written by: Kyneret Azizo
Have you ever hit a plateau in your yoga practice? It happens to each of us at some point on our yoga path.
A plateau might feel like a loss of enthusiasm for yoga. Or maybe you can’t get past a certain level of difficulty, no matter how hard you practice. That can be extremely disappointing – especially when you’ve been doing yoga for years.
But don’t worry – it’s a completely natural phenomenon, and not just in the yoga world. Other disciplines are like that too. No growth can happen without these moments of paralysis.
Why We Plateau
A plateau is a necessary milestone we arrive at – one which hollers: “Welcome! Please leave X, Y and Z behind to move to the next level.”
It’s a signal that something needs to change. What, exactly? Well, that’s part of where the challenge lies.
Do we follow that guidance from within, though? That’s the second part of where the challenge lies. Too often, we’re fighting to hold on to things as they are, because, well, we’re creatures of habit. Sometimes our biology turns us into the obstacles that impede our growth.
Consider letting go of these 8 things that might be holding you back in your yoga practice. I did, and that’s how yoga changed my life.
Judging a Yoga Pose by the Way it Looks
In yoga, much emphasis is placed on how asanas look. There can be an unhealthy preoccupation with physical form. Alignment, we are taught, looks a certain way. We are instructed to gather visual feedback to discern whether or not we are doing a pose correctly.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been there too. I’m not ashamed to admit that once upon a time, I may have checked myself out in the mirror a few times more than necessary…maybe even winked at myself.
I encourage you to look in another direction to find your alignment. Inward.
Here are just a few things you can do to shift your consciousness there:
- Try to close your eyes as you hold a pose
- Focus on the quality of your breath
- Explore sensations in your body
- Talk to your body and ask it how it wants to reposition itself
- Observe your emotions as you practice; follow your joy
Ideally, you want to transition from seeing to feeling. Heads up – that’s what yoga is all about in the first place. Congratulations! That’s a big milestone for you.
Comparing Yourself to Others
It’s easy to get caught up in comparisons, especially when you are new at yoga. So it’s understandable that we’d want to reach out to a yoga expert to eradicate any confusion we might have about a yoga pose or a breathing technique. Especially when we’ve had these kinds of questions pop up in our practice:
- Am I doing this yoga pose right?
- Where am I supposed to be feeling this?
- How should I be breathing?
The thing is, you’ll get different perspectives from everyone you talk to, as yoga is not a one-asana-fits-all kind of deal. So it won’t look or feel the same way for everyone. Nor is it supposed to.
But rather than set benchmarks based on how others do their yoga, learn to trust your own intuition on what feels right.
Getting out of the comparative mindset
You know that “beginner’s mind” philosophy? Take it a step further. This is not just your first time doing yoga. This is any human being’s first time doing yoga in all of human history. Pretend there are no rules because they have not been written. Sothere’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’
This exercise will lead you to understand that your way is as brilliant as (if not more brilliant than) anyone else’s way. And you’ll learn to trust your own hunches.
Judging Other People’s Yoga Practice
People presume an advanced yogi is a flexible and strong person who can do really difficult yoga poses a.k.a. cool party tricks. You know, like arm balancing poses, inversions and backbends.
Reality dose: Just because a person can do a handstand or the splits it doesn’t mean they have their life all figured out, or that they even get the fundamentals of yoga in the first place.
In contrast, some of the most mature yogis are content with the simplest of yoga practices. Maybe they prefer to be less showy about the asanas they are working on, plus their attention is directed towards yoga philosophy and pranayama instead. After all, it’s not what the body is doing, but what the mind is doing, that matters.
Therefore, don’t judge someone’s level of practice solely by the complex shapes they can gracefully fit into. Remember that the jewels of yoga lie beyond the five senses.
You may have heard your teacher say this: Yoga isn’t a competition. And it’s true – it’s not. We don’t hand out Olympic medals to students at the end of class, and there’s no ‘Best Yogi of the Year’ award.
But the sad truth is, some people still think yoga is a sport.
Even if you’re into a very physical practice, like power yoga, rather than focus on being the buffest yogi in class, you could try turning your attention toward your own inner power, instead. The kind of power that brings out the superhero in you and makes you resilient to life’s ups and downs. The kind of power that makes your solar plexus chakra shine.
