get past your yoga plateau

Feeling stuck? Let go of your fear and jump into something new
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I’ve been practicing for over 10 years and have been teaching (RYT200) since 2003. Yet I still cannot break my plateau – I’m so comfortable in intermediate classes and I’m so connected with my spirit – or at least I feel it, but maybe I’m wrong – but I’m stuck in my practice. I cannot let go of my fear of handstands and headstands and other ‘flying’ poses. Arm balances, I’ve got zero issue with and I LOVE playing around, so I’m eager to get to that point with being upside down as well. How do I let go of that fear? For the past 2 years I’ve been working hard – I’ve always had a good amount of upper body strength but I have weaker abs and chronic low back issues (degenerative disc disease since age 12), which I think are a huge factor – and I still can’t get past the hump. I’m trying not to let my ego get in the way, but it’s so difficult when I’ve been practicing for so long and feel so comfortable in all other parts of my practice. Is it just not meant to be, or do I need to stop focusing on the physical and get more into the meditative part of it?

A comment for Grace – reading your profile, I am in complete awe of you. What wonderful work you’re doing with your practice!!! That is my dream… someday! – Nicole

a yogi answers

Dear Nicole,

Thank you so much for your comments. I know how challenging it can be when we feel we’ve hit a plateau. It can be hard to push through it, and sometimes it is much more challenging to let go and remember to enjoy our practice for what it is. I have always liked to change things up, so I don’t get stuck in a comfortable routine. I am a big fan of exploring new classes, for different teachers will inspire me to break a cycle.

I haven’t practiced with you so I am not sure what you have tried or what preparations you have done in order to explore inversions. Have you tried anything against the wall? A great exercise is to place your hands on the floor – shoulder-width apart – and walk your feet up a wall, so that your body is in an L-shape. This will help you overcome the fear. You can then work toward lifting one leg straight up to the ceiling, and then switching sides. Doing some workshops in inversions will help you as well.

If you suffer from a degenerative disc disease, it is likely playing a role in your practice, so you must remain patient and be kind to yourself. Try to relax and enjoy your practice and don’t be afraid to pursue different aspects of Yoga, particularly the meditative aspects of the practice, for this alone may teach you many things about your asanas, and some mental blocks you may have encountered along the way.

There is so much I would like to ‘accomplish’ in my physical practice, but I really wanted to explore other things. Nothing prevented me. I was benefiting so much from yoga that I felt I should use that in other realms of my life. I am fully dedicated to supporting my community, and would encourage all to explore a yoga practice of service, yoga-in-action. There is so much one can do! It helps to start small and to be as specific as possible, and never be afraid to reach out to your community. It is about changing the outlook from: “What’s in it for me?” to “How can I be of help? How can I be of service?” If you are looking for some resources, take a look at for some inspiration!

- Grace, lululemon Queen St. ambassador
Learn more about Grace and Inspire Reach here:

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I was having a lot of trouble getting up into handstand. My mind was sure that my wrists would snap and my forearms crumble beneath my weight. My hips felt like cannon balls trying to get up over my shoulders. Not fun at all.

Then I decided to step away from the wall. I did some cartwheels in the studio. I pretended I was 5 and did some little running jumps up into handstand like I used to do in my yard all summer long. Soon enough I was up! My wrists did not snap. My forearms did not crumble. My hips were not cannonballs.

Then I went to the wall. A little kick and up I was!

I’m still working on them, but the fear is gone. The mind chatter is gone. And I try to practice them in my yard whenever possible, using a sturdy old tree for balance.

So, maybe taking your practice outside or to the beach or the woods will get you over that hump.

Good luck!

Comment by laine — June 23, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

Hey Nicole,

I recall an instructor saying something that resonated with me. Since all our bodies are built differently not every body will be able to do every position and the general rule being that everyone looks different in the same position. You can practice for your whole life and your body will still have its limits: due to bone structure, bone placement and in your case your discs.

That being said, keep moving forward and try new things. You can get past your plateau, it just may look different for you than you are able to see at the present moment. Enjoy the journey and practice along the way and the fear will naturally dissolve. When the moment strikes you try some of the more advanced moves you talk about. Of course be safe, have an instructor or classmate support you so you can gain a feel for a new position before holding it yourself. I have heard of people practicing this way for a long time before ever holding said new position on their own.

Since you are an instructor yourself perhaps there is a workshop specifically related to this, working past fear and getting into more advanced positions. If there is not, you could enroll other more advanced instructors about creating one – then you can attend it.

I have also found other ‘training’ methods useful to work through my developed fears and letting go of the ego, such as reading a book like ‘A New Earth’ or taking a leadership seminar/forum through a local company. Finding a long lost hobby such as taking an art class or buying a bike and riding it may also open up your mind in ways that can help you be more expressive in your yoga practice.

Balance = Diversity. Good Luck my friend.

Comment by Andrea — June 23, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

I have only been practising yoga for 18 months … loved doing headstands etc … that was until i discovered i had an inner rotator cuff injury (not caused by yoga) which meant a lot of variation on my practice …

At first it was really annoying and i felt like i was being held back, but now i love that it has given me a chance to really get more in touch with my body … i don’t envy others doing headstands any more … i still get everything i need from my practice…

Unfortunately one of my yoga teachers has given me subtle hints that he is annoyed with my “plateau”, so much so that i have cut his classes from my schedule … at the end of the day its my practice no one else’s … just like its your practice, do what feels right for you : )

Comment by kat — June 23, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

I have been practicing yoga for years and also had a great fear of headstands and handstands up until just recently. I still have a small bit of fear, but using the wall has really helped. One of my yoga instructors told me to walk my legs in as far as possible before kicking my legs up and that seemed to help a lot as well.

Comment by Maureen — July 7, 2011 @ 6:54 am

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