Recently I was involved in a discussion with a couple of students about how much they had ‘progressed’ recently in their yoga practice.  One student was really pleased because she had been going to a class that had improved her flexibility greatly and the other was at a loss because she didn’t particularly have any sense of ‘achievement’ over the last few years, even though she had been attending classes regularly. This got me thinking about how we perceive ‘progress’ and ‘achievement’ in the context of yoga…

Whilst the practice of yoga asanas is a physical practice, what is important in the physical context is not really how flexible we get but rather how we meet resistance in our bodies.  Of course, we all inhabit different bodies and have different points at which we meet resistance – some of us can do the splits easily, for others simply coming into a forward bend is challenging.  It is how we meet this resistance that matters – whether we can feel, accept and find a way to work with it rather than ignoring it or simply working around it, whilst possibly causing more harm than good in the body.

Some bodies are very stiff and experience a lot of resistance – for these students there may be fewer external signs of ‘achievement’ and they may never progress to doing advanced postures such as a headstand or a full backbend, however internally they may experience and ‘achieve’ far more than a super flexible student, simply by learning how to work with their resistance and engage with their breath.  On the other hand, for the more flexible student there is less opportunity to meet with resistance in the body and they may even have to work more on creating some resistance or learning to experience containment within the physical practice.

So, being really flexible or able to do advanced postures is not really a sign of progress (although of course we may perceive this as a ‘bonus’).  The real measure of ‘progress’ in yoga is how we are able to meet resistance in our practice.  Once we are able to deal with (not necessarily overcome) physical resistance within our bodies on the yoga mat, it may also help us in our day-to-day lives off the mat, to deal with other forms of resistance.  Basically progress is understanding how to take a deep breath, make space to observe and feel what is happening in order to find the best way to respond (or not) to any kind of resistance that we meet.