How to Progress in Yoga & See Real Change

Have you ever wondered how to progress in yoga and feel real change, physically as well as within, spiritually? Maybe you’ve been going to your mat on and off for quite a while, and even though you love it when you’re doing it, somehow it doesn’t quite take you where you want to go?

Or maybe you never quite get to that moment where you’re completely hooked, and yoga is part of your daily life? Do you feel like you’re on a plateaux or that yoga is just there, but not really yours yet? If you answer yes to any of these questions, or if you’re just not looking for some insights, maybe I can help you.

This post is based on my own personal journey and specific circumstances, observations, feelings opinions etc. We are all different and I know that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, but I hope that maybe my experiences will help you get more out of your practice.

My Yoga Journey

I’m no newcomer to yoga. In fact, I first discovered that I wanted to practise yoga in 2010, and it’s taken me ten years to really find myself in my practice and to really embrace yoga in a wholistic kind of way. And from there, to start experiencing true progress.

Yoga isn’t a destination, it’s a journey, so progress isn’t achieved by reaching for an end goal. But progress is a journey of itself. Mental, spiritual and physical progress; it’s a natural occurence that will happen whenever you do an activity many times, and mindfully.

Yet for 9 years I practised yoga, albeit sporadically, and I gained so much from my practise. In fact I benefitted in almost every way, but my physical practice didn’t really progress.

Disclaimer: everything happens exactly as it should for the moment we are in, as we are exactly where we need to be, so what I have called my ‘lack of progress’ is nothing to regret or feel bad about.

It was a reflection of something within me: my mind, my approach; maybe my limiting beliefs or my needs. I felt extremely thankful to have yoga in my life. But each time I stopped I went backwards, and each time I started, I improved just to the same spot as where I’d been before. Do you know the feeling?

And the reason I’m writing this post is because that is all in the past now. Every day that I practise, and I practise every day now, I make progress, whether it be tangible or not. I am on a moving journey rather than a repetitive loop.

Because yoga is about the journey, not the result, and because I’d read about that so many times, I made a fundamental mistake (for me personally) in my practice: I thought by doing a flow I would automatically progress.

That was my number one false belief throughout the years. There are lots of reasons why you may hit a plateaux and not really see progress in your yoga asanas (poses) but for me, the golden key has been a change in the way I see yoga practise.

Instead of seeing it as a flow which I repeat on a daily basis, I see it as an adventure. Each time I come to the mat, I may do a general flow but I will also do a specific practise to improve a specific asana. This approach isn’t about being unhappy with where I am, rather it’s about embracing the crossing of lines into new territory.

Person doing headstand with a dog next to them
Do yoga alone or with loved ones

And the reason for the change? Well most of it, as with anything, stemmed from a change in my consciousness. I’ve evolved to a new place, mentally, to a place where the soil is fertile and all things yoga are growing. But these changes could have happened earlier if I had been ready and realised what I am now sharing with you.

When I used to practice in the olden days, I found that if I went a day without getting on the mat, it could easily morph into months before I stepped back on the mat again. This was really perplexing because there I was, loving my yoga one minute and then the next, not doing any whatsoever.

I’ve found a way now to make yoga part of my daily life. The trick to changing that aspect of yoga was simply to get so excited by it and by my journey to health that it takes top priority in my day. I embed the thought of yoga in my mind and plan my day so that I can include yoga in it.

And another key factor in my subconscious growth, which acted as a catalyst for me, was seeing my daughter as she took up yoga and quickly progressed through more and more asanas with a kind of natural, all consuming enthusiasm of a young and dedicated person.

The vision was nothing short of inspirational and led me to ask questions about my own approach. Now, I am 53 and I’ve spent most of the last 20 years in a sedentary lifestyle, plus I’m in menopause and have gained weight, so there’s no way I expect to progress at the same rate as an active 25 year old, but having said that, we can all progress and grow strong and flexible, it’s just a matter of unlocking the right blend for you personally.

And that’s exactly where I’m at now, progressing as a false beginner on firm foundations!

Yoga & How the Lockdown Has Helped Me

At the beginning of lockdown I decided to dedicate a part of my day to yoga and took it up in what I thought was a reasonably serious way. Yet after 3 months or so, I pulled a muscle (not in yoga) and took a couple of weeks off to recuperate.

When I came to the mat after a 2 week period I was so weak and so stiff it was like I’d never even set foot on the mat before. And that’s when I decided to take up some mainstream strength and fitness training. I discovered Caroline Girvan on YouTube and took to doing a workout every day.

