How to reawaken your yoga practice with spirituality
For a yogi, practice is a big part of life. Finding your yoga groove takes time and commitment but, once you do, it becomes a daily staple. Your yoga might happen as soon as you wake up every day, or at an exact time each week at your regular class. Regardless of what form it may take, when “yoga time” rolls around, you’re ready and raring to go.
However, sometimes when you practise regularly like this, as with any activity, you can plateau or hit a wall. In these cases, the practice often still has its commitment and dedication but becomes a little same-same. You move in and out of Downward-Facing Dogs without noticing them any more. The asanas you once found challenging or gratifying aren’t so much right now and there’s a feeling that you are stagnating in your practice or that it lacks the energy it once had.
When things start to become a bit mechanical and lacklustre like this, it’s common to lose concentration and motivation as the mind wanders away from the original purpose of your practice. When this happens, take some time to recharge your yogic batteries by reawakening and reconnecting with your practice and getting a little creative with it.
Yoga off the mat
If your asana practice is feeling a bit flat, don’t forget there are seven other limbs of yoga you can explore. In the Yoga Sutras, the great yogic sage Patanjali outlines eight limbs of yoga, with asana being just one part of this. When you hit a wall in your asana practice, stepping away from the mat and looking into the other limbs can help tap into the greater purpose of yoga.
Mother Nature offers the perfect backdrop for focusing on your breath and allowing the mind to quieten.
Each limb has a great amount of depth and theory behind it and warrants its own discussion. However, to get you started, below is a short summary of ways you can start exploring them:
- Yama Within the yamas are five principles that offer a moral code of conduct for living a spiritual life. These include non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sense control and non-possessiveness. Start by reading some of the theory behind the yamas and reflecting on how you can actively integrate them into your life.
- Niyama The niyamas feature five personal observances you can actively adopt and use as a guide for living soulfully. Reframe your yoga practice to focus on the various niyamas, which include purity, contentment, disciple, self-study and self-surrender.
- Asana This one you know too well. We’ll take a look at some ways to freshen up your asana practice later on.
- Pranayama Consider using your yoga practice to focus more on breath control. Your breathing can reveal a lot about your state of mind, particularly if you are nervous or anxious. Dedicating more time to breath control has a wealth of benefits, including calming the nervous system and increasing the flow of oxygen-rich blood.
- Pratyahara This limb translates to sense withdrawal. To explore this limb, make time for practices such as a yoga nidra, which moves your awareness away from outside sensations and distractions and brings the focus within.
- Dharana Dharana refers to concentration. You can put a heavier focus on concentration in your asana practice by redirecting your dristi or gaze in each pose. You can try other yogic techniques such as trataka as well. Known as “blinkless gazing”, this practice involves focusing on a burning candle in a darkened room. The aim is to keep the eyes fixated on the flame without blinking. The practice cleanses the eyes (as it won’t take long for them to start watering) and aids in concentration. Practise focusing on the candle for several minutes before closing your eyes and visualising the flame. It’s tougher than you think!
- Dhyana Also known as meditation, dhyana can be practised in many forms. Test out different techniques and find one that best works for you, whether it be chanting, breath or even walking meditation.
- Samadhi All the yogic limbs come together with the aim of attaining samadhi, the highest state and ultimate goal of yoga. Focusing on a specific limb or revisiting each of them can give renewed meaning and purpose to your practice.
Remember, there are so many yoga resources available including books, blogs, guided meditations and more that can help you tap into each of these limbs further.
Revisit your sankalpa
Creating a sankalpa (intention setting) can also help move your practice forward and give it added or new meaning. A sankalpa, in essence, is a short, positive intention for your practice. However, for something so short and sweet, they are packed full of meaning.
Listen to your body, play around with postures and allow your practice to simply flow, based on what your body needs in that moment.
A sankalpa should be indicative of what you want to achieve out of your practice and should reflect your true nature. Setting a sankalpa plants a seed or focus in the depths of your unconscious to help you tap into this, and guides you to lead a more meaningful, spiritual life that is reflective of this true nature. A sankalpa is not something you lack and aspire to achieve. Instead, a sankalpa speaks to your heart’s longings and acknowledges your being. For instance, your sankalpa might be, “I am happiness and love” or “I accept myself as I am.”
By tapping into a deeper level of your practice, a sankalpa allows you to contemplate personal growth and what you want to achieve spiritually. Use your sankalpa to not only set the tone of your practice going forward, but think of it as your personal mantra — something you can come back to and reflect on at the end of the day to ensure you are living in accordance with your truth.
Nothing is more inspiring than Mother Nature. Heading outdoors can inject some much needed excitement and energy into your practice. The fresh air, sounds of birds, rustling of trees and touch of sun on your skin, combined with an energising or relaxing practice, have a powerful effect and allow you to reconnect with yourself.
To begin, find a space where you truly feel comfortable. It might be your garden, the beach or a park – and if you don’t want to do sun salutations in a public space, simply sit in meditation or get a friend to practise with you.
