The Dreaded Plateau


I’m not good with situations that stand still. I love to see things progress and change.  I’m a fan of discovering what is around the bend or behind that next curve in the road.  I love being surprised by life and honestly think each morning, “I wonder what’s going to happen today?” instead of thinking, “Ugh, another day.”

I’m pretty sure this comes from so many years as an actress and singer.  No day was like the next.  You had an audition one day, a print job the next, and then out of the blue you’d receive an unexpected phone call booking you out for the next 6 months at a theatre halfway across the country.  You never knew what was going to happen and it was a ton a fun…most of the time.

Of course there were months when you couldn’t book anything to save your life.  The phone never rang and you would double check your resumé to make sure your contact information was correct.  Every audition became more precious and the result meant too much at times, making me weigh the value of my life here on earth depending on the outcome.  It could be miserable.  There were super high highs and very low, lows.

Because of this, I’m not surprised my next career would be as a yoga instructor.  It has a similar vibe without all of the, “Please like me, please hire me,” beating in time with my heart each day.  That song soon turned into, “Please like yourselves, please take care of yourselves,” as I watched my students progress in each posture throughout class.   The similarity between the two career paths is the flurry of change and progression combined with the desert of waiting for something new to happen.  That desert being the dreaded plateau.

I know it happens in my own practice. In fact, I’ve been battling a plateau for most of this year.  It seemed nothing was changing at all…until a couple of weeks ago. I also see students struggle with it day after day and year after year.

“Why isn’t anything changing?”

“How come I used to be able to go further in that posture and now I can’t?”

“What do I do?”

All too familiar questions that I receive from my students and have asked myself throughout the years.  There are only three choices to make when you hit a plateau.  You can have faith that there will be a day when you will be able to go deeper than you are right now and continue on with your regular practice.  (This is my favorite choice.)  You can decide that you have no more to learn and quit.  Or you can decide to learn a different type of yoga.  (This is great, all yoga is good yoga and switching things up every once in awhile can be a great choice, but if you’re avoiding that one posture that has always alluded you, how will you know if the body has changed if you stop trying it?).

If you continue on with your regular practice you will find that though the body doesn’t change as quickly as you would like it, the mind can.  Simply going into the hot room, without any expectations, trying your best and knowing that this yoga practice makes you feel great for the rest of the day, is some of the best mental work you can do.  Your practice will see great moments of change, but it is not always about hitting the goals of a posture, it can be much more than that if you allow it to be.  It can be about making yourself a priority in your life, conquering past traumas that have occurred in the body and the mind, and developing mental toughness that allows you to remain connected and peaceful during even the most hectic and tumultuous times in your life.

If you have hit a plateau and are becoming frustrated with your practice there can be a multitude of reasons for why this is happening and just as many solutions.  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. The block is in your mind.  Many times we want to see our postures develop and go deeper, yet we haven’t considered the mind/body connection.  What are you telling yourself each day that is stopping you from going further, not simply in your yoga practice, but in life.  Negative thoughts about yourself and hanging on to past events that should no longer be defining who you are can stop you from becoming the person you are reaching to become.  Find a way to turn this around for yourself.  Read a book or find a professional to work through this old stuff with and finally release it. I find people really like their stuff and will hang on to it with a fierce determination that sabotages them in so many ways. This is not going to be an easy change, but if you change the mind, the body will follow.
  2. There is more to learn.  You will never know it all when it comes to yoga.  That’s what makes it great.  As soon as you feel like you get it, you realize there is more to get.  Sometimes a plateau takes place in your practice because you have stopped opening yourself up to the learning process.  Listen to the words during class.  Ask questions.  Take a special workshop or class. Never stop learning.
  3. Mix it up.  Are you avoiding a certain teacher’s class?  I get that.  Maybe you think they’re too tough, or their voice drives you up the walls.  If you haven’t taken their class at least once in the last three months, take it again.  They might say the exact thing you need to hear, including that correction you’ve been waiting for to go deeper in a posture and in your practice.  Maybe you were resistant to their class because they challenged you in a way that asked you to change in a way you weren’t ready for yet.  Give it a chance.  Some of the teachers that truly drove me crazy when I first started my practice have taught me the most and made a definitive impact on my practice.  They wanted the best from me, I had to get to a place where I could give it.

No matter what, I would like to tell you to keep going.  Remember:  Trying a posture is doing a posture.  You do not have to have perfect postures to reap the benefits of the yoga.  What you need to do is show up and try.  That’s it.  There will be moments of great change within your practice.  The real work is when nothing is changing, but you decide that the benefits of continuing on are worth it in the long run.

Originally posted to on October 20, 2015

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