I have to say that growing strong or changing our bodies in any way does take a lot of time. I’ve been busy for 4 months and I’m a long, long way from where I would expect to be. But I AM progressing!

As well as the strength & fitness training with Caroline Girvan, I do a yoga practise every day and as well as doing a vinyasa flow, I try to find lessons that develop something, teachers who give tips throughout the flow or focus on teaching a specific quality.

As of today I still haven’t had an actual yoga lesson with a real person or even live, via Zoom online, but it’s something I will do soon I guess. And the best thing that I’ve found so far is the platform, Omstars, with Kino MacGregor and others.

Omstars homepage

Before Omstars I joined Grokker, which I wrote about in yoga online with Grokker, and which I really enjoyed. The problem with Grokker was that when I’d exhausted the videos which resonated with me, there were almost no new ones coming in.

Omstars, on the other hand, appears to have live classes every week. I haven’t been able to join the live classes yet because they’re at a time when I’m working, but one day I will get the opportunity and hop on the mat in a live Zoom class.

How to Start Yoga Practice at Home

Practising yoga at home is the perfect way to create a yogi lifestyle and it brings so many positives. You can practise at any time of the day you like and you can do any style or intensity of yoga that takes your fancy at that moment.

What it can’t offer you so well, is feedback. And without feedback, you’re in your own hands! As I haven’t had a lesson yet, I can only suggest that it would speed up your path if you have a few real classes along the way.

So, is there are right and wrong way to start yoga practice at home? Well yes, and no. There is no one right way for everyone but there is a right way for you, to get the most out of your practice in a way that resonates with you the most.

You may have started and found that after a few days/weeks/months from one moment to the next, your yoga practice is forgotten. Or maybe you find that you just don’t seem to progress with your yoga practice.

I already wrote a post on how to learn yoga from home but in this one I want to address the things that slowed me down, and one of those was not committing to daily practise.

Now, I know you might be busy and think that you can’t possibly commit to daily yoga, but if that’s the case, take note that your thoughts are a reflection of your subconscious belief and if you start out believing that you don’t have time, you won’t.

If you change your subconscious belief to yoga is top priority and say to yourself, I will find time, that you’re going to do it no matter what, even if in reality sometimes you can’t actually make the time – you’ll still be aiming at it.

Of course it is possible that you really don’t have any time in your day to do yoga every day and if that’s the case, no problem, just commit to doing the amount of yoga you know you can make time for, and apply the same approach to that. In other words, tell your subconscious that you love yoga so much, you’re going to prioritise it every Saturday and Sunday, for example.

Start with an amount of yoga that’s realistic for your lifestyle and stick at it. The great thing these days is that there are so many amazing courses, classes, and studies for beginners or intermediates out there that you really can find ones to suit your lifestyle, whether you want to be on the mat for an hour or just for a 15 minute flow.

Kino MacGregor has a brilliant 30 day challenge for beginners and the videos are only short, so a perfect way to incorporate yoga into your daily life if you’re just starting out, and if you’re more advanced or on a plateaux like I was, then you can also find plenty of more challenging yoga flows too.

How to Improve Your Yoga Practice

This is the real crux of the matter! How to improve? How to get the most out of your time on the mat? For me, this came about quite naturally, albeit slowly. I mean it took me 10 years to get to this point, where I can truly say that I am a real beginner on a quest in this marvellous lifestyle called yoga.

First of all, I used to practise yoga at home, following free youtube videos. This approach suited me perfectly at the time because I could do yoga whenever I wanted and however I wanted. I could experiment with different teachers and yoga styles.

I was happy. But yoga hadn’t become an integral part of my life yet, it was still an ad-on.

I hit the plateaux; I ran out of videos on Grokker and I left the platform. (I tried a few others too by the way.) Back to square one? Maybe yes, maybe no. I believe I was building the foundations, and as we all know, foundations are essential for the stability of the house above.

And everyone has their own speed, their own pace and their own perfect moment.

So How to Improve Your Yoga Practise?

