The first time you get on the yoga mat can leave you feeling like yoga isn’t for you. Full disclosure: I hated the first yoga asana practice I did. My mind believed my body to be far more capable than it actually was. However, 16 years later, and I’m still at it. So, what worked?

At first, I thought the best way to know if I was getting good at yoga was to measure how flexible I was becoming. And, because I want to be good at everything, I pushed my body into poses it just wasn’t (and may never be) ready for.

Over time, and with a level of patience from my teachers that I can only dream about, I began to realize that progress in yoga is an ephemeral, movable line. One that usually has nothing to do with how deep I go into a pose.

This post looks at 10 ways you can measure what matters when it comes to understanding how to progress in yoga.

Key Takeaways:

1. Consistency and Mindset:

   – Regular and consistent practice on the yoga mat fosters dedication and discipline.

   – The journey extends beyond physical benefits, emphasizing the development of a growth mindset.

   – Progress is not just about physical postures but also about mastering the subtleties of our inner world.

2. Community and Exploration:

   – Finding a yoga community, teacher, and style that resonates is crucial for a fulfilling yoga journey.

   – Exploration of diverse yoga styles and teachers contributes to a deeper understanding of both physical and philosophical aspects.

   – Personal fit is more important than following popular trends, and social media should not dictate choices.

3. Enhance with Tools and Practices:

   – Integration of yoga props enhances the yoga experience, providing support and aiding alignment.

   – Embracing pranayama (breath control) facilitates both physical and spiritual growth.

   – Investment in a quality yoga mat and its integration into daily life contributes to a consistent and transformative practice.

Skip Ahead To…

1. Consistency is Key

Dedication and discipline emerge as natural byproducts when you endeavor to get on the yoga mat regularly. Committing to even just once a week, at home or at a yoga studio, aids in fostering a deeper connection with how your unique body and mind work. This consistency not only enhances our physical capabilities but also nurtures a more focused and resilient mindset. For me, witnessing the subtle yet profound shifts in my mind reinforces the value of showing up with regularity.

Don’t get me wrong, I did start to use yoga asana as a tool to lose weight and improve my physical flexibility. But, with regular practice, it was the ability to ignore the negative self-talk and develop my growth mindset that proved to be the greatest win so far for me.

PRO TIP: Don’t feel you need to commit to a daily home yoga practice, especially at the beginning. Do what works for your body, your schedule, and your needs. For me, after 16 years, this looks like an asana practice three times a week. Breathwork daily if I can. 

2. Find Your Yoga Community

Finding a yoga teacher, tradition, and studio that resonated with me marked a turning point in my practice. This process demands patience and an open mind as exploring diverse yoga styles and yoga teachers offers unique perspectives and techniques. Each class attended and teacher encountered enriched my understanding of yoga’s vast landscape. This exploration not only broadened my physical abilities but also deepened my connection to yoga’s philosophical underpinnings. Discovering the right fit can feel like a monumental quest, yet it’s a necessary one. As I ventured through various studios and online YouTube sessions, I learned to appreciate the nuances of each practice and how they contribute to my growth. I learned something about yoga and something about myself with each teacher, whether I gelled with them or not. This journey, filled with learning and adaptation, continues to shape my path in yoga.

PRO TIP: Don’t be concerned if you don’t feel like a well-known, even internationally renowned yoga instructor is a good fit for you. We are not for everyone. Someone out there is for you. Ignore social media hype and listen to your own intuition. 

3. Enhance with Yoga Props

Yoga props, including straps, blocks, blankets, and bolsters, offer a dynamic way to deepen and diversify the experience of yoga asanas. By introducing props into your practice, you actively engage targeted muscle groups more effectively while also providing support for both challenging and restorative poses.

For instance, a block can serve as an extension of the arms, making poses like forward folds more accessible, while a bolster supports the body in deep relaxation poses, facilitating a deeper release of tension. These tools not only aid in achieving proper alignment that suits your unique proportions but also ensure a safer practice, reducing the risk of injury. Integrating props into your routine encourages exploration and creativity, allowing you to experience familiar poses in entirely new ways. This approach not only enhances physical flexibility and strength but also nurtures a deeper connection with the body.

PRO TIP: Try not to buy into the myth that props are there purely for beginners. Props are there for everyone, from a first-timer to a seasoned practitioner. 

