Have you hit a plateau in yoga practice?
Have you hit a plateau in yoga practice?
Does it seem like you’re not improving in your yoga practice? Or burnt-out from teaching too much? When you started practicing, you saw and felt great changes in your body- and probably enjoyed watching your body transform from week to week. You discovered that with more practice, you can get more postures. Then the rapid progress started to plateau. Practice might have become monotonous or frustrating. If you have hit a plateau in yoga practice (or teaching) and want to get to the next level sooner, read on!
Resolving plateaus in practice
Assuming there are postures that you want to get into but cannot seem to yet, there is presumably something stopping you. It’s easy to assume that “more practice means I get better and better” but it’s not always the case.
Take for example this very bendy girl in the cool tights. I will never be able to contort my body like hers. Never. No amount of yoga, Chinese acrobatic training, or starvation will make it happen. Is it because I don’t practice hard enough?
Figure out if it’s it your bones or your muscles that stops you -You have a shape and size of your bones that is unique to you. See how her elbows point inwards? She can do that because her bones are shaped in a way that it allows an extension past 90 degrees. Can your elbows do this? Mine don’t.
How ‘far’ you go in a yoga posture is going to be limited by either tension in the connective tissue, or compression of the bones. Here is the difference between them-
- Tension: When range of motion is limited by connective tissue like muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Range of motion can be increased through stretching. Here ‘more = deeper’. It’s why you can touch your toes with straight legs after practicing but when you started you probably couldn’t. If you have been practicing regularly for less than ten years, your connective tissue probably has more room to stretch longer, over time. The more you stretch out where tension holds you back, you will continue to get more open, which means your postures will “look” progressively more advanced as you practice more.
- Compression: This is where bones hit other bones. No amount of stretching can increase the range of motion past this point. You can find this easy in your elbows and knees. No amount of stretching will get you to be able to extend your legs or arms further than they go right now. Of course you could always use a hammer to break them, but you might not want to do that.
Where you ‘stop’ will be different than the person next to you. Each person is unique, so each person’s yoga asana expression is also unique. There comes a point, where compression stops every bodies range of motion. For some people you’ll be able to look like that girl and tuck your toes into your armpits. Great. For most people, it will never happen. That’s great too.
I have many students who were born with more range of motion in their joints than I will ever have. They can get to more bendy looking positions within two years than I have in twenty. What I have gotten from twenty years of practice however, is an increasing subtle control over each joint and a more nuanced practice overall.
If you spend a long time where it seems you are not making much outward physical progress, it might not be about stretching more or practicing harder. Instead, invest some time to learn about your joints and where they compress against each other. Seek out a good teacher with a solid knowledge of anatomy to work one-to-one with. Explore what range of motion you have available to you based on the shape and size of your skeleton. As you develop more awareness at this level, you will develop a finer level of control over each joint in your body. This will allow you to get each joint to it’s maximum range of motion, which means a deeper asana practice overall. For you. Use what you learn about yourself as an invitation into deeper self-acceptance and love. Celebrate what you can do.
Resolving plateaus of inspiration
If on the other hand you’ve been feeling burnt out or bored with your practice, you might be on a mental plateau. The good news is that at some time in your future you will be going through a fresh period of growth, insight, and change. Unfortunately however, you can’t really say when it will come. That’s because new insights don’t come from your conscious mind. They don’t come from doing the same things in the same way day in and day out. Insights have to come from outside your usual way of thinking and doing. You need new and different learning experiences that come from outside your box.
Get more variety in the learning experiences you seek out. Sign up for a training. Take a workshop. Study a different style of yoga that emphasizes different places you can draw your attention to.
This is a picture of a human nervous system. You can see how thinking is really done with the whole body. By changing your patterns of movement and attention, your brain and nervous system literally grows new pathways and connections. An insight is really about making connections between information that has been there all along. It first happens at an unconscious level and then ‘occurs’ to you consciously. It’s the way dreams work.
By moving and focusing in new ways, you will give your body the ‘food’ it needs to draw new insights. Remember that everything said, is said by somebody. No one style has all the answers. Nor does one teacher. Each person speaks from their version of the truth, which is made up from their body and their experiences. Discover your own body, your own experience, and your own truth using what you learn outside as pointers or indicators.
What will arise with time and practice is an increasingly subtle and nuanced use of your body and breath. Your progress will become more about knowing yourself better. More awareness translates into you making better decisions in all areas of life.
Keep exploring your practice with an open mind!