Tip Tuesday: How to Deal With Plateaus
Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.
I have a lot of students or other folks I know that practice yoga complain about reaching a plateau in their practice. Despite practicing consistently, they feel like they aren’t progressing at all, nor do they feel stronger or more flexible, and challenging poses seem just as challenging. Here’s some ways to deal when you feel like you’re in a yoga standstill.
1. Do something different Find small ways that you can change your practice. If you always set up your mat at a certain spot in the room, move it to a different area. Whenever you clasp your hands in a yoga pose, move your fingers over one so you are clasping hands in your non-habitual way. Vary your sun salutations by starting on a different foot each time. Take savasana with your feet up the wall, with your knees bent, or with the legs in baddha konasana. These are just a few ideas for ways you can take your usual practice and changing it up just enough to re-engage your brain and keep yourself from falling into habitual patterns that can lead you to feel stagnant and disconnected.
2. Take a break This is probably not the advice most yoga teachers would give you, but honestly, sometimes it helps to take a break from yoga. By “break”, I mean a class or two, not so long that it’s hard to come back to. Bail on one class, get a little more rest or do another form of exercise. I find that when I consciously decide to take a rest day or head off for a walk with friends instead, I start missing yoga and inevitably appreciate it more when I come back to the mat. Some of my biggest breakthroughs with challenging poses have occurred my first practice back after taking a break.
3. Cut yourself some slack…with research to back it up I recently read this terrific book* about the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and change, which is also known as neuroplasticity. Among other points, the book discusses how plateaus are a natural part of learning. At first when people are building a new skill, they progress quickly at first and continue to steadily improve. There reaches a point though where they hit a plateau and outwardly are not making any demonstrable improvements. However, research shows that these plateau periods are progress–it is a built-in part of the process where the brain has to pause and assimilate everything it has learned before it can continue to improve. So while it might not look like you’re moving forward, you actually are just at the brain assimilation phase of learning. (This is a good thing to keep in mind when learning any new skill, not just yoga). So lay off yourself already.
*If you are interested, I highly recommend checking out said terrific book, The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. Fascinating stuff!