11 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR YOGA PRACTICE
The tradition of yoga holds great depth and diversity, providing us with endless opportunities to explore and grow. While improving strength and flexibility are two obvious places to focus in order to progress in yoga, there are many other, more subtle, paths and tools that can help you become more proficient in your practice. This list of 11 ways to improve your yoga practice is not meant to be tackled all at once—working on just one or two of these areas at a time will be enough for you to see improvements.
1. Be consistent
Setting and committing to a regular practice of yoga is absolutely essential if you want to make improvements. You should practice yoga at least three times per week to start to see progress in your flexibility, strength, and focus. If you can’t attend studio classes that often, definitely adopt a home yoga practice and use yoga videos and apps to your advantage. Also know that while frequency is vital, the quality of your practice is ultimately more important than quantity. Carelessness and distractedness will not be effective, so approach every yoga session with intention.
2. Find the right teacher, tradition, and studio
Finding a teacher, yoga style, and studio that clicks for you will obviously be a huge boon in deepening your practice. Finding these may take years to achieve, so adopt an attitude of exploration and curiosity in your search. Trying out different classes and teachers has a benefit in itself; it lets you gain exposure and experience in all of the different ways to practice yoga.
3. Use yoga props
Using yoga straps, blocks, blankets, and bolsters will allow you to achieve a broader and more diverse experience of the asanas. Yoga props can be used actively to engage targeted muscle groups or in restorative yoga poses to release deeply held tensions and melt chronic stress.
4. Practice pranayama
One of the critical aspects of hatha yoga is to embody pranayama, or yogic breath. We all come to yoga with some type of dysfunctional or irregular breathing pattern, so reclaiming slow, deep, diaphragmatic breath can take about a year to establish. Once dirga pranayama becomes your regular breathing pattern, begin to practice the other types of pranayama to connect more deeply to your energy body and experience the flow of prana through the seven chakras.
5. Buy a great yoga mat
Performing yoga asanas on a crappy mat that bunches up and slips will distract you and hinder your practice. While many yoga studios do offer mats to use during classes, having your own mat will be more sanitary. Having a high-quality mat will give you a solid foundation on which to build a great practice. Plus, over time your mat will become infused with the effort, dedication, and intention of your personal practice.
6. Learn and practice meditation
While yoga can itself be a meditation-in-motion, establishing a traditional seated meditation practice will allow you to further develop and explore the mental aspect of yoga. The discipline you learn through regular meditation will help you focus and un-clutter the mind when you practice the more physical aspects of yoga: asana and pranayama.
7. Take workshops and attend yoga events
Taking a yoga class once weekly can only provide you with the fundamentals of hatha yoga, and the progression of your yoga practice will eventually reach a ceiling. To expand your knowledge and experience, you will need access to more tools, traditions, and techniques. Most yoga studios offer workshops on various topics and host traveling national teachers, or you can look into yoga festivals and yoga retreats around the world.
Workshops and events will not only help you refine your practice, but will also expose you to like-minded practitioners who can support you in deepening your practice.
8. Keep a yoga journal
Keeping a dedicated journal for your yoga practice is a great way to set and keep track of your intentions and goals. Taking a few moments before or after your yoga practice to reflect is a great ritual for developing insight into your work both on and off the yoga mat.
9. Take a private class
If you have been working with a specific teacher for a while, you may want to see if they offer private lessons. Taking one or more private lessons can help you better utilize your strengths and address weaknesses you may be unaware of. Private instruction will be particularly useful if you are in need of help with advanced poses.
10. Take yoga off the mat
As you explore and grow to understand the connections between your body, breath, heart, and mind on your yoga mat, you will naturally witness these connections in other contexts as well. Challenging yoga poses train us to approach difficult life situations with focus and strength. It may be rather easy to apply the Yamas and Niyamas while flowing through yoga poses, but applying these philosophical principles in our work lives and personal relationships is a very different experience. Learning to challenge yourself by finding opportunities to bring yoga off your mat and into your world is a fantastic way to strengthen your yoga skills.
11. Make yoga an essential part of your life
Yoga is not just another trendy exercise program—its philosophical foundations and principles were created thousands of years ago and are meant to be applied throughout your entire life. Do you regularly think about how you can bring more mindfulness, compassion, and awareness to your lifestyle, habits, relationships, diet, and work?
While you do not need to become a monk living in a cave in the Himalayas, there are many simple ways to align your life with the principles of yoga. For example, try eating less animal protein (or none!), declutter your home, be honest in all your communication, or create a daily practice of gratitude and kindness. Weaving yoga into the fabric of your life off the mat will in turn enhance your practice on the mat.