In order to adapt and grow, we need to have the right balance of consistency and variety—the consistency helps us get into a groove, and the variety prevents that groove from becoming a rut. This is true both in our sports training and in our yoga practice.
In order to get stronger, faster, or able to go longer, you’ve got to have consistent application of the right amount of stress. Too little stress means no growth; too much means breakdown and injury. This is why you might do weights two or three nonconsecutive days a week, and play tennis on another two or three days. It balances the consistency and variety of your training stressors to give your body time to adapt without breaking down. Too much consistency makes you stale; too much variety never lets your body figure out the most efficient path of movement.
The same applies to your yoga practice. Doing a little bit of yoga several times a week will yield better benefits than making it to a ninety-minute class once every six weeks. The key is to establish consistent frequency of the practice. Once that’s in place, variety matters. Your body adapts to the familiar, then plateaus, and it can be easy to check out mentally while going through routines you know inside and out.
You’ve probably got consistency down. As we age, we grow more set in our ways, preferring the familiarity of our regular routines: doing the same workouts, attending the same yoga classes, sitting on the same spot on the couch, eating the same meals. But variety is what challenges us to continue to grow and adapt. Here are some ways to add variety to your practice.
- Go to a new class. Alexandra’s primer of yoga styles gives you ideas. If you’re in central North Carolina, she has a new series of Yoga for Aging Athletes at Carrboro Yoga starting Thursday, February 18.
- Try a new teacher. Even when class content is the same, you’ll find huge variety among teachers. A different teacher might turn a phrase in such a way that things click into place for you. (My regular sub, Sara, reported that when she filled in for me last month, students loved doing “new and different” things—even though she taught the very same sequences I do! The cueing, not the content, changed.)
- Set up in a different spot in the room. It’s easy to fall into a habit of always being in the right corner, say, or in the center of the back row. Move around and see what shifts.
- Venture outside your usual routine by streaming classes. Between the two of us, Alexandra and I have dozens and dozens of classes at YogaVibes.com. (Hers are here; mine are here.) Streaming classes lets you try something with no etiquette around stopping if you don’t like it!
- Change the setting of your practice. If you’re used to unrolling your mat in your guest room, change it up. Set up in the living room, or on the porch. Spread a beach towel at the edge of a practice field. A change of venue—particularly if it includes a move to an unstable surface like carpet or grass—will add variety and challenge to your yoga routine.
- Swap sides. If you’re used to always starting on the right side, start on the left. If you usually set up facing the short side of your mat, try facing the long edge and building your practice around wide-stance poses.
- Experiment. Try different arm positions, use different props, close your eyes, switch up the coordination of your breath and your movement. Such experimentation can lead to wonderful revelations.