How to Cultivate a Meaningful Yoga Practice

It’s a rare week in which I don’t hear from one of my students concerning their angst about getting better at their yoga practice. “How can I kick higher, stretch further, or bend deeper?” are questions that fill up the lobby of any studio like a grand symphony. It’s the same question asked over and over again, but in different ways, by different people craving to know the answer.

And though I wish I had some secret stored within the confines of my own mind that I could relay to these students, the answer is always the same, “Just keep coming and doing the hard work.” Because the trick is to any yoga practice is just that – you have to practice. The only way to get better is to keep coming to the studio, rolling out the mat, and surrendering to the process.

As an instructor it is my job to relay as much information as I can to my students so they can develop a practice that keeps them interested, mentally stimulated, and ready to do the physical work. It is also my responsibility to create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning, in which I am open to what my students can teach me at the same time I am offering them information about the posture and helping them create a new awareness within their body.

Anyone that has established a practice that has lasted longer than a year starts to realize the life long journey they are on. They realize there is more to just accomplishing a certain goal the posture is presenting because once you have achieved that goal, you find there is still more to learn. This is not meant to depress you, but to open you up to possibilities on the road ahead. Who knows what the next year holds? As long as you are giving as much as you can to your practice, there are endless outcomes.

But this week I thought I’d share with you some ways you can cultivate a deeper and more meaningful practice, so that eventually you are kicking higher, stretching further, and bending deeper. This includes:

  1. Be open to correction. Come to class with a beginner’s mind. Even if you’ve been practicing for a decade or more you never know when you will hear that one tip, adjustment, or correction that can blow your practice apart and make everything feel fresh and brand new. Corrections are not meant to call you out, but strengthen your practice over time, getting you deeper into an asana than you ever thought possible.
  2. Ask questions. Often students are too shy to ask a question before or after class or are in too much of a rush to get to the next part of their day. This is completely understandable. Try and make the time with a teacher you feel comfortable with to get any question about a part of your practice answered. Usually a teacher is required to be at the studio a half hour before and after class. Take advantage of this time. Don’t be intimidated. It’s part of our job and we love talking about the yoga.
  3. Face your fears. Does back bending freak you out? Does an old injury make you hesitate in your practice? Does the heat just want to make you run out of the room and head for a cold, icy shower? The more you face these fears the more you realize what actual fear feels like within the body. Fear can be a great indicator for the limits you’ve developed not only in the body, but the mind. The postures that trigger a fear response can be quite powerful when we realize that they are obtainable and there was no reason to fear them to begin with. Always listen to your body and back off if you are feeling pain or severe discomfort. But calm the mind when it starts to chatter about what you can and cannot do – you might surprise yourself.
  4. Remember your yoga. Yoga is not only practiced within the confines of a studio. Your breath is always moving. You can choose to do things mindfully and have empathic engagements with others. As you learn to cultivate non-judgment of yourself within your yoga practice, you can learn to use non-judgment within your everyday life. The lessons taught within the studio walls were not meant to stay there. They are meant to be embodied within your every breath and interaction. Remember your yoga.

Keep in mind, there is no end game. Yoga is a life long practice and a lifestyle. Continue to attend class, be open, work hard, and know that everything you wish for your practice and your life is on its way.

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8 thoughts on “How to Cultivate a Meaningful Yoga Practice

  1. Yay! Great post – I’ve just finished my first year of Bikram and am both amazed with what I’ve accomplished and still working on things that have been things that have me working on them since the beginning. I still love it as much as I did the first time I took a class. But I have to admit that I’ve had some really challenging classes in the evening when it’s super hot and that always makes me a little leery yet excited to see what the night class will bring.
    And like you said – it’s a practice – so you just do it again. I love that you mention that there’s no ‘endgame’ – the whole point is that this practice never becomes static – and that it’s most amazing aspect. It will take you through your life and always be there, as hard as you want it to be or as easy as you need for that day.

    My most exciting ‘improvement’ has been triangle. My straight leg doesn’t slip anymore and I cannot believe that I can actually do triangle. It stuns me each and every class 🙂

    • Woo hoo Triangle! Not slipping is so hard – awesome improvement! This means you have definitely built up some strength in your inner thighs as well as flexibility in the hips – so happy for you! 🙂

  2. i printed this off and read it (with credit :)) to two of my classes this evening. what a great post. i’m so grateful that you captured so succinctly the role of the teacher and the impetus on the student to ask questions, face fears, and commit to coming back time and time again to the mat (where the magic happens) so they can, in turn, take it out of the studio and on to the street. thanks for taking the time to put this into such wonderful words.

    • Thank you – this really made my day! This blog has become such an incredible way to connect with other teachers and students from all over the globe. I am humbled you were moved to share this with your students and am grateful for your readership.

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