The same happens in yoga. As a teacher, I’ve seen students come in daily for a lengthened period of time and then drop out because they suddenly feel that this isn’t “working” for them anymore.
Is a plateau in yoga avoidable? The simple answer is no. But more often than not, a plateau is temporary. Most people don’t realize this because they quit at the first sign of no progress. So soldier on, yogis! You’ll see results if you keep to your practice. In fact, if you keep practicing consistently, you’ll discover that your practice changes for the better. Here are some ways to help you transform your yoga practice.
Finding Small Wins
When you’ve reached a peak and then discover that your practice has not moved forward, understand that just because you can’t see progress, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. In yoga, we often begin by looking at the body as a whole, and then breaking them up to smaller parts. As a beginner, I started by building awareness to all the parts of my body and viewed them as a whole – my legs, arms, hips. Gradually, I began viewing them as smaller parts – calf muscles, quadriceps, shoulders, forearms, pelvis. With time, I learned to see the even smaller and sometimes unnoticeable parts. My hips for example, became not only that, but also inner and outer groins, tailbone, perineum, upper pelvic, lower abdominals and so on.
Once you’ve corrected the bigger misalignments in your yoga postures, it is only natural that you will start working on the smaller alignments. As you gain more understanding, the alignments become finer and less obvious, and the movement becomes smaller. This means that much of your progress became finer and unnoticeable to the non-discerning eye.
Knowing Your Limits
Remember that your body has its limitations. When you learn to respect, honor and celebrate these limits, you will find that your practice transforms. I came into yoga knowing that I am particularly bendy thanks to a flexible back. This meant that I excelled in numerous backbend poses. However, I didn’t see that my flexible back also had its limitations. After months of pushing my backbend further than it could or was ready to go, my back gave way. I was faced with extreme back pain that needed the attention of the chiropractor.
It was a painful lesson, but a lesson that I needed to learn. Respecting your limits doesn’t mean that you are afraid to take on challenges. In fact, allowing your body to gradually build strength and flexibility helps it prepare for more advanced and extreme poses. Knowing your limitations help you focus not on your seemingly lack of progress, but on what you need to work on to move forward.
Building Good Samskaras
In the Yoga Sutras, a word frequently mentioned is samskara – which means mental imprints. Roughly translated, samskaras refer to the mental imprints that the mind acquires as a result from doing things repeatedly, whether conscious or unconscious. An English equivalent to samskaras may be habit. Samskaras can be negative or positive – but either way, repeating these imprints reinforces them, making them indispensable in our day-to-day lives.
On the mat, samskaras can also come in the form of muscle memory. If your muscles were conditioned to moving a certain way, or turning a certain angle, this would mean that you would repeat this movement again and again, making them more and more difficult to correct. For example, if you always arched your lower back during backbend, simply because it gives the impression of a deeper bend, then correcting this error in alignment will be challenging and requires even more time.
Always try to create good samskaras on the mat. Work with correct alignment and teach your muscles the right technique even when it is the tougher route. A repetition of good samskaras reinforces right muscle memory, therefore strengthening your pose. Before you know it, using correct alignment becomes a subconscious act!
Practicing More Than Just Asanas
Yoga is more than just that one-hour daily on the mat. The life outside of the mat, as yoga teaches, is as fulfilling and enriching as on it. I wasn’t a vegetarian before I started practicing yoga. I also wasn’t a vegetarian in the early years of my practice. In fact, I was a meat-eating, wine-drinking individual who just so happened to practice yoga daily.
So when I hit a halt in terms of progress on the mat, I started questioning my practice. If I didn’t derive satisfaction from the mat, then what else could I gain from this practice? I decided that I would give the other aspects of yoga a try, beginning with what I ate. Of all the principles of yoga, ahimsa resounded most with me, so I started there. I eliminated meat and meat products from my meals and incorporated more vegetables and nuts.
Becoming vegetarian changed my practice, not only on the mat, but also on how I saw myself in this grand scheme of things. I became more conscious of the food on my table and the clothes on my back. I stopped focusing just on my needs and started paying attention to the needs of others. On the mat, my body was lighter and suppler. I found that I could move from pose to pose with much more ease. This other tenet of yoga helped me transform not just my practice but me as a whole. I was happier, healthier and more balanced.
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