How to change your practice

How you can dramatically change your yoga practice

If your practice has started to feel familiar and heaven forbid comfortable and mindless, it’s time to advance.

We often associate more advanced classes with more challenging postures, faster, hotter and with more and more limb contortion. Another way to advance something is by changing how you define it. Yoga. Asana. Deep. Namaste. These words get thrown around as often as downward dogs and with familiarity, their definitions can become uninspired, irrelevant and impersonal.

The best definitions are collections of words that not only describe what something is but add depth and colour; the how, when and why. The following definitions of these four familiar words blend their historical Sanskrit roots with some depth and colour added in.

Yoga. It means yoke which translates as come together or unify. These days the elements often being yoked together, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly deep and inspiring.  On trend activewear, the perfect mat and the most exotic place to practice seem to equal yoga that has been successfully ‘yoked’.

Let’s add the word ‘harness’ to the definition of yoga. To be able to steer something, it must be harnessed. Now we have a way to yoke. Harness the mind to the body. Harness the body to the breath. Harness the breath to the mind.

Asana. It’s generally interpreted as posture, the physical contortion of the body. The importance of asana therefore is what the arms, legs, muscles and joints are doing. Insert Instagram and Pinterest and you can see how asana is put up on a pedestal.

We have to go back to the roots of yoga to find the real and quite surprising meaning of asana. It translates to sitting quietly in the pose. Without fighting or forcing, without shifting or squirming. Asana has nothing to do with the physicality of the body but everything to do with the landscape of the mind. This isn’t easy so instead we choose, and particularly in the western world, to analyse the sh*t out of our triangle pose so we don’t have to contend with the fact that we can’t sit quietly in it.

Deep. Go deeper, move deeper. This cue is often interpreted as force and push your body into a more confronting posture, with nil regard for what’s sacrificed. Get out of the way knees, move over stomach, stop talking low back.

When we work with a different definition of deep, it tells us how and what to deepen. Deepen the breath by smoothing it out and respecting the pauses. Deepen the mental practice by finding a focus point and holding your gaze to it. Deep in this sense has no reflection on how the body is arranged but how we approach and ‘sit’ in the postures.

Namaste. Uttering the word brings closure to every yoga class. There are so many translations for namaste and often the words divinity, spirit, bow, respect and gratitude feature. It’s used in the Hindi tradition as a mark of respect, to acknowledge an elder, as a sign you would like to initiate a conversation. The simultaneous bowing of the head and bringing together of the palms is just as significant as the word itself when searching for a translation.

When we translate from one language to another, we try to find an equivalent but does English have an equivalent word?

Working with a deeper definition, namaste embodies intention. That you’ve approached the practice, the teacher, the person, yourself, with gratitude and respect. That you acknowledge a common connection. A connection that is deeper than us both loving yoga, speaking the same language or even living in the same community. A much deeper connection. Oneness.