How Do We Measure Progress in Our Yoga Practice Banner

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self.” - The Bhagavad Gita

During my first ever yoga class I felt I knew who was a ‘good’ yogi and who was not. Clearly, the attractive, well-dressed people near the front of the room doing handstands and effortlessly putting their feet behind their heads were the true yogis. In contrast, the souls just sitting on their mats with their eyes closed, or the ones supported by several bolsters and blocks to the point it looked like they were lounging in lazy-boy chairs… clearly did not have strong practices.

Yoga Arm BalanceMy competitive 19-year old mind decided all I needed for the *perfect life* was to be like those ‘true yogis’ I idolized. I wanted to touch my toes, do yoga pretzels, and look like a yoga magazine cover. 

After years of practice, it’s true that eventually I could do many pretzel poses, but not because I was a better practitioner or tried harder than others. I learned that I was simply born into a body which genetically allowed me to be able to touch my toes. 

Ironically, the longer I practiced yoga, the less I cared about ANY of the reasons for which I came to the mat in the first place. Now, my ‘perfect’ life looks nothing like what I thought it would.

Like life, practicing yoga is not linear. It’s not easily gaugable, quantified, or scalable. And it’s certainly not about the superficial shapes.

It turns out, the practice of yoga is completely UNIQUE to every individual. It doesn’t matter what that person across the room is doing–they’re not you! My 19-year old self didn’t get that.

As we grow in our practices and selves, letting go of attachment to physical form, to ‘ideal’ bodies or pose shapes and competition with others, inevitably starts to lead us inward. We move closer to our true selves, to connection with others, and to higher presence. In other words, the study of asana (or yogic postures) is not about mastering those postures. It’s about using them to understand and transform yourself.

If you’re just starting yoga, this might sound a little too…. esoteric. 

So, for the remainder of this blog post I’d like to lay out three ideas for you to work with when it comes to understanding and measuring your own progress when doing yoga. 

I hope this will provide some clarity!

1. What the practice of yoga is NOT about:

  • Doing all the fancy poses you see on social media and on yoga magazine covers.
  • Looking like the aforementioned practitioners–typically these people are dancers, gymnasts and models who are genetically hyper flexible with a whole team supporting them to make them look good. (And if you’re genetically predisposed to look like this, that’s cool! But it doesn’t make you a ‘better’ yogi).
  • Being so chill that all your problems go away (aka solving all your problems). When you stop engaging with the world and people around you to practice yoga continuously, you’re engaging in a form of escapism. 
  • Healing all your illness and injuries, 100%. Yoga is not a cure all. It can and probably will help you though!

Mom and daughter tree pose

“But… but… what’s the point then?” You might be thinking. “Society tells me I’m supposed to look and feel a certain way when doing yoga!”

Well, this is where individuality comes in, and the beautiful shift away from the often destructive messaging about how we ‘should be’, especially when it comes to yoga. 

This leads me to my second point:

2. What might progress in yoga look like for you?

  • Feeling improved physical flexibility, strength, etc. (Just never forget that what your asana shapes ultimately look like are all pre-determined by your unique genetics and personal history, such as injury).
  • Learning to breathe deeper.
  • Having a clearer head, less reactivity, and better stress management skills. 
  • Coming more into yourself - feeling connected to your body, to your life, and to your higher purpose.
  • Discovering or connecting to your personal spirituality. 
  • Accepting your life and others. 

Man doing splits between rocksThese points were the kind of ‘progress’ I experienced the longer I practiced yoga. They led me away from the pain of trying to strive and force my body into some kind of perfectionism that was not realistic or sustainable.

Your experience as you evolve in your practice might be similar or might be completely different. I’ll say it again here, the spiritual practice of yoga is UNIQUE TO EVERY INDIVIDUAL!

Which leads us into our final point:

3. Some simple ways to gauge or measure your personal yoga practice.

  • Start a journal or record notes on one of your electronic devices. 
  • Note how you feel NOW: What is your general emotional state/view of life?
    • How are your stress levels?
    • What aches and pains do you have?
    • How is your sleep quality?
    • What is your general flexibility? 
    • How is your breath?
    • How body aware are you?
  • Improvise here! Note whatever is pertinent in your life or anything you’re hoping to work on. It’s ok if any goals you have now change in the future too!
  • Check back in for a comparison to these initial notes over the months and years. You can start this exercise at any time during your practice, so don’t fret if you’ve already been practicing for a few years!

Everything about your yoga practice is so personal to you. You’ll find yoga teachers and styles that really resonate and serve you, and others that do not. There will probably be days, seasons, and years when your practice ebbs and flows. It’ll almost certainly change over time.

Yoga is just a part of the beauty of our human existence.

So, if anyone along the way tells you that you have a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ practice, give a little chuckle and shake it off. I hope you now recognize that your practice doesn’t need to look like anything to anyone else. A person cannot judge another’s practice simply by watching them. 

It certainly took my young self years to learn this lesson, but that’s ok! We’re all different right?

I wish you all the best on your unique yogic journey.

Julia

Julia Crouch - DYWM Teacher
 

Comments

Existing Comments