tape measure

In my opinion the greatest challenge facing the modern yogi is the eternal wrestle of attending classes to improve your yoga poses, whilst at the same time being told they need to be detached from the need to achieve the external form of these postures...

Sounds like an impossible marriage doesn’t it? I mean seriously, in a world where yoga is advertised by bendy-doll ex-dancer models, how can any normal person be expected, in the middle of a posture led yoga class, with the teacher issuing alignment cues, and the new girl in front of you doing the ‘perfect’ version of a pose you have worked on for years, to let go of any attachment to the external form of the pose?

Any yoga student who says they haven’t been there is either self-deluded or lying; it’s a real problem of epidemic proportions. But we inevitably require a measure for our progress, so what can we use?

Starting yoga for the first time is usually the worst time because inevitably we compare ourselves to others who are more flexible, or more "advanced" in their yoga postures, getting trapped in the belief that the external forms of the practice are the goal. From a very young age many of us in the west are exposed to situations where we erroneously come to believe that ‘doing’ and achieving is more valuable than allowing our inner light to shine purely by ‘being’.

In some ways this is actually an extremely good thing since it gets us off the sofa and out into the world so that we can actually experience the challenge and struggle of real relationship (which is a core aspect of all authentic yoga practice), rather than isolate ourselves away from the world.

The down side, however is that placing so much importance on what we achieve and being better than those around us inevitably leads us to judge and dismiss anything that falls outside these narrow parameters. And as we continue to compare ourselves to this idealised image or standard, our inner sense of worth becomes derived solely from the attainment of certain goals and from ‘being’ a certain specific way. This leaves virtually no value placed on just ‘being’ and is at the heart of the epidemic of unhappiness and dissatisfaction that runs through our western societies. 

Consequently some forms of yoga (Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga being one) attract students who want to collect ‘advanced’ yoga poses like ornaments for an improved self-image. Yet all this serves to do is build a superficial sense of self; a fragile ego that requires constant attention to maintain and satisfy.

Uncovering and valuing the true measure of a successful yoga practice takes a huge paradigm shift from our current western mind set, making this a difficult trap to escape from. Inner stability, an awakened sense of self, personal contentment, an evolved experience of relationship, or simply feeling better that you used to about yourself and your life - any of these represent markers of clear ‘success’ within our yoga practice, but they are far more difficult to quantify and evaluate than simple physical prowess.

So success in yoga is measured on internal progress not external progress. Outward gymnastic feats do not constitute evidence of a balanced inner world or a balanced life. The real evidence shows up in our relationships and how we act and react during times of challenge. Of course the key relationship is the one we have with our self, has yoga significantly improved that? Does your life feel easier? Are you happier, calmer, and more centred? Do you suffer less stress and anxiety?

The yardstick for a successful yoga practice can be whatever you want it to be so long as it involves an evolution of your inner being through a process that continues to dismantle the limiting beliefs that underpin your false self (ego). But one thing it is definitely is not is weather you can do a handstand or the spits!!

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