Yoga is an individual practice, and we all begin our Yoga journey at different spots. It is easy in athletic pursuits like Tennis, Climbing, Swimming & Running to mark your development. Progress is not so easily measured in Yoga. The question becomes: How do I know if I am improving if I can’t easily mark my progress with a physical measure?
In the West, we are attached to labeling our level of ability. We are taught to go for the gold, and we are encouraged to be competitive with our bodies. Exercise regimes like CrossFit play to the desire of many to see how much they can lift, because the visual representation of 180lbs on a barbell communicates a form of measurable improvement to their brain. Similarly competitions like the Tough Mudder & Spartan Race offer easily measured results for those who chose to participate, a contestant either finishes the obstacle course or they do not.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that the practice of Asana is intended to be a prescriptive one (i.e. a practice that is tailored to the needs of the individual). Additionally it is important to note that every human has a different skeletal structure, which could result in an inability to practice certain postures. While it is tempting to choose to mark your progress through the accomplishment of a seemingly difficult posture, that could be dangerous and is not advisable
In the West we are taught to ‘push it’ & ‘leave it all on the field’, however this mentality can lead to forcing the body to do what the mind wants which can result in injury. Yoga encourages quieting the mind so that it can listen to what the body wants to do. This type of internal listening is counter-intuitive for Americans during exercise.
I came to Yoga as a former Collegiate Varsity Athlete with a wrist injury. At that time, I still believed that exercise needed to be fast paced, sweaty and required an almost dizzying rapid heart rate. Initially as a result of my wrist injury, even basic poses like Table were challenging for me, it was infuriating. I thought to myself, “I don’t know if Yoga is for me. I am just going to get more pissed off when I go to class because I can’t put any weight on my wrist.” Quickly I realized that I had to release my subconscious desire to measure my progress by my ability to do a Hand Stand.
As soon as I began to let go of the need to have a visual physical representation of my progress I allowed my self to cultivate internal listening.
The exercise of quieting the mind cultivates our ability to listen internally. The world we live in is full of sensory information and the mind is easily distracted. The mind is programmed to examine available options, eliminate some choices and make a selection. The challenge in quieting the mind comes from embracing a no mind state. A no mind state is one in which the individual is simply present and is not reflecting on choices made or to be made.
The truth is that mind is the most difficult muscle to exercise. However, in yoga the progress of the mind is the more accurate measure of progress than the achievement a particular pose. I challenge you to begin to notice how well you can quiet your mind and listen internally. The next time you take to your Yoga mat let you body tell your mind what to do, and let your ability to listen be your indicator of progress.