4. Embody Pranayama

Pranayama stands as a pivotal practice in yoga, facilitating not only physical advancements but significant spiritual growth. This collection of practices, concerned with controlling the breath, invites a deeper connection to our subtle energy systems. I’ve learned through practice that adopting a slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing pattern replaces the shallow breaths that often accompany stress.

This transition did not happen overnight. It demanded persistent effort and mindfulness to alter how I breathe, transforming it into a more natural state over time. Engaging in various pranayama exercises has enabled me to experience a greater connection to my breath during asana practice. This energetic flow paves the way for heightened awareness and a deeper sense of peace, contributing significantly to my daily yoga practice off the mat. Incorporating pranayama into my practice has taught me that progress in yoga is not just about physical postures like downward-facing dogs but also about mastering the subtleties of our inner world.

PRO TIP: Check out Aham Yoga Pranayama Classes for some world class teaching on breathwork and its connection to your asana practice. 

5. Invest in Quality Yoga Mat

Practicing on a high-quality yoga mat fundamentally changes the dynamics of your yoga sessions. I found that having a personal mat, one that suits my needs and preferences, provides a consistent and reliable space for practice. This space becomes sacred, a personal zone where each practice deepens not just physically but also spiritually. Do bear in mind, though, that yoga mats are a relatively new invention. They are not a necessity.

A quality mat offers the right balance of cushioning and grip. This supports proper alignment in various asanas, preventing slips and aiding concentration. For me, investing in a quality yoga mat was a decision that respected my practice and my progress. It marked a commitment to my path in yoga, making every session a step towards a deeper understanding and a stronger, calmer mind.

PRO TIP: You never actually need a yoga mat. Hardwood floors are perfectly OK (and how I practiced for years). Have a blanket handy for insulation during savasana and padding for grumpy knees. 

6. Meditate for Mindfulness

By dedicating time to meditate, you invite a deeper sense of awareness and focus into your practice. Through meditation, you learn to quiet the constant chatter of the mind, leading to enhanced mental well-being. The calmness achieved in meditation does not stay on the mat; it permeates every facet of daily life, reducing stress and improving decision-making and emotional stability. As you integrate meditation into your yoga routine, you’ll notice a transformation. Your mind becomes calmer, your reactions to stress more measured, and your overall sense of well-being significantly uplifted. In essence, meditation is not just an exercise for the mind but a potent tool for personal growth and tranquility.

PRO TIP: Writing can be a form of meditation (actually, anything can). If you like journaling and want to incorporate it into part of your mediation routine, here are some meditation journal prompts to get you going. 

7. Attend Workshops and Events

Attending yoga workshops and events presents an ideal opportunity for participants to immerse themselves in the nuances of yoga that are typically not covered in standard sessions. Workshops often focus on specific elements of yoga, such as specific pose groups, proper alignment, or the integration of yoga philosophy into practice. This specialized attention allows for a more detailed exploration of these areas, fostering a richer understanding and appreciation of the practice as a whole and not just the physical asana practice.

Moreover, yoga events and workshops serve as a gathering point for the yoga community, creating a space where you can connect with a lot of people who share their passion. This sense of community not only enhances social well-being but also provides a support system that motivates and inspires continued growth. Engaging with experienced instructors and fellow yoga enthusiasts can offer fresh perspectives and insights, and renew your commitment to the practice.

PRO TIP: If you’re nervous about joining an in-person workshop, try an online one (even an on-demand one) instead, to get a feel for how they are. 

8. Integrate Yoga into Daily Life

Making yoga an integral part of daily life goes beyond the physical poses and into embodying its philosophy at all times. This practice extends the benefits of yoga, promoting a deeper connection with the yourself and your surroundings.

Engaging in mindful eating is one way to carry the principles of yoga into your routine. By choosing nourishing foods and eating with awareness, you honor your body as a sacred space, just as you do during your yoga practice. Similarly, mindful communication—speaking and listening from the heart—strengthens the connections with those around you, reflecting yoga’s emphasis on unity, truth, and compassion.

Incorporating these practices transforms day-to-day living, making each moment an extension of your yoga practice. This integration accelerates personal growth, paving the way for a life lived with intention.

PRO TIP: The more seamlessly we merge yoga with daily activities, the more profound its impact is in all aspects of our lives. Try researching into the Yamas and Niyamas as a good place to start.

