Five Things to “Improve” Your Yoga Practice Without Doing Yoga
Sometimes we can get stuck with our yoga practice, either doing the same thing over and over or just not feeling that connection we normally feel. Rather than forcing it, I believe that there is a way to connect back to your love of yoga, and even improve your yoga practice, without doing any of it. Yoga isn't just what we do on the mat, yoga happens when we're having an argument, when we're cooking food, when we're blankly staring at the computer screen scrolling through through a facebook feed for tenth time in an hour, these are all moments when we can practice yoga. What we learn on the mat can and should be applied to all these situations. Equally, we can bring something of our non-mat life to our practice too.
Over the last few months I have had lots of new experiences, and I felt that each contributed to my understanding of yoga and its principles, enhancing my practice and letting my practice guide me off the mat as well. So I compiled a list of 5 things you could do to "improve" (whatever that means) your yoga practice off the mat.
1. Challenge yourself in a different physical way.
With yoga, we often practice in a repetitive way, even if there can be quite a lot of variation within that. When you do something different and challenging it allows you to use some of your yoga knowledge, but also support physical weaknesses and strengths. I'm not good with gyms, but I do love a functional training class that pushes me in a completely different way.
2. Spend time in nature.
There is a reason why Thoreau's "Walden" is a classic spiritual text, often quoted by yoga practitioners, and why so many yoga and meditation related posters have some form of nature on them. My Forrest Yoga training was strongly influenced by Native American traditions, so we spoke a lot about the connection to nature and practices that connected us to the great spirit in nature: spirit quests, totem animals, lessons of and power of animal spirits. But just an hour long walk through the forest has an ability to cleanse our mind of too much electronics and return us to our true nature.
3. Read about yoga and philosophy
As well as being a physical practice, yoga also engages the mind. What we feed our mind is as important as what we feed our bodies. Reading about yoga and its principles helps us to understand better what is happening on the mat. When you want a break from your physical practice, engage your mind and you’ll get your inspiration back in no time!
4. Do something really difficult
Run a marathon (or a 5k race), or climb a wall, or try a new scary sport... For me, these are the moments when my yoga practice comes into its own, this is where I see whether what I have learned on the mat has had a deeper impact on me. When we were in New Zealand we climbed a mountain, which admittedly wasn’t very high, but I really struggled. It took everything I had, it was a real struggle and I had to employ all my positive self talk and self belief to get to the top. It had a similar effect on me as a really deep yoga practice, meaning, I was crying and distraught when I got to the top. So many emotions came up for me when I had to push through this difficulty, but it was an incredible experience, so much shifted after that event… For you, that something difficult might be doing a meditation practice, sitting still for 20min…hold on, that’s difficult for me too!
5. Do something out of your comfort zone
We can get really comfortable in our yoga practice staying on that mat, rarely putting a foot or a hand outside of it, and knowing what the next pose is before the teacher says it. Do you even remember how weird yoga felt the first time you went? How you didn’t know your elbow from your ankle? “Put what where?” Well, joining a new class is a great way to remind yourself of what it’s like to be a beginner in something. To feel totally awkward and confused. A couple of years ago I joined a burlesque course that took me totally out of my comfort zone but was a great opportunity to practice what I learned on the mat, to handle my fears and my insecurities with more breath and integrity. Maybe join a pottery class, or zumba, or life drawing lessons or horse riding, or whatever! Approach this new environment with the same curiosity that you approach a new yoga pose on the mat. This is where yoga really happens.