June 30, 2013

6 Tips for Advancing Your Yoga Practice. ~ Carri Uranga


A question I’ve often had myself or overheard students asking another teacher is “How do I advance my practice?”

There are so many ways to address this question. Assuming the student is referring to their asana practice, the answer would depend on how many days of the week the student is practicing, what style of yoga they practice, etc. 

Here are some typical suggestions I’d make to students wishing to advance their practice:  

1. Increase time on the mat.

You will notice a huge shift in your practice when you start to increase the amount of time spent on the mat. If you currently practice once or twice a week, can you increase that to three or four? If you are already practicing three or four times a week, are you ready to increase that to five or six? With each increment you will notice another transformation in your practice.

2. Try a new style.

Have you been practicing the same style for years? If so, switch it up.

If you’ve been practicing Bikram, try creative and dynamic Vinyasa classes. If you’re already a Vinyasa die-hard, try the Ashtanga Primary series.

With any style of yoga, the more you practice, the more you will advance your practice, but in certain styles the changes are more noticeable. For example, when you begin to practice the Primary Series, chances are the first few times you find yourself out of breath and hardly able to keep up, much less bind in Marichyasana D or for that matter C! Ardha Badha-what? Supta-huh? Some of these poses you may not have ever seen in your Vinyasa classes or your typical hot yoga classes, but even within a couple weeks of almost daily practice you will experience a difference in your pose.

3. Focus on the process (not the end result).

What are your personal goals in your practice and what are the intentions behind them? Do you want to do inversions and arm balances so you will have a cool profile picture? If so, that’s okay!

I myself love arm balances as they make me feel strong and empowered. Maybe inversions make you feel like you are floating or flying. Regardless of the reason, my suggestion (in addition to more core work) is to stay focussed on the present moment and not what you wish to do in the future.

It’s pointless to focus too much on an end goal, because just when you think you’ve achieved it, there’s always something new lurking around the corner. Tittibhasana you say? Awesome, now press up into handstand! With each position, you’re never really ‘done’.

That’s what we love about the practice. In some ways it can seem daunting, but personally this is why I will practice yoga for the rest of my life and it will always stay interesting, besides it’s more fun when you can’t do it all.

4. Get Back to Basics.

Sometimes we need to revisit basic alignment that will help in more advanced postures. Take an Iyengar series or go to a beginner’s class. I don’t care if you’ve been practicing for 20 years—there’s always something new to learn. Every time I randomly go to a beginner’s class or Level 1 basics I either learn something new or am reminded of some aspect I need to instil into my practice.

5. Back off; less is more.

Sometimes this can be the hardest part of your practice, especially if you’re a competitive athletic type. Your body needs to re-energize and re-vitalize.

If you can’t add Restorative Yoga to your schedule weekly, at least do it bi-weekly or a minimum of once a month. Add Yin Yoga once a week. If you haven’t tried Yoga Nidra, discover the deep relaxation of this  “Yogi sleep.” You will feel refreshed like never before, which of course, in turn will leave you ready for your more active Yang classes.

6. Add daily meditation into your practice.

Often, this is more challenging than the hustle and flow of your practice. Sit still. Calm your body. Calm your mind.

If you can do this daily for 30 minutes, or just five…now that’s advanced in my book!



Carri Uranga is an ERYT 500 and trains yoga teachers in exotic places around the globe with her school Drishti Yoga International Teacher Training. She has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, spent a year traveling in Central and South America and was honored to be an Athleta sponsored Athlete 2012! Check out her website and follow her on twitter.

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.


Assistant Ed: Renee Picard/Ed: Bryonie Wise


Photo: Sherry Edwards

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savasana addict Jul 8, 2013 12:51pm

For me, postures don't come when I'm gripping. I dedicate about two hours a day to yoga and sometimes find that my asana practice moves on from being stuck after I have been spending one, two weeks emphasising chanting, meditation and prayer. It's as if an internal barrier had prevented me from moving on, rather than a physical one. It seems once I change my attitude towards a posture, my body opens up to it.

Guerrilla Yogi Jul 7, 2013 11:20pm

Thanks for including point 6 (regular meditation). Pranayama is also an advanced practice for those feeling limited in their asana practice, in addition to practicing and refining yamas and niyamas, and concentration/sensory exercises (pratyahara/dharana), resulting in a finely tuned nervous system that will provide far more body-mind feedback during a subsequent asana practice.

Salvador Martinez Jul 7, 2013 4:24pm

"How do I advance my practice?" That's an interesting question. As a yoga teacher, I wouldn't assume that they meant asana. I wouldn't assume anything. I would ask them what they meant and take it from there. If they did mean asana, than I would gently remind them that yoga is the feedback and process along the way. Not the product or pose. But if they wanted to explore body shapes and body movements, I'm down. But the deal is that they have to do it while consciously integrating their breath with their body and movement. That's one way to think about yoga. If you're not integrating your breath with your body and movement, then it's stretching and calisthenics. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not yoga. Yoga is a discipline and a practice, not perfection. It's a practice where everyday is different, a new journey, and within that journey is home, your yoga. What you're thinking and feeling along the way count major, too. I would also remind them that alignment is important, but alignment is individualized/personalized. It's not one alignment fits all. I always encourage my students to check out other styles and do what speaks to them. It could be a combo of different styles, if that works for you and helps make you a happy person. A seated meditation is great too. I practice zazen. That's really helped me, but they're are so many styles of meditation. It doesn't always have to be seated. It could be walking, eating, listening to music, washing the dishes, playing with your dog. Anything.

Thanks for putting your thoughts out there. It made me think about what I do and why am I doing. Always helpful.

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