Feeling stagnant in your yoga practice? Here’s how to find your flow again
If your yoga flow leaves you feeling uninspired, a shift may be needed to open you up to one of yoga’s truest purposes: transformation.
Picture this: you’re back on your yoga mat, it’s the second practice of the week and it feels like struggle street. Sure, you might be tired, overworked … and human, but when the sweetness of yoga dwindles, there could be another possibility playing out: stagnation in your practice.
Stagnation is commonly defined as a state of not flowing, moving, growing or developing. It’s likened to tamas — one of the gunas taught in the Bhagavad Gita — which translates to a state of inertia or dullness. If your practice leaves you feeling uninspired with no room for growth, it’s possible that a shift is needed to open you up to one of yoga’s truest purposes: transformation.
It’s important not to confuse an off-day with stagnation, especially if you’re using the physical aspects of yoga as your marker. It’s common to be progress-driven in the Western world, but a little less range in your janushirasana could mean that today, you’re just a bit tight.
Some seek classes with an ever-changing sequence in the hope of preventing stagnation, but this builds upon the ways of today’s culture — that success comes from achieving more and accumulating more. To bear witness to the ebb and flow of your body’s capabilities each day is one of yoga’s most important lessons, which is an opportunity that arises from yoga practices that frequent the same asanas, such as ashtanga and katonah yoga. The benefits of katonah yoga, a technique of hatha that is fast-growing among teachers, comes from repeating poses and observing patterns which is believed to create insight. “The revolution is in the repetition … which leads to revelation,” says Abbie Gavin, owner of The Studio, a katonah yoga centre in New York City.
So how do you know when you’ve hit a wall in your practice? What else can you look at, aside from your experience of the physical poses? A good place to start might be looking at how a practice makes you feel. Does it create a feeling of joy or of dread? Freedom or resistance? Does yoga help you to move through ignorance — a quality of tamas — by broadening not just your point of view, but also your heart’s capacity?
Ideally, the practice of yoga should have a positive impact on your body and your mind. It’s a practice many turn to for its ability to soothe and help us become better humans. By liberating our body, it can also liberate our minds and withheld feelings. That’s not to say challenging emotions like fear, anger and self-doubt won’t show up anymore, but yoga flow offers a way to pinpoint your obstacles and begin a journey of healing and growth.
How to evolve and find your yoga flow
If you are feeling that your practice has become sluggish and plateaued, the first thing to do is commend yourself. Avoiding gut feelings and maintaining the status quo can create a false sense of safety. Awareness and presence to the current-sometimes-unpleasant situation is how yoga helps in the process of evolution.
The second step involves two options: go inward, or go outward. Explore the options within yourself, outside of yourself or perhaps experiment with combining the two.
With its ability to improve overall wellbeing, exploring other styles of yoga can offer a solution to stagnation. It’s proven that yoga helps free our minds by freeing up tension in the shoulders, reinstate purpose by creating strength and grounding, and improve health by improving circulation, metabolism function and circadian rhythm.
But with so many styles now on offer, how do you know which one to choose? If you feel like your practice has hit a wall, exploring a new practice you’re not necessarily drawn to might rattle your feathers, but it could also recharge and reawaken the seeker within.
If a vigorous, sweaty vinyasa practice is your go-to, there are styles of yoga that are still physically challenging, yet offer different avenues for learning. Iyengar yoga, with its emphasis on precision and alignment, requires long holds and deeper variations of postures through the use of props.
Or replacing some of your practice with a yin or restorative class could create the opportunity to move in a more reflective and breath-aware state and be the missing link needed for change.
Prefer a slow, gentle practice but feeling unenthused? It might be time to bring in a more dynamic and strengthening style of yoga. Katonah yoga is less about a fast flow and more about holding poses and using the body’s geometry to create stability. Other energising practices include ashtanga, kundalini or an alignment-based vinyasa flow class.
In the West, complete a yoga teacher training or dive deeper into yoga flow philosophy and you’ll most likely learn about Pantanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, a step-by-step guide to reaching liberation. Of these eight — being yamas (moral guidelines), niyamas (guidelines for living), asanas (physical
poses), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (the place) — there are some that theoretically work internally, but might not create the shifts needed to work through stagnation.
Meditation can orientate you inwards while you’re in your 20-minute practice, but are you extending that peaceful consciousness to the parts of your life that need it most? That prickly relationship, challenging family dynamic or encounters of disappointment? To move through stagnation, a practice that includes inner work could provide more than a moment of calm while on the mat.
The inner work is a three-step process. It usually begins with observing and understanding limiting habits, thoughts and beliefs and confronting these not-so-desirable traits within. Next is healing in action: a combination of contemplative journalling inspired by relevant texts, coaching tools and yoga philosophy to shift old patterns. And the last part is where you’ll land: a space of greater love and acceptance, which almost always opens up possibility, potential and creativity.
To bring about change, the inner work should teach you about the undiscovered terrain within. Pantanjali recognises the importance of going inward with svadhyaya (self-study), an instruction within the niyamas, but it’s easy to leave this out of our regular practice. How does one study oneself without dodging the uncomfortable truths and become overwhelmed in a mushy stew of critical over-analysis?
There is a way. When the inner work is a structured process and is accompanied with the right guidance, it can help bring the teachings of yoga to everyday life and create lasting changes beyond that mat. It’s the work of growth and personal development. The inner work might be unseen effort that doesn’t show as obviously as a perfect headstand, but it’s working of consciousness that has the capacity to keep your practice alive and evolving.
Open to change
Whatever you decide, you can’t go wrong trying new avenues under proper guidance. As creatures of habit, it’s normal to resist change — and that’s often one of the roots of stagnation. Balancing your practice with an understanding of your inner compass can increase the potency of your yoga flow and open you up to transformation. And with today’s access to online yoga and international teachers, trying out different styles of yoga or different teachers may bring the spirit back to your practice.
Either way, remember you can try new options without signing your life away. A constant yearning to go deeper, stronger and harder is a common goal, but it won’t necessarily prevent stagnation. Work on a practice that keeps you grounded, growing and curious. Work on ways to open your heart to the aliveness that is within you.