9. Document Your Journey

Keeping a yoga journal offers a unique way to track your progress. This practice allows you to observe growth and change over time. I’ve found that jotting down experiences after each session deepens my connection to my personal practice. You might start by recording the poses you find challenging or noting how your breath flows through different asanas. This practice encourages mindfulness and a focus on personal achievements, however small they might seem. Focusing on the breath also takes the focus away from just how well you think you’re doing the asana. Yoga is not, nor will it ever be, performative. That fact can take a while to sink in, from personal experience.

Journals serve as personalized maps of our yoga journey. They capture our struggles, successes, and insights, transforming them into sources of motivation. Reflecting on past entries, I often discover patterns or breakthrough moments that went unnoticed on the mat. This reflection fosters a sense of accomplishment and propels me forward. Not only does this method highlight areas of improvement, but it also celebrates the journey.

By documenting your yoga journey, you create a tangible reminder of your growth.

PRO TIP: Don’t fork out for an expensive journal just yet. Start with a blank notebook and use these yoga journal prompts to help you get started.

10. Private Classes for Personal Growth

Taking private yoga classes has significantly accelerated my journey towards a deeper understanding and execution of yoga. In these sessions, I receive undivided attention from the instructor, which allows for a personalized practice tailored to my specific needs, goals, and body type. This individual focus helps me work on precise alignment FOR ME in each asana, ensuring that I practice safely while maximizing the benefits.

Another advantage lies in the ability to ask questions and receive immediate feedback, a luxury not always feasible in large group settings. This direct communication aids in clarifying doubts and refining techniques on the spot. Private classes also offer the flexibility to schedule sessions at convenient times, making it easier to maintain a consistent practice amidst a busy life.

The most profound impact, perhaps, lies in the psychological space it creates. In a one-on-one setting, I can explore aspects of yoga beyond physical postures, such as meditation and yogic philosophy, deepening my practice holistically. It’s a space where I can express vulnerabilities and work through them with professional guidance, fostering not just physical strength, but emotional and spiritual growth as well.

PRO TIP: Only opt for private classes when you have found a teacher that you truly resonate with, and with whom you’ve practiced with for a while. If possible, opt for someone who talks about their own experience with their teachers, and who has a clear connection to yoga’s Indian roots. 

Elevate Your Practice: Embark on Your Yoga Journey

I’ve shared insights into elevating your yoga practice, covering everything from embracing consistency to integrating yoga into every aspect of your daily life. This journey is deeply personal and uniquely impactful, promising not just an enhancement of your physical capabilities but a profound transformation of your mental and emotional well-being. Yoga isn’t just about achieving the perfect posture; it’s about the journey towards inner peace, mental clarity, and the discovery of one’s own potential.

Begin with the commitment to practice regularly. Embrace the process of finding your yoga community, the instructors, and fellow practitioners who inspire and challenge you. Use yoga props not as crutches but as tools to deepen your practice, exploring the nuances of each asana with a curious mind. Pranayama, the art of breath control, opens doors to greater energy awareness, while a quality yoga mat acts as the sacred space for this exploration. Meditation further enriches this journey, leading you towards a calmer and more focused mind.

Attending workshops and yoga events, maintaining a yoga journal, and investing in private classes can significantly propel your progress. Each step is an opportunity for growth, learning, and personal development. Remember, yoga extends beyond the mat. Its principles can guide us towards more mindful, compassionate, and balanced lives.

FAQs on How to Progress in Yoga

1. How should I measure progress beyond physical poses?

Embrace holistic progress by focusing on mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. Measure personal development rather than external benchmarks.

2. Can breathwork and meditation contribute to progress in yoga?

Yes! These practices enhance mindfulness, foster inner peace, and contribute significantly to the holistic progress of your yoga journey.

3. Is progress in yoga only about mastering advanced poses?

No, progress encompasses various aspects. Mindful practice, positive mindset, and personal growth are equally crucial elements of a progressive yoga journey.

4. How can challenges contribute to progress in yoga?

Challenges provide opportunities for growth. Embracing difficulties, learning from them, and persisting contribute significantly to your yoga progress.

5. Why keep a yoga journal to track progress?

A journal helps you reflect on personal milestones, challenges, and growth. It’s a valuable tool for staying mindful and celebrating your unique journey.