Beyond Flexibility: 3 Meaningful Ways to Measure Progress in Your Yoga Practice

© Sol Hot Yoga Studio_Feet

Yoga can be as simple or as complex as you’d like it to be.  From the simplest perspective, yoga is just a workout comprised of a sequence of postures.  Just like the entire sequence, the postures themselves can also range from the simple to the complex.  Beyond the postures, the sequence can also vary in complexity and difficulty, ranging from a few minutes of seated meditation to a 90-minute constant & continuous flow of postures in a room heated over 105 degrees.  Then, layer in the various breathing techniques, and the complexity grows exponentially.

Due to marketing in the Western cultures, thoughts of yoga conjure images of super-fit young ladies who appear to be a hybrid of contortionists & gymnast.  And, as a side-effect, if any thoughts are given to metrics on the yoga mat, flexibility of our bodies is usually the first that comes to mind.  However, persistence & commitment to your yoga practice can yield so many more benefits that might just change your entire state of being human.

Sound like a bold claim?  Read on.

    1. Mental resilience. The word yoga, is literally translated as a “union” or “yoke”.  The practice of yoga is (or should be) designed to integrate your senses with a sense of stillness.  Stillness – an absence of tension & chaos – in the midst of full awareness of the senses.  A mindful yoga practice helps you develop an ability to stay calm when the heat is on.

While you’re practicing on your mat, it’s important to remain aware of the senses.  You see your reflection, you hear the instructor’s voice, you notice the smell of incense & essential oil in the air, you feel how your body moves around your breath, and sometimes you can even taste the sweat as it runs down from your forehead.  You are fully aware of your senses & yet, nevertheless, you remain calm & focused.  You remain resilient in the midst of the struggle.

    1. Healthy habits. One of the benefits of a maintaining a consistent practice is that you have a stable back-drop to begin noticing how other elements of your lifestyle impact your practice.  This is a disadvantage to many other workout routines; such as, high-intensity interval training, cross-fit, etc.  Those routines depend on variance.  Every day is a new WOD (work-out-of-the-day), and you’re encouraged to do AMRAP (as many reps as possible).  These types of workouts can definitely serve a purpose & you probably notice the days you’re running slower, lifting less weight, or doing fewer reps - the surface-level metrics.  However, the degree & intensity of variance makes it difficult to see how other elements of your life might be impacting your performance.  These are the healthy habits that transcend the surface-level metrics.

Like running, cycling, swimming, and other sports with a high degree of focus on proper form and technique, yoga allows you to see progress in your form.  This level of awareness allows you to take a step off the mat & really evaluate your other lifestyle habits.  For example, did you stay up later?  Drink more water, or less?  Eat more red meat, or more veggies?  Asking & answering these questions helps us learn more about our lives beyond our workout regime.  Taking your life to the next level requires mindfulness in all aspects.

    1. Sense of belonging. This third element might not be universal to all yoga practices, but it is something we deliberately focus on at Sol.  It is beyond sweating in a room with a bunch of strangers; and, hopefully, goes beyond deliberate marketing tactics.  The ideal is to provide a place where group of friends, who began as strangers, can unite together & be motivated by the same ideal.  In the Biblical tradition, this is iron sharpening iron.  In the yogic tradition, this is the sangha.  As a military veteran family, this is a familiar concept for us through a career in the special operations community.  There is nothing like it in the corporate sector & it can’t be faked.

When you first begin a yoga practice, or switch a new studio, it’s helpful to start with a beginner’s mind.  You have a conscious, or possibly sub-conscious desire to improve your life, your health, and maybe your mental well-being.  The intention of Sol Hot Yoga Studio is to cultivate your individual intention by providing the right cultural environment.  To us, this enables a sense of belonging, which is very beautiful & very precious.  This is why we describe our members as our Ohana – Family.

This is also why we, respectfully, borrow the greeting Namaste at the end of our class.  Literally translated, it’s a salutation that means “I bow to you.”  It’s hard to describe this word by this translation.  In Matt’s military circles, the closest sentiment was shared by the word “Hooyah”, which has also lost its full meaning through proliferation & use outside of the spec ops communities.  We should apologize to our Indian friends for using this example, but for the sake of translating, a pop culture reference might help.  Perhaps the closest description was provided by the main theme song & iconic phrase from James Cameron’s animated film, Avatar, “I see you.”

This may be a rare sentiment in American culture, and it’s unfortunate we don’t have a comparable English salutation.  Other cultures & languages do use similar phrases; such as Zulu have something similar to Namaste, but yoga didn’t originate in Africa, the military, or Hollywood.  We offer this salutation at the end of class, after the physical work is done.  When you begin to feel this connection with the others who have shared the space (and the struggle) with you, you’ll find the rewards from this sense of connection far exceed the benefits of physical flexibility on your yoga mat.

Whether your sweating it out on your yoga mat, or enjoying time with friends before & after class, we hope you feel a sense of camaraderie.  Sitting close to the others in our studio, practicing close to one another, you can profit from each other’s energy & restore your own balance.  If you’ve practiced with us recently, we hope you’ve enjoyed the benefits of a group class; noticeable when everyone is breathing in unison.  When everyone’s energy & mindfulness is combined with yours, you will be able to take your practice to the next level, a place where you can elevate your state of being.  We hope to see you all on your mat soon, doing what we love, sharing a few brief moments of mindfulness & practicing yoga together.

© Sol Hot Yoga Studio_Namaste