The majority of yoga is an inner journey, one that cannot be measured by working your way through an asana checklist.
The visual images of yoga are stunning and inspirational. Sun Salutations perfectly performed can take the breath away and Salabhasna (locust pose) fully expressed can evoke a sense of awe. It would be easy, then, to assume that skill-in-asana is an appropriate measure of how well your yoga practice is serving you, but it is an inner journey. Here are a few other means that go beyond flexibility and strength, to help you measure the effect your yoga practice is having on your life.
1. Relationship with others.
Look at your relationships with others: your spouse or partner, children, parents, family, friends, boss, and co-workers. Do you experience more patience? Is it easier to forgive? Is there increased honesty and authenticity in your conversations? At the beginning of your yoga journey, circumstances between you and others may not seem all that different. Eventually, however, the little things that you do, such as thanking others more often and gossiping less, start to shift how you feel in relationship to the other person. They are not just the boss who won’t give you a raise or the friend who is never on time, they become a mirror for yourself and your own actions. You begin to see you in them. If something about that person really bothers you, instead of immediately blaming them, you develop a habit of looking inside yourself and your own reaction. This creates an even deeper understanding of our own vulnerabilities and behaviors and eventually leads us to feel compassion and a deeper sense of connectedness. At deeper levels this grows into seva, or service to others, and the desire to help people.
2. Improved health.
How do you feel after a class? Alive? More present? Spent? Beat-up? How do you feel four hours after class? What about eight hours later? Look at the long-lasting, long-term feelings of health and vitality. Have you seen the videos and photos of 80-year-old yogis? They’re smiling! Why? They feel great! How do you feel? Do you sleep well? Do you have enough energy to accomplish what you want to do each day? Do feel okay after eating? You are cultivating awareness around how daily choices—both small and large—effect how you feel. Even if you are not practicing vegetarianism or eating a purely sattvic diet, you’re likely eating healthier. Equally important, you may begin to notice the negative effects of processed foods, not drinking enough water, decreased sleep, or increased stress. If you don’t feel well and your practice suffers, you suffer. The consequences of not practicing become a major motivation for you to make better choices and ensure that you do get on the mat or the meditation cushion—or better yet, both.
3. Steady as you go.
It’s not like life’s obstacles go away completely as you practice more yoga. Even with a regular practice you still experience your share of rough days, tragedy and heartbreak. Your practice, however, has equipped you with some pretty good strategies for dealing with the tough stuff. For one, you’ve created more stability in your life. Maybe that is in the form of your practice or in your support system. Either way, as your practice continues, you’ll likely find that the bumps become more infrequent and less earth shattering. It’s even possible—though maybe not right away—to see life’s challenges as potential tools for growth or healing. Perhaps you’ve become aware of negative samskaras, or tendencies in your life. You are working to change behaviors and beliefs that no longer serve you. You’ve practiced pausing and inner listening before making a decision. When you do know what to do, you act with confidence, clarity and wisdom.
4. A growing sense of purpose.
You’ve realized that you are here for something special. Something only you can accomplish. If you haven’t figured out yet what that is, you are on the path to doing so. Either way, you feel a sense of excitement. This is dharma, your unique purpose in this lifetime. Do you feel connected to a special purpose? Do you have a sense of consciously moving forward? Do you feel fulfilled? Eventually you realize what an amazing and rare gift this life is and develop a growing determination that you will not waste a single minute of it.
Take some time to measure your practice against how it is affecting these areas in your life. If you find that there’s been no change whatsoever, it may be time to try something different, incorporate another practice or look deeper into your current one.