Switch off the Auto Pilot and keep your Yoga fresh!

So many of us come to yoga on a similar theme; I want….  Or I need… The problem with this is that it can become very boring very quickly when we don’t get this ‘fix’ we want.

What makes Yoga different to HIIT, Pilates or the gym?  Have you ever been in one of those yoga practices where you got something from it that you couldn’t quite put your finger on? Maybe you left the class feeling more connected, more grounded, more receptive and open? What is that?  Keep coming back to that question and you’ll never get bored of this practice. Reminding yourself that you have come to yoga for more than just a good old stretch or a workout will get you thinking a little more deeply about what else the practice has to offer. The asana is just the tip of the iceberg. You only need to look briefly at Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga to see that this is a life practice, not a mat practice.

If you are practicing a stronger, more dynamic form of yoga such as Vinyasa or Astanga you may find yourself drenched in an auto pilot practice where you have gotten through the class and don’t really remember what you did or how you moved.  Well this is where we start…

1)  Turn the auto pilot off

In order to keep your practice completely fresh everyday (and by fresh often this will mean you are faced with resistance, frustration and sometimes working with injury) you will need to become completely present in everything that you do within your practice.  One of the cues that I use to get students ‘in’ the practice is ‘feel your way in Downward Facing Dog’ rather than just ‘move’ there.  Just busting out a load of ‘moves’ is not yoga.  Feeling everything and becoming completely absorbed in the gross and the subtle is where the practice moves from being grey, to bright and shiny every damn day. Practicing in this way can make even the simplest practices strong, bold and alive.  There is so much to feel.

2) Slow everything down

Many of the modern yoga practices tend to work us fast. I have been to classes where Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) have felt more like burpees in a HIIT class.  Once I slowed everything down in my practice and teaching there was all of this heat and energy. Moving slower can also add challenge and guile to the practice. Again, complete mental focus is needed to facilitate this, you can’t be going through your to-do list at the same time.  It’s the cliché of always having a fresh perspective, some call it a beginners’ mind.  Maybe you never use props because they are seen as a beginner’s tool.  Get yourself a block or a strap and notice how the practice feels with something else there.  Get out of your comfort zone, even if that zone is sweaty and strong.  You might just end up with a different sweaty and strong and a big leap forward in your yoga.

3) Indulge your practice with a workshop

One thing that always keeps me inspired is taking a workshop.  It’s a great way to explore poses in more depth and understand what you are practicing a little more. We rarely have time to understand and try out more difficult poses in class, we are just expected to ‘do’ them. If you are trying to incorporate arm balances and inversions into your practice take a workshop with a teacher who knows their stuff and suddenly you will feel like your cup has been filled up.  Workshops aren’t always that much more expensive than studio classes and are a great way to get out of our samskaras (patterns) keeping the mind and body guessing.

4) Find a ‘teacher’

Controversially I am going to say try a whole bunch of teachers and then stick with the ones that resonate with you. With the dawn of intensive 200hr Yoga Teacher Training in exotic locations becoming more popular it can be hard to find experienced, knowledgeable teachers.  When you find one, you’ll know it! Stick with a select few for a while.  It can be confusing to always have different alignment cues and approaches.  Don’t be afraid to explore things at home and create a home practice.  Great teachers will always be willing to answer any questions you have about your practice – don’t expect a clear answer though because we like to get you answering the questions!

5) Make your Yoga practice just that, go to the gym if you want a workout

Why not try taking the physical out of your practice?  So many of us are looking for a ‘workout’ in yoga so why not take the workout to the gym and slow your yoga down to a restorative practice or meditation.  This deeper level of the practice is often overlooked and in all honesty this quieter stuff is way harder to focus on than those big physical sensations. We can find challenge and resistance in so many facets of this practice. 

6) Explore the Yoga as an energetic practice.

Finally, maybe you bring all that practice back to the breath and notice the subtle nuances that happen as you change the shape of your body. By working in this way it’s always different (not easy, but different).  Start by feeling the breath in the heart centre and breath to the edges of the body, breathe to the surface of the skin.  The more that you practice in this way the more you will become aware of the energetic body.

This practice is never easy but also never dull.  Challenge your mind in your practice and it will never be boring again.

SARAH WILLIAMS