Stagnancy. It creeps upon us, slow as a sloth, settling in by increments. Before we know it, we’re doing the same thing, the same way, and wondering why we feel stuck or bored or frustrated. Once we realize our own complacency, we have at least three options: stay stuck, turn tail and run, or move through the stuckness towards growth.
Recently, stagnancy had a lengthy stay on my yoga mat. For a few months, I found myself gravitating toward the same poses — most of which were comfortable, familiar, and physically flattering. I conveniently avoided the poses that challenged my strength, were difficult to hold, or that exposed the tightness of my muscles.
At some point, I realized my physical practice was in total stasis. Handstands still seemed elusive, double pigeon still felt like hell, and warrior two had the familiarity of an old worn-out blanket. I forced myself to take an honest inventory of my practice. I saw that I was playing it emotionally safe, I took few risks, I worried about what my fellow yogis would think, and I showed up on my mat with varying consistency. As a result, I deprived myself of spiritual growth. To be honest, I don’t think achieving a handstand automatically makes you more spiritual. However, trying to do a handstand, falling over, and then revisiting the pose can instruct the spirit. You learn which muscles to activate; you learn how to fall gracefully. You learn how to try something without being assured of the result. You learn how to keep trying that thing until some other thing shifts, and what seemed out of reach is suddenly in hand.
The physical practice of yoga can serve as a gateway for understanding other aspects of your life. If you’re feeling stagnant on the mat, chances are you’re feeling stagnant elsewhere as well. Get more adventurous on your mat, and you may find more adventure off the mat, too. You may even find that putting a little more spice in your life adds spice to your asana as well!
This week, I’ll focus on a few poses that helped me reinvigorate my practice, as well as some staple poses that I needed to rethink and reimagine to avoid that stuck feeling. I hope these posts will help you try something and find beauty in the growth experience.
Until then, here a few tips to that helped me move through stagnancy toward growth.
1. Practice more.
When my asana practice grows stagnant, it’s usually because I’ve fallen off from consistent practice. Moving to a near-daily practice has helped me become stronger and more flexible, which in turn allowed me deeper levels of relaxation. There may be a season in my life during which more asana isn’t necessary to achieve this relaxation, but right now, six days a week helps keep me fresh.
2. Find a pose you can’t stand. Incorporate that pose into every practice.
I used to loathe double pigeon — like, had something personally against this pose and the people who called it. Of course, it wasn’t the pose I couldn’t stand — it was that I couldn’t execute it like a yoga model, and all my feelings of failure and insecurity came rushing through my chest. The more I practice double pigeon, however, the more ease I feel in the pose, and even when I sit down throughout the day. Turns out, I hold a lot of tension in the outer hips. By avoiding the pose for so long, I had been cheating myself of a gloriously deep feeling of relaxation.
3. Find a pose during which you typically zone out. Incorporate the pose into every practice. Make it your mission to discover something new in the pose every time you do it.
Perhaps downward facing dog is the epitome of boredom to you, or maybe it’s triangle pose. By reining in your focus, you may find new meaning in the pose. Try playing with your gaze, adjusting your breath, or flexing and releasing different muscles in the pose. What happens when you use a block under your hand in triangle, or bend your knees slightly in downward facing dog? What happens when you tuck your chin in a forward fold, or gaze at the third eye in tadasana? You might be surprised how small movements can open new avenues.
4. Take your yoga off the mat.
I think it’s fun to (safely) try yoga in different places. Recently, for example, I’ve been loving practicing yoga at the playground as my kids run amok. While they swing, I do wheel pose on the wood ships, or try a drop-back using a park bench as support (doing warrior two on a merry-go-round is on my to-try list!). Try yoga in the grocery store (tree pose while waiting in line is a personal fav), in the pool, or on a hike. At the very least, you’ll have some fun!