We’re not there to be better than everyone in class. But we can certainly be better than a previous version of ourselves. And if we let that competitive attitude go, there’s no telling how many mountains we’ll move.
Almost every yoga student goes through a phase where pain is either misunderstood or ignored completely. To someone whose body awareness has not yet been developed, all sensations get lumped together, making it hard to tell what’s safe and what’s not.
But here’s the best advice: when yoga hurts, just stop doing what you’re doing. Look for another way. Pain is our best friend. It’s not something to be ignored or bypassed. It’s something to pay attention to very closely.
So leave stoicism outside – we’re not at yoga to become automatons who feel nothing. Quite the opposite. We’re there to connect with all our primal sensations. There simply cannot be any growth without proper acknowledgment of physical sensations.
In fact, did you know that ignoring pain has negative consequences over time? It can lead to chronic health issues. Have a look at this article to learn what happens when you ignore pain.
Holding Back Your Emotions
I want nothing more as a yoga teacher than to give my students the space to be themselves in class. How?
One way is through guiding students to acknowledge the emotions arising within them, and to hold space for those emotions. It’s totally healthy, even if we move into dark terrains at times.
So don’t fight those feelings off. Embrace them and let them serve you in the highest way possible. It’s ok to feel anger. It’s ok to sometimes get swallowed by shallow-minded jealousy.
When yoga makes you cry, take it as an opportunity to soften from the inside out.This is how we practice unconditional self-love.
How to connect with your emotions
Each yoga pose is a gateway into the Self, where we can access our innermost sentiments. Here are some tips on how to do so:
- Whenever you feel the urge to come out of a yoga pose, encourage yourself to stay a little longer while you lovingly breathe through the resistance and into the emotional discomfort that’s arising.
- Every now and then, ask yourself, “How are you feeling?” It will create the space for your body’s wisdom to speak. It works like magic.
- I find that practicing yoga outside in nature helps with emotional release. Taking your practice outdoors also has a few other great benefits.
Trying to Be More Flexible
Yoga is not about being flexible. Well, ok. It is. But I mean a different kind of flexible.
No, it’s not about whether you can grab your toes in paschimottanasana, or link your hands behind your back in gomukhasana – though I admit it’s awesome if you can do those things.
It’s about how far can you expand the limits of your mind and how big you can stretch open your heart.
When we let go of the desire to be physically flexible, lots of amazing things happen. We become more flexible toward life. Toward others. Toward ourselves.
And I know you can’t see that kind of flexibility, but it’s the kind that truly transforms you.
I am guilty of this one myself, especially when I practice at home.
Sometimes I feel like I’m just too good for savasana. No, seriously. I have places to go, people to see and things to do. Sound familiar?
Before we get all self-righteous, let’s consider that we actually owe it to ourselves to complete our practice with savasana. We deserve the calm, clarity, and insight that comes with the whole savasana experience. So why not enjoy the fruits of our yogic labour?
My experience has taught me that we tend to run from the things that are necessary for self-transformation to happen. Savasana is one of those things. And when I figured that one out, my yoga practice literally transformed overnight.
Want to know more about savasana and how to do it? Read about it here.
- It’s completely natural to reach a plateau at different stages of a discipline
- Plateauing in yoga could be an indication that you need to delve even deeper into the practice and that something needs to change
- If you are plateauing in your yoga practice, let go of these 8 things:
- Judging a yoga pose by the way it looks
- Comparing yourself to others
- Judging other people’s yoga practice
- Being competitive
- Ignoring pain
- Holding back your emotions
- Trying to be more flexible
- Skipping savasana
Kyneret has been practicing and teaching yoga for over a decade. She began as a yoga teacher for Modo Yoga Maple in 2012, and has recently set off on a nomadic adventure to South East Asia. She remains active within our Modo community as a blog writer.
When not writing, she is fully immersed in the day-to-day adventures of travel life and actively seeks out as many foreign yoga experiences as possible to further her knowledge and skills! You can follow Kyneret’s travels on her instagram account @planes_trains_autoimmunity