Remember that you don’t need to limit yourself to asana. Consider trying a walking meditation or even hiking or swimming. Mother Nature offers the perfect backdrop for focusing on your breath and allowing the mind to quiet. Immersing yourself in nature also allows you to get back to yourself and perhaps discover the inspiration you need to inject into your practice again.
Make a yoga space at home
Invest some time in creating a special space for yoga at home. Even if you’re limited when it comes to space, think about making some additions that will get you excited about your practice. Think about putting together a yoga playlist with your favourite uplifting music, or even something that makes you feel like having a dance — just have fun with it! Add to this your favourite oils, incense or scented candles and some yoga props, and then it’s time to experiment and play around.
Your home is a great place to reconnect with your practice, as it’s a space where you can feel entirely comfortable and safe. Try out some new postures (ones that are safe to practise on your own) and attempt some variations. We are truly blessed in this digital age to have so many great yogis showcasing inspiring routines online. Consider finding some new sequences you can easily try at home and mix them up for a re-energised and refreshed asana practice.
Tap into your creative side
If you’ve been practising the same yoga style, routine or class for a number of years, it might be time to try something new. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your once-favourite class, but it’s simply an opportunity to try something different.
Test out a new class, practise with a friend or simply look for ways to get creative with your asana. This could mean using props, such as yoga blocks and straps, or trying variations of postures that feel overdone.
For instance, you can refresh your Downward-Facing Dog when you transition from the base posture into plank and then back again, or raise your leg up and open the hip. Alternatively, if you get a friend to place a yoga strap around your hips, which they can then gently pull towards themselves, you can feel an entirely different stretch in the pose.
Yoga is an ideal way to get your creative energy flowing. However, when you lose your mojo in your practice it can be difficult to connect with this creative side. Try to listen to your body and think about what it’s craving. Maybe you are doing the same routine over and over that you know is tried and tested but ignoring the fact that your hips are tight or hamstrings are sore and need to be stretched out. Listen to your body, play around with postures (safely, of course) and allow your practice to simply flow, based on what your body needs in that moment.
A yoga sequence to refresh your practice
The following postures are some examples of how you can freshen up common asanas, or are poses that are fun to practise and have an energising and uplifting effect on the body. Let them inspire you to experiment with more asanas and mix up your practice in the process.
Downward-Facing Dog variations
After a while, Downward-Facing Dog might not seem like the most exciting posture, but you can re-energise this pose by trying some variations. From Downward-Facing Dog, attempt lifting one leg up at a time, touching the opposite hand to ankle, or bending the knee and bringing it towards the forehead. If you are up for a challenge, in this variation lift one leg up and then slowly bend the arms to bring the chest towards the mat. This pose is almost a combination of a raised Downward-Facing Dog and the ashtanga pose. If you are unable to go into this variation, flow from Downward-Facing Dog to ashtanga, Cobra and then back again, without the raised leg for several rounds.
Vasisthasana is a challenging arm balance, but there are several modifications you can try to build up strength gradually. Start by lying on your side and bending your right forearm so it’s parallel with the top of the mat. Place the left hand on the hip and lift the hip up off the mat. Hold for five breath counts and release. Next, try the same posture but straighten the right arm and place the hand on the mat. Raise the left hand up. Here, you can try several variations including smoothly flowing and transitioning the arm from pointing towards the ceiling, to across the upper body and then threading it underneath the opposite side. You can also try several rounds of raising the left leg and hand, and bringing both to meet in the middle.
This pose is a great hip opener you can gradually make your way into. Stand with your feet far apart and bring your hands onto the mat. Let your body flow with this pose and become loose as you walk your hands from left to right and slowly bend each knee to go into a side lunge. Once you feel more confident and have some balance, remove your hands from the mat and continue the lunges with your hands on your hips. If possible, hold the pose and bring the hands to the chest in prayer position (anjali mudra).
As a gentle backbend, Tabletop has an uplifting effect on the body and mind. To begin, sit on the mat with your knees bent in front and place your palms beside you and in line with the hips. On an inhalation, lift the hips upwards and plant the soles of the feet on the mat. The body, from knees to shoulders, should be in a straight line. From here, flow from the base position into Tabletop several times, holding for a few breaths each time. For an additional challenge, attempt extending and raising each of the legs one at a time.
Wild Thing is a fun and creative pose. As a backbend, it immediately has an uplifting effect on the body and sparks some creative flair. To practise, enter the second variation of vasisthasana, as mentioned above. However, to make the transition into Wild Thing, bring both hands onto the mat to give you better balance. On an inhalation, step the left foot back, with the toes on the floor and knee bent. Inhale, lift the hips and allow the left arm to curl back. Inhale and continue to lift the hips higher while keeping the right foot and hand firmly pressed into the earth.
This pose is almost a twist on Warrior III and inspires a feeling of strength and confidence. Step the right foot forward into a lunge, with the left leg straight and toes on the mat. Inhale, lift the left leg up and slowly straighten out the right knee. The hands can remain on the mat as you lower the head closer to the knee. Once you have your balance, lift your hands off the mat and keep them at your side.
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