The urge to improve is one of the most common instincts among human beings. Yoga is no exception. People spend hours reading, watching videos, talking, exchanging ideas, attending workshops and performing asanas in their pursuit to become better at yoga. You can do all of this and more, yet you would most likely be unable to progress beyond a certain point. That’s because “yoga’s ultimate goal is to achieve a state of mind that is absolutely calm and peaceful… stillness of the mind, so to say,” explains Abhishek Sharma, Mumbai-based celebrity yoga and holistic fitness coach. And to achieve that, you would need to not only focus on the physical aspect of yoga but also on your mind. The physical act of performing asanas is just one aspect of yoga; it is preparation for achieving the ultimate goal when you look at yoga in the classical sense, he adds.
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You would also need long-term commitment, discipline, continuity and consistency if you really want to improve your yoga, adds Bengaluru-based yoga teacher Karthika H.C. When Karthika talks about discipline he doesn’t just mean the discipline to get on the mat and perform the asanas, but also discipline in your food habits. “What you eat determines how your body would act when you are doing your practice. Your food also impacts your flexibility. For example, if you eat a plateful of half-cooked veggies the night before, your next morning’s yoga session is as good as wasted. That’s because half-cooked veggies take a lot longer to digest given our sedentary lifestyles,” explains Karthika, adding, “Yoga demands satvik food, and food plays a huge role in improving your yoga practice.” Elaborating on the idea, Sharma says one needs to work on the cleanliness of the body. “Drinking enough water and be mindful about eating clean by following the principles of a holistic life,” he says, while suggesting performing cleaning kriyas such as kapaalbhati and netikriya to clean your body.
To achieve consistency and maintain continuity in your practice, Karthika suggests doing a bit of yoga every day, even if it is a short and simple session. “When you say you would do one hour of yoga daily, you are setting yourself up for failure. No one can do that in this day and age. Instead, you need to be flexible and make sure you practice yoga even for 10 to 20 minutes on the days you don’t have an hour to spare,” he says. It is vital that you get enough sleep for you to be able to do your yoga practise efficiently and benefit from it. Though the widely accepted sleep requirement is eight hours a day, Karthika says six hours of good, sound sleep is the key to keep progressing in your yoga practice.
It also helps if you work towards making your spine supple, your core strong, get your breath in sync, and ensure that your body isn’t stiff. For those who are stiff, Sharma, the author of Fitness on the Go, advises a proper warm-up before their session. “Go for a walk and do some warm-up. That helps open up the body faster when you start your practice. Not only will the session be better and beneficial, but you would also be able to make visible incremental gains, too,” he says.
Spending time in nature and taking up some form of art like music or painting also impact your practice positively. In Sharma’s experience, those who take up activities related to the classical arts and those who connect with nature by spending time at the beach, mountains or forests see a marked improvement in their yoga.
While the regular practice of various yoga postures definitely helps you get better at it, you need to follow the “abhyasavairagyabhyam” principle to really improve your practice and achieve a calm and still mind, which is the ultimate goal of yoga. “Abhyasavairagyabhyam essentially means practising without any goals at all. According to the ancient scriptures, the best way to progress and improve is to practice and surrender--not have any expectations of an end goal or result. Being too focussed on the end goal pushes the goal even further. When you focus on the practice itself, the results will come to you in the course of time. This is not a process of instant gratification but one of patience and long-term commitment,” says Sharma. “The best way to get better is to pursue yoga in its totality which involves focusing and working on your breath, selfless work, understanding yoga’s philosophical aspect and surrendering to the universe.” Faith plays a very important role in this too. Karthika says, “You must have faith in what you are doing. You won’t see changes after every session, but you will observe the improvement over a period of time.”
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.