those poses that challenge us most are usually the ones that will help bring us to balance.

According to the Yoga Sutra 2.46, “the physical posture should be steady and comfortable.” Other translations phrases “firm and soft,” or “steady and easy.” These imply balance. So ideally, our practice should lead us in the direction of finding balance for our individual bodies and minds. And that’s constantly changing.

So when you decide to refresh your yoga practice, what you’re doing is asking the question: “What kind of practice will lead me to a state of equilibrium in my body/mind as they are today?” This not only respects the truth of where you are in a given moment, but it also may help you step out of a rut and into new and interesting territory. Boredom isn’t the result of the lack of activity; it comes from lack of attention. An old, familiar practice doesn’t require your attention. A different approach requires that you be mindful. And mindfulness can bring even your staple poses, the ones you’ve practiced thousands of times, to life.

3 Ways to Change Up Your Practice

Here are some ways to refresh your yoga practice:

  • Beginner’s Mind: Suzuki Roshi famously said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” This applies to everything we do, including yoga. We may have practiced Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) hundreds of times. But right now is the only time we’ve practiced it in this particular moment. Our bodies and minds have shifted, however subtly, since the last time we practiced it, even if it was just minutes ago. This Dog Pose is utterly new. What can you learn from it? If you approach each pose with curiosity, the possibilities are endless.
  • Try New Classes: You may well have found a practice that feeds you. The fact that your practice feels good makes it really easy to do the same practice every day. But what if there’s something else out there that might either enhance your current practice or replace it at times—with wonderful results? You won’t know unless you step out and look for something different. You can wander into a different studio and try out a completely different type of yoga. Since COVID-19 forced us into online classes, you can search out teachers in other locales who might just teach you something that transforms your way of practicing. But you won’t know unless you step out and look around.
  • Change Your Routine: There’s wisdom to creating a habit of practicing at the same time and place every day. Carving out a regular routine can help us stick to it. But it’s also okay to experiment with practicing at different times of day sometimes, or in a different space. Our bodies and minds are different in the morning than they are in the afternoon or evening. Practice affects us differently at different times. Explore changing your routine from time to time.

What do you do to refresh your yoga practice?

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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