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What are the signs of a successful yoga practice?
If your first response to my question is, “I fit in my clothing from three years ago,” then celebrate (if weight loss was a goal for you), let’s rethink our answer.
In the modern world, we have turned yoga into a fitness regime and body-oriented practice. Between social media photos of yogis on a cliff looking dangerously thin to the fad about practicing yoga while sipping on wine or allowing animals to tread all over you, we have walked away from the true meaning of yoga.
The word “Yoga” means union. It is derived from the Sanskrit root “Yuj,” meaning “to join” or “to yoke” or “to unite.” As per Yogic scriptures, the practice of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness. Yoga can also mean detachment or disentanglement with discernment. The thing we’re disentangling from is whatever stops us from feeling free, as the ultimate goal of any yoga practice is to attain moksha, meaning liberation or freedom.
In Yoga Sutra 1.2, Sage Patanjali defines yoga as, “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha.” It means that yoga is the removal of the fluctuations of the mind. These fluctuations that Patanjali refers to have to do with desires, aversions, attachments, ignorance, and the ego’s sense of “I” and “me” and “mine.” In Patanjali’s eight-limbed (Ashtanga) yoga system, the fifth step or limb is called pratyahara and is defined as “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.”
If we have goats walking over us or a glass of wine nearby that we sip from between asanas, where is the stillness or withdrawal of senses? If we are focused on how we look in the poses, haven’t we created a deeper relationship with ego? I remember that time vividly when I was new to headstands and couldn’t easily get into one. It impacted my self-esteem on some levels. Was I a true yogi if I couldn’t turn my body upside down?
Yoga doesn’t teach us to create self-limiting identity!
I once studied Ayurveda and Yoga with a teacher in Coimbatore, India. It was a gurukul arrangement, meaning I lived with him and his family along with three other people for a defined period. All the students ate together, studied together, and practiced asanas together. It was simple, hearty living. We had basic yoga mats, cotton pants for leggings, and a terrace with the sun scorching. We practiced pranayama, kriyas, asanas, and meditation when it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. We studied Ayurveda on the terrace too. There was no air conditioning or chats around brands of yoga leggings. Every action was to turn inward.
Interestingly, I never once injured myself or fell sick in Coimbatore. If anything, I felt deeply connected to those around me as well as myself. My sleep, digestion, skin, and emotions underwent transformation. I lost weight as a side benefit. Being in that space, I could close my eyes and, for a few minutes, direct my awareness away from the outer world. It’s possible to consciously step away from the contents of your mind, you know, and observe them more or less “objectively,” albeit briefly. My pitta-mind became aware of my triggers and hot button issues. My teacher said to me, “Now you know yoga is working.”
We have all read about the innumerous benefits of yoga practice. Between increasing bone density and flexibility to enhancing heart health, reducing anxiety and insomnia to an array of overall health benefits.
But if you, as an individual, want to know your yoga practice is working (yoga develops inner awareness), look at the list below!
Here are a few signs of a successful yoga practice:
>> Mind becomes calmer
>> Digestion becomes stronger
>> Bowel movements become regular
>> Feeling of true hunger starts to return
>> You feel a sense of lightness
>> Skin starts to glow as the toxins are expelled from the body
>> Body becomes flexible
>> Clarity of mind
>> Higher self-acceptance
>> Sense of healthy detachment
>> You crave yoga if you skip practice
“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; it is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; it cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” ~ Aadil Palkhivala, Fire of Love