In today’s result-oriented fitness culture, it’s easy to mistake Yoga to be a functional training routine. But as educated Yogis, we know better. Yoga is a journey of self-discovery, a union of the mind, body and soul.
For many of us, the perception of Yoga is a lean, sweaty yogi doing a handstand or a flying pigeon and making it look like a walk in the park. We’re all guilty of thinking to ourselves, “Wow, if I could only learn how to do that I’ll be a real Yogi”. Learning how to do advanced Yoga asanas is one way of deepening your Yoga practice, but there are many other ways to holistically take your practice to the next level.
1. Study the theory of Yoga
Studying Yogic philosophy and embracing a Yogic lifestyle is as important as a daily physical practice. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a good place to start your Yoga study. It describes the 8 limbs of Yoga (popularly known as Ashtanga Yoga): the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. While asana and pranayama are the most commonly practiced limbs, try to incorporate the yamas and niyamas such as ahimsa (non-violence) in your daily life to expand your practice beyond just the physical.
2. Try Different Yoga Styles
We’re all creatures of habit, so when we find a yoga class we love we stick to it. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s good to shock the body with something new every once in a while. There are many different yoga styles which can benefit your practice in their own unique ways. For example, in an Iyengar class you’ll focus on alignment whereas in a Kundalini class you’ll be doing a lot of Pranayama. A Vinyasa class will have you flowing from one asana into another whereas in a Yin Yoga class you’ll be more static. But the common denominator in all these classes is that you’ll have deepened your practice.
3. Go Deeper in Seemingly Easy Asanas
While basic asanas like downward dog and warrior pose may look simple, there are a lot of technicalities like breath, muscle engagement, bandhas, drishti, and press points that make these asanas the building blocks of a good practice. Pick up a book on Yoga Anatomy or ask your teacher to break down an asana for you. Learning the nuances is a sure way of taking your practice to the next level. God is in the details indeed.
4. Learn different types of Pranayama
Prana or Breath is an anchor to the present moment and is the humblest way to practice mindfulness. Ujjayi, Kapalbhati, Bhastrika, Anulom Vilom are just a few of the many breathing techniques you can practice daily. Each pranayama serves a specific purpose, for example Sitali breathing has a cooling effect on your body and can be practiced when you’re in a hot climate, Anulom Vilom can balance your Surya and Chandra nadis when you’re feeling anxious.
5. Learn the Right Bandhas and Drishti for Every Asana
Bandha (meaning “lock”) is a muscular contraction that seals in the prana or energy which moves through all of us.
There are 3 primary types of Bandhas: Mula Bandha, Uddhiyana Bandha, and Jalandara Bandha. They are the most subtle element of asana practice and very hard to master. But once you “get it”, your physical practice will truly be elevated.
The Drishti is a prescribed gazing point that every asana in the Ashtanga system has. In every asana, there is one spot where your eyes should rest like towards the nose, third eye, navel, hand, etc. Drishti helps to cultivate dharana or concentration (the 6th limb of Ashtanga yoga) so that your surroundings don’t distract you from your practice.
Finally, the most important resolution is to enjoy this beautiful journey you are on. Deepen your practice across your mind, body and soul.
Have a splendid 2019, may this be your best year yet!