You’re in yoga class, ready to zen out and get in tune with your body. Suddenly you realize that you’re facing the opposite way from everyone else; you’re standing while others are seated; you’re moving through your vinyassa while everyone has pulled back into child’s pose. The cue from your teacher completely bypassed your ears because you were on autopilot, doing the same sequence of moves that you always do, your head probably somewhere that isn’t the yoga studio.
Even the most experienced yogis can get into a rut that enables these slip-ups in class, especially if you are loyal to a certain teacher or studio where after a few classes you can learn their style by heart. And even as it touts a constant state of deep spiritual and physical connection and growth, yoga, like any exercise routine, can start to feel rote and boring when you’re a dedicated practitioner. Stressful or complicated situations in your life can also impact your ability to properly be centered during yoga even with the best of intentions. Here are some ways to bring energy and focus back to your flow, just in time for fall–a season to hit refresh or go back-to-school–or any time of year.
1. Move your mat
I know, it sounds ridiculous. But simply practicing in another part of your studio can radically change your attention and overall practice. Putting yourself in a different temperature and light, and even next to different neighbors, can activate different physical reactions to certain poses, put you in a better line of sight of your teacher, and a variety of other small things that shake up the environment around your mat space. In my studio, there’s a wall of gorgeous windows on the right side, at the far end of which is an air conditioner that’s seldom used. One of my teachers deems the back corner the “cool corner,” and the far front corner the place where you’ll get nice and sweaty; and during the daylight hours (which extend gloriously into my 7:30 PM classes during the summer) there’s a flood of energizing light from the windows. While I usually practice on the left, toward the back, the past few months I moved to the front of the room on the right, to take advantage of the new surroundings. I feel like I’m practicing in a whole new room! Better yet, take your mat outside, where you’ll also have to make peace with uneven terrain, people and creatures around you, and all that distracting sunshine.
2. Try a new class
Sometimes it’s impossible to alter your workout schedule: I go to the same yoga classes during the week because of my work hours. But whenever I can, I like to try different classes on weekends, and even enjoy when there’s a substitute teacher whose sequence is not in my muscle memory. Besides the opportunity to be in a new environment, whether it’s a different studio all together or just a different room, a new class will force you to actually listen to the instructor’s cues–you won’t have any idea what’s coming. He or she may even have some new tricks–I’ll never forget the first time I tried dragonfly with a sub; so fun!–that you can then work on independently, or request that your regular teacher add to a class.
3. Bring a friend
Yoga is not a very social activity, but going to and from class with a friend can add a level of interpersonal interaction to your practice. Talking about what you struggled with, what you enjoyed, the music, the sweaty guy next to you–normally you’d keep these observations to yourself, but opening them up in conversation can make you aware of things you might want to try next time if you hadn’t thought of them before. Add a smoothie- or coffee-run to your route, and you have yourself a perfect friend date.
4. Challenge your intention
Most yoga teachers start class with an invitation to set your intention: the idea, person, or phrase to which you dedicate your practice. I have a go-to set of intentions that include members of my family, “letting go” (and all that that implies), stretching a part of my body that’s sore or tight, etc. Having something new to think about as you flow, however, can give each pose a new sense of purpose and direction even if you’re doing the same moves, as well as keep outside thoughts like work and dinner at bay. Plus, it puts new, good karma into the world. Try choosing a simple, specific phrase or mantra that you can come back to whenever you feel your mind drifting.
5. Wear a new outfit
I generally dissociate myself with the cultish side of yoga–the surge of Lululemon and similar stores that sell yoga clothes at obscene prices to people who, for the most part, are not serious about practicing. And I generally don’t care what I look like when I exercise (perhaps to a fault)–as long as nothing is falling off or stain-ridden, it works. However, getting a new tank top or pair of leggings can brighten any girl’s day, and put a little pep in your down dog. Discount stores like Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx have a wide selection of inexpensive exercise clothes that are perfect for yoga even if they’re not yoga-specific. I also love GapFit’s Breathe tanks, which come in so many colors and are so darn comfortable I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to wear them as regular clothes. I also felt ridiculously happy when I bought my first pair of crazy-patterned leggings; while I can’t say they have actually influenced my physical abilities, I swear I practice better when I wear them just because they are so fun.
What’s your favorite way to breathe new life into your yoga practice? Share your tips and fashion trends!
Also by Jennifer: Your End of Summer Book List
Why Am I Angry? On Dealing with Irritability
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Photos: marymarcusfiction.com; Yogajournal.com / Jeff Nelson; gap.com