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Modern yogis are high-powered and goal-oriented, and often treat yoga as a boot camp. Yoga sages know that the practice of yoga is a lifelong pursuit with nuances and discovery of the mind, body, and soul.
In the book, Light on Life, yoga master and father of modern yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar, tells stories of being sick and weak as a child and starting yoga at age 15, with his brother-in-law, to regain health. And at age 90, Iyengar reported that he still did three hours of yoga asana practice daily and one hour of pranayama practice. Yoga master Alan Finger, made famous through his home videos called Yoga Zone, started studying at age 16 with his father and has been on a learning journey for more than 50 years.
When you think about deepening your yoga practice, it’s easy to think about the yogi gymnasts you see in class. You may think, “Wow If I could only learn how to do side crane or flying pigeon, I might be a real yogi.” Doing difficult or challenging poses may be one way to deepen your practice, but there are many other ways to expand your yoga practice.
Mastery of yoga asana never stops. Your body is constantly changing. Your mind and confidence in yourself is ever-evolving. Easy-looking poses may appear simple, or may be easier to get into, but you can take them deeper with each practice. You can truly study a pose. Get a book on yoga anatomy and see which muscles are engaged. You can always breathe more, lengthen more, and use different press points to get deeper into your pose.
Maybe your goal really is to do a difficult pose. You can take the pose in stages over the course of several weeks. For example, crane pose can first be done with your feet on yoga blocks. Then, you can practice lifting one foot off at a time. You can even place a block in front of you in case you’re afraid of falling on your head.
By taking and master one pose per week, you can get to know your strengths and your weaknesses.
It’s easy to get locked into one type of yoga. You find a yoga class or studio you love and you stick with it. But did you know that there are many different types of yoga practices? Deepening your practice can come by experiencing different teachers, styles, and philosophies of practice.
For example, a heated yoga class is going to look much different than a yin yoga class. A Kundalini yoga class will give you lots of intense breathing exercises, but if you take an Iyengar class, you might not learn pranayama until you are a more advanced student. Try some interesting or fun ones such as laughter yoga, aerial yoga, or a partner yoga class.
Yoga is not just an exercise regime; it’s a way of life. Embracing the philosophy and lifestyle of yoga can be just as important as a daily yoga asana practice. The eight limbs of yoga from the yoga sutras of Patanjali are the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. The first two limbs of yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas, each have five different principles. Even if you take one of those principles per month, such as ahimsa or non-harming, you will have 10 months of a yoga lifestyle practice.
Breath is life—so if you master the breath, you can master your mind and, ultimately, your life. The dirgha breath, the ujjayi breath, nadi shodhana, kapalabhakti, bhastrika, and brahmari are just a few of the many pranayama techniques you can practice on a daily basis. Each breathing technique is designed for a specific purpose and to generate a particular result. For example, the sitali breath is used to cool the body when you overheat or to calm the nerves if you’re agitated.
I was fortunate enough to have teachers in the 1980s and 90s who had studied in India or had Indian teachers who taught them some of the bizarre or less mainstream practices of yoga. Bandha (the lock) practice is something you don’t often hear about in a gym yoga class. But the mula bandha (root lock), the uddiyana bandha (abdomen lock), and the jalandhara bandha (chin lock) are all beneficial parts of a yoga practice.
Go on your exploration of the more obscure practices of yoga and see what gems you find.
Finally, take it easy and enjoy the journey. These five resolutions are not meant to be a stressful list of things you must accomplish in one year, but rather suggestions to take you deeper slowly and over time. Keep the mindset of a beginner and you will always strive to learn more in your yoga practice.
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