For the majority of us, we desire two things from our yoga practice: to progress and to feel relaxed. But how do we go about making sure that we grow whilst remaining content? It’s easy to get caught up in disappointment about our flexibility in particular asanas, and forget that actually, whilst having a large focus on movement and capability, yoga is about the mind and the process of the practice. Saying this, there aren’t many of us who will happily brush our ‘goals’ under the carpet in order to remain content. Luckily, you can have both! And we are here to give you a few tips on how to find the balance between growth and contentment in yoga.
Try not to spend too much time gawping at Instagram yogi’s, but do take some inspiration from them. The dedication that the majority of these people have to their practice is inspiring in itself! Select a social figure who demonstrates yoga flows that are at your level – or just above to give yourself a bit of a challenge. But most importantly, don’t compare! Everybody’s practice is different, and being able to sink all the way to the floor in HAVASANA does not mean that you are ‘good’ at yoga. Focus more on how it makes you feel in your body, and if there is a pose that you’re desperate to conquer then work towards it every day – always remembering to stretch those muscles beforehand!
Allow yourself a day off – don’t force yourself to practise yoga if you really don’t feel like it, as this will only make you dislike your practice. Everyone needs a day off, and there’s nothing to feel guilty about for it! Saying that, if even just 50% of your body and mind can resist the urge to stay on the sofa and feel guilty about not practising, then get up and get onto your mat. Just 10minutes of restorative floor-based poses or 5 minutes of pranayama will improve your mood in an instant. A trick here is dedicate a permanent home to your matin a place that you’ll always see it when you’re feeling a bit lazy – in front of the TV is a popular option. You’ll probably find that you frequently hop onto your mat to have a stretch or experiment with a new pose – and watching TV at the same time is totally ok.
Let’s talk about your yoga mat: make sure it’s a mat that you love. You’ll want to invest in a mat that you enjoy spending time on, doesn’t have you slipping out of downward facing dog, and protects your knees from the floor. This is really the only piece of equipment you need for yoga, so it’s worth getting something that will assist you in staying content in your practice…nobody is happy after a slippery practice that leaves tiny bits of coloured yoga mat foam allover their hands!
Something else that you may want to consider investing in if you’re struggling to find the balance between growth and contentment in yoga are a few private yoga lessons. Do a bit of research to find a teacher who specifies in the style of yoga that you enjoy, and who is familiar with any contra-indications that you might have, and spend an hour a week with them. This is a great way to get personalised advice about your practice, and will mean that you can focus on specific areas that you would like to work on whilst being encouraged and supported. If private yoga lessons are a bit out of your budget then attend a local class and stay behind to have a chat with the yoga teacher, they should be able to give you a bit of advice about how you can effectively progress in your practice. And the more classes you attend, the more personalised advice they’ll be able to give you.
Group classes aren’t for everyone, and can leave many of us envious of another yogi’s perfect king pigeon pose…which is going to do absolutely nothing for realising the potential that our own practice has to offer us. Competition should never be a part of yoga; after all, it’s about how it makes you feel in your mind whilst using your body for healthy movement, and not about cursing whilst you twist your body into an unachievable – and painful! – bind. If you think that you could benefit more from a solo practice at home than download an app. Even if you enjoy your weekly group class, a yoga app can be the perfect addition to your practice, and help you to squeeze even more yoga into your busy schedule. There are many apps that offer free yoga lessons with a bit of variety, and include useful videos that you can follow. Down Dog is a free yoga app (with the option to pay for full access) that allows you to change the style, levels and speed of a class, where you can download and save your favourite yoga flows to practise again at another time.
A top piece of advice when striving to maintain the balance between growth and contentment is to practice the same routine every day for one or two weeks. At first this may sound counterproductive, but in fact this will allow you to consistently work on the same poses and see results. You’ll start to memorise the practice and know what is coming next, which will also allow you to prepare your body for transitions and to really tune in to what your body and your mind feel during yoga.
Above everything else, remember that your practice is for you – if you’re not finding contentment and joy in it then consider trying a different style, you might be surprised to find that your regular vinyasa practice has nothing on a gently paced hatha class, or a wonderfully slow yin class. An alternative style of yoga can be exactly what you need to fine tune your practice and develop your flexbility, and can allow you to grow in both body and mind. Growing your yoga practice isn’t necessarily about being able to successfully perform an inversion, and is just as much about developing your attitude towards your own body and practice to one of contentment.
Within the 8 limbs of yoga you’ll find ‘santosha’, meaning ‘contentment’. Being content with your practice is the key to growing your yoga practice, so do what feels good and remember that staying positive with yourself will bring you towards your goals more effectively!