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Three Key Factors for Growing Your Yoga Practice

By Erica Nunnally

Three key factors—continuity, content and attention—affect a group yoga class experience, and one or more are likely impeding your growth on the mat.

Continuity is required to advance one’s practice. With so many class offerings available—online, at a studio or in a class at the gym—students have more options than ever before. While on one hand this is a good thing, by the time a student cycles back around to their home base teacher, a week or two, or more, may have passed since their last class with them. This means missing out on a level of continuity that might provide the deeper lessons of yoga that are most important for when life goes sideways.

If continuity is the bread of a yoga sandwich, content is the protein.  The Eight Limbs of Yoga, written in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali in approximately 200 AD as a prescription for controlling the restlessness of the mind, body and spirit, is a larger blueprint for mindful living. This blueprint can be envisioned as an eight-spoked wheel. In a group yoga class, individuals are likely to embody at least three of the eight practices regularly: asana, pranayama and dhyana. This leaves another five lessons missing from one’s practice.

Content can shift the yoga landscape and either hinder or help one’s progress through life. During critical moments in life, having the discipline of yoga along with the knowledge of the complete eight limbs is like having a mental medicine cabinet.

The eight limbs are:

1. Yama: Universal morality or how you treat others

2. Niyama: Personal observances or how you treat yourself

3. Asanas: Body postures

4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises, and control of prana

5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses

6. Dharana: Concentration

7. Dhyana: Devotion, meditation on the divine

8. Samadhi: Union with the divine

These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, emotional and spiritual health. Yoga is designed to remove the clutter, the toxic build up and the mindless chatter to allow for one’s natural state of total health and integration to become a reality. 

The third key factor is attention. To be precise, a group yoga class cannot offer the one-on-one attention needed to keep pace with daily shifts, setbacks and accomplishments. Traditionally, yoga was passed on from teacher to student, one student at a time. It was enormously personal journey work. One-on-one attention for the advancement of one’s practice can help individuals reclaim ownership of their choices, body and wellness. The value and impact cannot be denied.

Seek out programming that supports these three key factors, and shift out of second gear and into a healthier, more mindful and more advanced yoga experience.

Erica Nunnally is an experienced registered yoga teacher and owner and founder of The Bija Institute, a center for mindful living in Rhode Island. Residing in Cumberland, she has been living a yogically-centered life for more than 25 years and teaching yoga for more than a decade.