New Year, New Practice

New Year, New Practice

What was your yoga practice like in 2018? Take a moment to reflect on what you focused on this year. Maybe your practice was consistent or maybe you practiced only a few times – either way, the new year is a great time to think about what you want your practice to look like in 2019.

Before you jump into a serious commitment like practicing one hour a day, think about what you want out of your practice. We want to set sustainable intentions for our yoga; otherwise, they won’t stick. WHY do you practice yoga? Is it for the workout? Is it for the peace of mind? Is it a spiritual practice for you? Once you know your reason for practicing, think about the best way to support that “why.” Here are a few ideas to get you started based on some of the common goals we hear about.

Goal #1: Feel good in your body

If your goal is to feel good on a day-to-day basis, then think about setting an intention to listen to your body. Movement isn’t the only way to take care of yourself – you need to think about what you put in your body and the energy you surround yourself with. Along with eating food that makes you feel energized and nourished, which will be different for different people, cultivate relationships that make you feel supported and understood. When it comes to your physical practice, don’t feel like you have to do a challenging class every day; depending on how your body feels, you may need a hard workout, a relaxing restorative class, or simply some rest. This kind of practice will fluctuate with the season and with your own stresses, and that’s okay.

Goal #2: Understand the deeper aspects of yoga philosophy

Maybe you have wanted to explore yoga philosophy for a while, just to see where this practice comes from, or maybe this is a new idea for you. The simplest way to start to understand yoga philosophy is to pick up a book on the Yoga Sutras and take some time to think about and meditate on each one. Alternatively, you can try books like Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope, Living Your Yoga by Judith Hansen Lasater, or The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar. In terms of setting an intention, plan to read one or two yoga philosophy books this year, not a dozen. If you end up reading a dozen, great! But start with an achievable goal that you can feel good about fulfilling.

Goal #3: Keep a cool head in everyday life

Yoga is wonderful for stress relief, and the key to keeping it that way is to not put a ton of pressure on your yoga practice. There are many ways to practice, and it can be much more sustainable to have a short version of a fulfilling practice that you can do at home on the days when making it to your favourite class isn’t possible. For example, try committing to 2 minutes of deep breathing twice a day, whether you make it to class or not. Before bed, do a couple of gentle stretches – nothing formal, just open up any places where you feel tightness, and practice your deep yoga breathing while you stretch. When you’re waiting for an elevator or standing on transit, instead of pulling out your phone, try taking five deep breaths first. These small steps will help you maintain the benefits of a yoga practice throughout the day. And of course, when you can make it to class, do it!

Goal #4: Get stronger or more flexible

If your goal is to get physically stronger or more flexible, the key word you’ll want to remember is sustainability. It’s easy to go overboard and injure yourself when you’re working on improving within your practice. With sustainability in mind, there are a few things you can try this year to work on your strength and flexibility. First, talk to your teachers. It can be challenging to give in-depth adjustments in a busy class, but your teacher will be happy to chat with you before or after class to give more pointers. If you want more time to dive in to the alignment and anatomy of specific poses, book a private session with your favourite teacher! They’ll be able to teach you how to perform each pose effectively, and often, they can help you tackle bad postural habits that might be stopping you from working as hard as you could be in a pose. Many students find that they more they learn about specific poses, the more challenging those poses get. Second, consider enrolling in an anatomy course or full yoga teacher training – you’ll learn a ton about how to get deeper into your practice. Third, consider adding strength workouts to your repertoire – it’ll make a huge difference to your body. Don’t start heavy lifting without a coach! Booking a trainer for five sessions will mean the difference between injury and effective training.

Goal #5: Feel a deeper spiritual connection

If the spiritual aspect is what is currently missing from your yoga practice, understand that there are several paths to the philosophical ideal of enlightenment. Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, and Raja yoga are considered to be the four paths of yoga. Karma is the path of selfless service; Bhakti is the yoga of devotion; Jnana is the yoga of knowledge; and Raja is the eight-limb path, which we have explored on this blog over the past few months. The key trend you may notice when you start exploring these paths and ideas is that becoming more spiritual in your yoga practice means getting out of your own head and connecting with and serving others. Spirituality is not complete if it only focuses inwards – you need to connect with the world and be a positive light for others. Setting an intention around your spirituality may mean studying yoga philosophy, volunteering, or simply doing kind things for the people around you.

No matter your goal, try to set an intention that is sustainable! If you are serious about developing your yoga practice this year, explore your “why” and set small, achievable goals that will continue to motivate you throughout the year.

Happy new year!