Yoga Challenge

10 ways to deepen your practice

Yoga Challenge

Deepen your yoga practice. Try outdoor yoga, yoga retreats, partner yoga, laughter yoga, stand-up paddleboard yoga, or yoga teacher training.

Your first yoga class may have felt enlightening, but eventually you may become bored by your asanas. Deepening your yoga practice means taking your downward dog to the next level. Spice up your routine by trying one (or several) of these yoga challenges.

1: Take it outdoors

With poses named after animals, the outdoors seems a natural place to take your yoga practice. Moving your mat into nature means dealing with uneven surfaces, visual distractions, and even the occasional rain shower, which can challenge your focus and commitment. “Changing the quality of your surroundings can change your view on yoga and bring you back to the reason why you love it,” says David Good, Toronto yoga instructor.

2: Defy gravity

Using a sling made of recycled parachute material for support and stability, suspension yoga allows you to get into more challenging poses such as handstands and backbends that are often difficult to achieve on the ground. The sling helps deepen the stretch in traditional poses such as downward dog or triangle pose and can be beneficial for people with injuries.

“People with weak wrists may have difficulty bearing weight on their hands [while] doing downward dog. The sling provides hip support to allow you to open up the hip flexors more without having to take a lot of pressure into the hands,” says Beatrix Montanile, owner of the Flying Yogi in Toronto.

3: Go on a yoga retreat

“At home, you fit your yoga practice into your daily busy life,” says Good. Retreats allow you to focus solely on your yoga practice without worrying about everything else you have to do in your day. Retreats typically offer two to seven hours of practice and meditation daily. Ask for a schedule so you can make sure the retreat matches your needs.

You don’t necessarily have to jet off to an exotic locale to do a retreat. Shut off your cellphone and plan your own weekend retreat in your home city.

4: Partner up

Although often considered an individual practice, yoga means “union,” making it the perfect activity to do with a partner. Practising with a partner can deepen the emotional bond. An estimated “93 percent of our emotional content is conveyed nonverbally,” says Temmi Ungerman Sears, who leads partner yoga workshops in her Toronto studio, Yoga Buds.

Poses such as forward and backward bends, which see partners link arms while sitting back to back, allow partners to use each other’s body for greater stability and get a greater stretch than would be achieved alone.

5: Laugh out loud

Incorporating gentle yoga breathing, called pranayama, with laughter delivers serious mind and body benefits. Laughing releases feel-good endorphins, which elevate mood and alleviate depression. Laughter yoga classes typically start with a chant of “ho, ho, ha, ha, ha!” followed by exercises that induce laughter and deep breathing techniques to expand lung capacity and reoxygenate the body.

“When we laugh, we’re exhaling,” says Sophie Terrasse, Ottawa laughter yoga instructor. This pushes stale air out of the lungs, leaving space for fresh oxygen to enter the body. Laughing also has some fitness benefits. “Laughing becomes a real sport when you laugh from the belly for 10 minutes or more,” says Terrasse.

6: Close your eyes

By eliminating the ability to view yourself or others, blindfolded yoga requires an internal shift, forcing a deeper connection with the body. “The blindfold allows you to let go of your insecurities about being in a group of people so you can explore simpler or more advanced versions of the postures without fear of judgment [from yourself or others],” says Yasmin Gow, a Montreal instructor who leads blindfolded yoga workshops across Canada.

If you can’t find a blindfolded yoga workshop near you, simply closing your eyes during your regular practice may give you the same sensory experience.

7: Become a teacher trainee

You don’t have to want to become a yoga instructor to enroll in a teacher training program. You’ll come out of the program with a greater understanding of the history of yoga and have the opportunity to try many variations on traditional poses that will help you deepen your own practice.

8: Try stand-up paddleboard yoga

Challenge your core strength and stability by taking your yoga to the water. Even some of the simplest postures such as Warrior 1 can be very challenging on a floating mat (your SUP board). Beyond the physical benefits, practising yoga on the water can deepen your spiritual practice.

“Being on or near the water can calm the mind,” says Kristy Wright of SUP Yoga Vancouver. “When lying in savasana, you can put your feet or hands in the water for a deeper connection.” SUP yoga is ideally practised when there is little to no wind and calm water.

9: Sign up for a 30-day challenge

Test your commitment by practising yoga daily for 30 consecutive days. “You’ll come up against yourself a lot, [thinking about] why you shouldn’t practise,” says Good. Studios that run these challenges typically write students’ names on a wall, awarding a sticker after each day of practice as a visual representation of progress toward the goal.

10: Ditch your clothes

Shedding your yoga pants in a room full of strangers may sound more anxiety-producing than stress-relieving, but Chris McBain, Edmonton naked yoga instructor, says practising in the buff generates greater confidence and a more positive body image. “It offers a psychological challenge to enter into your purest form, something that can be intimidating in a society where [we have] so many avenues for negative body image.”

So, you want to become a yoga teacher?

Moving to the front of the class can be a rewarding experience, but it requires a serious commitment. Follow these tips to find the right teacher training program for you.

Shop around

Visit all of the yoga studios that offer training programs in your area. Take classes with the instructors who will be leading the program to make sure their style resonates with you.

Stay local or go abroad?

If you know you want to teach in the city you live in, staying local may be more beneficial. “You can go to India, but when you come back no one knows who you are and [what] training you received,” says David Good, a yoga instructor who councils teacher trainees. Studio owners are more likely to hire their own graduates who teach in the style of their studio.

Ask about post-training support

A mentorship program that will support you in finding employment or in continuing your education is an invaluable asset to a training program.

Have a regular practice

Certification programs are typically 200-plus hours of education and practicum work. That’s a lot of yoga! “I’ve seen students who have been injured during teacher training because they haven’t practised enough,” says Good.

Be committed

A 200-hour training program can cost up to $4,000. “It’s like university. You have to be really committed,” says Good.

Don’t stop learning

Certification is only the first step. Stay current with industry trends by taking continuing education courses. Remember, teaching yoga is a lifelong process of learning.

You might also like

Core Power

What It's Really Like to Exercise After Breast Cancer

Bikram Yoga