The purpose of yoga is to generate harmony of mind, body, spirit and environment. Yoga is not a competition. How then, do we measure our progress in our practice? Blog: Louise Cook-Edwards
Sitting twists, head-stands, balances on one leg, thigh-busting squats, challenging asanas, or postures maintained for several breaths…If you are new to yoga, just looking in on a class can send your pulse racing and bring you out in a sweat.
Practicing yoga will have you literally bending over backwards and, it is only to be expected that newcomers to yoga class will find themselves feeling a little self-conscious and slightly apprehensive about not being able to wrap their unaccustomed limbs into some of the postures or “asanas” so effortlessly demonstrated by the teacher and achieved by the regular yoga students. Professional teachers will always tell students to be gentle on themselves and to just slowly coax the body into position without pushing, straining or injuring…
Intentions of Yoga
While yoga’s aim is to help you find balance and control in your life, in terms of the physical benefits, yoga is such a complete system for enhancing muscle strength, coordination, flexibility, agility and range of motion. Get to know your body’s limitations, and it may surprise you.
Mentally, yoga brings balance, calm and relaxation, while spiritually the practice helps you to break with the habitual and get out of your comfort zone; yoga teachers rarely repeat the same sequences. Yoga brings you in contact with every aspect of yourself, it humbles you, and brings you down to earth. And with the flowing motion of the postures and sequences in class, similarly, yoga helps you to embrace the ups and downs of life. Add to this the huge variety of styles available, Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin Yoga, Iyengar, Hot Yoga and many more, and in Yoga, you will find an immensely valuable tool to enhance your overall vitality and life coping skills.
How to Approach Progress in Yoga
When starting out in yoga, it helps to keep it simple and relish the new sensations. Following are some practical pointers:
– Practice yoga without expectations
– Focus on the breath – the postures exist to challenge the breath
– Still the mind – and when thoughts come, just observe and let them go
– Notice the sensations in your body as you flow through the practice
– Do not compare your ability to get into a posture with other students – some people can get into the lotus position with incredible ease, while others may attempt it for years and never manage it. Remember, yoga is not a competition.
– Enjoy -the stretches, the holds, the focusing of the mind, the sensation during and after the postures, the feelings of satisfaction as you do reach a little further, have more energy, and enjoy the relaxation, and get the most you can out of your time on the yoga mat.
The 4 Levels of Yoga:
While yoga is a totally individual practice and students may progress in some aspects and not in others, here is an idea of how you can gauge your level.
How long does it take to feel comfortable and competent…? Everything is new, the asanas, the mantras, the sensations. Practice two or three times a week – even if you only have 15 or 20 minutes. Beginners may have an erratic routine. Finding the discipline for regular practice is a sign of getting to the next level.
The experienced beginner gets to be more au fait with the postures, the flow of the class, and how to get more out of their time on the mat. As their confidence grows, the experienced beginner will start to get more curious and yearn for more knowledge.
At this level, the yoga student is eager to practice, and much more disciplined about the time spent on the mat. The intermediate student will also be more inclined to experiment with different styles of yoga and to attempt more difficult asanas with determination and patience. At this level, students understand that yoga practice extends off the mat and into daily life. Intermediate students also learn the value of breathing deeply through the postures. The intermediate yogi will also be seeing the benefit of regular meditation.
Here are some signs that you are probably ready to hit the advanced yoga class You feel stronger, especially in the core, you’re smarter on the mat, you trust your inner teacher – yourself, you are open to the new postures, you’re more courageous, and you enjoy the feeling of constantly learning something new.
As you get into your yoga practice, things may come up – and surprise yoga students as they progress:
Shifts that happen with yoga For example, be prepared for tears as suppressed emotions bubble up to the surface through your yoga practice. Also get ready to be sore and stiff until your muscles start to acquiesce to the work they do in class.
Remember, in yoga, it’s not about how your pose looks – but how you feel after the practice. Is the mind calmer, where do you feel the stretch, the limitations…? You will find certain postures more challenging than others. Inversions for example – do they scare you? If so, try them – and get out of your comfort zone! Yoga is about enjoying the journey, and learning about your potential and limitations. It’s about transformation and that can be hard… Ultimately, yoga will give you more health, flexibility, awareness and a bigger heart.
Radiant Yoga Marbella offers a variety of yoga classes in our Marbella studio including Hot Yoga (similar to Bikram, but with more varied sequencing), Yin Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Vinyas Flow Yoga, Anusara Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Therapeutic and Restorative Yoga, Aerial Yoga and Prana Kriya. Radiant Yoga offers Retreats every year and hosted their first Teacher Training in September!
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