How to dive deeper in your yoga practice

Do you attend a yoga class every week or two, enjoy it but then it stops there? I recently asked on my Instagram stories if anyone was looking to start yoga in 2023 or dive deeper into their existing practice and the majority answered the latter. Here is some advice for those of you that feel you’re just scratching the surface on what yoga can bring to your life and self-development.

There’s only so much that yoga teachers can fit into a public 60 minute (or often shorter) yoga class. We try our best to educate and hold space for individual needs but sometimes it will take some self-study (svadhyaya) from the student to aid their further understanding of Yoga.

Some ideas for deepening your yoga practice:

1. Journaling or “morning pages”

Yoga is about understanding yourself better and while that can start with knowledge of the physical body the real transformation happens when we put that same attention to our thoughts. A simple way to begin is journaling. After you finish a yoga class (that is already in your routine) write a page of words on how you feel. Journaling can be structured, for example answering prompts, or just a piece of reflection on how you currently feel.

You may have heard the phrase “you are not your mind”. It’s the concept that we can observe our thoughts because they are not inextricably linked to our being they are just functions of the human body. Once we are able to observe our thoughts, we can start to notice patterns that have derived from our life experiences but don’t need to define our future.

Journaling is exactly this process. In a more obvious, physical sense we are extracted our thoughts from our mind and putting them to paper. This creates a distance between you and your thoughts.

“Morning pages” are a more structured approach, designed to unlock creativity. It comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artists Way. You write 3 pages of A4 in a stream of consciousness style every morning. It’s a lot and it can be frustrating, but that’s the point. I was introduced to this concept by my mentor and found it to be an incredibly illuminating practice.

2. Workshops

If there’s a particular class or teacher that you resonate with why not seek out their more longform offerings? Workshops give the teacher(s) space to go deeper into one topic and they can be a more seminar style that’s suited to learning and engaging with students and vice versa.

Many studios offer Workshops. Shameless plug: I have a New Moon Mandala Workshop on Saturday 21st January ’23 at New Energy Yoga Winchester but they have a packed schedule of other workshops to choose from too!

3. Meditation & Pranayama

Most yoga classes in the west are pretty asana based (physical postures) and this is just one aspect of Yoga. There’s no doubt that most classes also include meditation (potentially as a grounding practice at the beginning and Savasana at the end) and various Pranayama (breath work) techniques but why not try a dedicated class?

During my 300hr Advanced Teacher Training in India last November one of the most transformational aspects of the course for me was the 90-minute pranayama & meditation classes we had every morning. It provided such a good start to a day of learning. My mind felt receptive and open to all the new learnings and there was a steadiness to my days.

Asana (physical element of yoga) was created for us to be able to sit still in meditation. The more asana we do, the easier it gets to sit in a cross-legged position for example.

A pranayama and meditation practice can start short. You could try 5 minutes breath work – deep yogic breathing and a couple of rounds of nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and follow it with a 10-minute gratitude meditation. Observe how you feel before and after (maybe even journal it!). A great free meditation app is “Insight Timer”.

4. Off the mat scenarios

We know Yoga is not just moving in shapes on a rectangular piece of rubber… but how does it actually affect our lives? The last way of deepening your yoga practice is becoming aware of yoga in action in your everyday life. Take the teachings of that hour of practice into your day after class. For example, you take a morning class themed around compassion and the heart chakra. You spend an hour opening, physically, your chest and the front of your body and you set an intention to be compassionate to your body during the practice.

During that day, I challenge you to find ways to lead with the heart and show compassion. Smile at a stranger, speak what you feel to a friend not what you think you should say and recognise when you need a break from screens to take a 5-minute walk in nature.

Every action has a re-action. When you practice yoga in the morning it’s like throwing a stone into a still pond, the ripples are felt far from the original action. That smile to a stranger could make them smile at a stranger who was having a particularly hard day. This is aligned to the yogic teaching of Karma and the interconnectedness of a universe that, in the west, we seem to be desperately trying to resist.

Okay Case Study 2: a tough power yoga class with a peak pose of Pincha Mayurasana (forearm stand). This may not have an obvious takeaway into your everyday life but consider a stressful situation at work or a nervous moment before public speaking. Yoga teaches us to breathe and remain calm in challenging situations. You conquering the fear of falling on your face during a yoga class will inevitably transfer to other situations within your life.

Our nervous system doesn’t know the difference between a threat of a predator and the threat of falling in Pincha, it provides the same cortisol (stress hormone) release.

Start becoming curious on how you are dealing with stress (in any form) in your life, and how, maybe, yoga is helping. Then journal about it…

I’d love to know how you are discovering deeper layers of yourself through the wonderful and multifaceted practice of yoga. Comment below, email me yoga@oliviaemilykate.com or find me on socials @oliviaemilykate.