I’ve found that there are a few essential components:

  • Allow yourself to study specific poses and aim to improve at them. Not for the end result but for the process. This is one of the most important aspects which I hadn’t grasped before. I thought that by repeating a flow enough times I would just get better. But I now believe that it’s better to shine a spotlight on a pose and break it down each day during your practise. For example, you may do a vinyasa flow followed by a workshop on how to do bridge, and repeat that bridge practise every or almost every day that week/month. This way you have variety from your first flow and consistency in your second.
Woman doing warrior one on a rock with sea spray behind
Photo by Chermiti Mohamed on Unsplash
  • Fall in love with yoga – chicken or the egg? Maybe you have to practise yoga before you can fall in love with it, or maybe you have to fall in love with it first! When you do, then you’ll realise that you’ll progress no matter what. And ironically it won’t actually matter whether you progress or not because you’re in love with your practise anyway!
  • Prioritise your time on the mat. I’ve already spoken a lot about this above, so I won’t repeat it here, but I believe that this is a reflection of an important step forward, when yoga really becomes part of you.
  • If you’re having a bad day, or feeling stressed for whatever reason, you may have a negative voice telling you that you’re so rubbish or stiff or whatever. Allow the voice its moment (not much choice there), hear it once and then answer it – that it’s better to be doing this movement stiffly than not at all. And after that, do not enter into more communications with your negative voice. You will find that as time goes on you will hear less and less from your negative side which would pull you down.
  • Remember that yoga is about you and it is your special time of the day. In this way, we can reconnect with being a child again – being and doing something because we can instead of due to a schedule or ulterior motive. With the feeling of liberation comes a feeling of joy and a realisation of what is really important in life.
  • Find a teacher or more who resonates with you. For me, the best platform so far is undoubtably Omstars with Kino MacGregor. There are new videos every week, live classes and more. (Read more about Omstars below.)
  • Choose a challenge and include it in every practise. For example, I decided to take Kino’s journey to handstand challenge. I will repeat each video many times until I feel ready to move on to the next. It’s an excellent way to build excitement, joy and satisfaction.
  • Finally, for me, giving up drinking alcohol (or changing your relationship with alcohol) is also a huge component of success in yoga or any other passion. Before going through this shift of consciousness and divorcing alcohol, part of each day was given to the activity of drinking a glass or two of wine. Only when I became free of that tie could yoga step up into the limelight and really shine as number one in my day.
Screenshot of Kino MacGregor's journey to handstand
Screenshot of Kino’s journey to handstand available on Omstars

Can Yoga Build Muscle?

Yoga can absolutely build muscle. The question is, are you doing yoga in such a way that it will build muscle and is yoga the best way for you personally to build muscle?

I’ve seen enough change in my daughter’s muscle to know that it can be done. But if you’re going through menopause or even peri-menopause, or if you are starting out from a place of being extremely unfit, then maybe you might like to incorporate resistance training into your lifestyle to build muscle faster.

I know for me that my fitness workouts complement my yoga flows. And I’m building strength faster than with yoga alone.

Benefits of Yoga Practice

For me, yoga practice reaches your mind, body and soul like no other exercise can. When I first started out with the weights, I’ll be honest, I thought that yoga was too soft for me. This weight training was more exciting!

But a few months down the line and I know that of the two, yoga is my number one. Yoga leaves your body feeling so alive and it reconnects you with your inner child.

It also brings peace with it through meditation and gratitude. I must say, regardless of physical progress, yoga brings with it such special changes that can’t be described but can be felt.

It’s like a reset button, a fulfilment, an inner peace and an exercise all rolled into one.

Man sitting meditating with mountains and the moon in the background
Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Which Yoga is Best for Me?

Another crucial ingredient to bring about progress in yoga, is trying different styles of yoga until you find one (or more) which you enjoy. Here is a very brief introduction to some of the different styles of yoga.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga basically refers to the physical asanas (poses) of yoga. So when you practise a pose, you are doing hatha yoga. Hatha videos or classes tend to be focussed on the individual poses and are slower than vinasa yoga flows, and therefore suitable for complete beginners.

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga takes the asanas and joins them together to create a flow. Vinyasa yoga is a more moving class, and combines breathing with movement.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga yoga follows the same sequence of movements and asanas each time and connects very strongly to the breath. Vinyasa yoga can also have some Ashtanga influences or flows included but Ashtanga yoga cannot include another style as it never varies from its path.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar yoga focusses on the perfection of each pose. It does not string the poses together as in vinyasa yoga but rather spends longer on each individual pose and continuing to practise it until perfect alignment is reached.

Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is the practice of holding a pose for a longer time. It’s restorative and is great for creating more flexibility. A peaceful practise which emphasis on stretching.

Hot Yoga

Hot yoga was founded and is often referred to as Bikram Yoga but if you Google the founder of this style of yoga you will discover many activities that are not in alignment with the philosophies of yoga. I would never step foot in a Bikram yoga studio, and I’m surprised that people still do.

My Opinion on the Different Types of Yoga

I have enjoyed experimenting with Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Yin yoga. The yoga which I most often practise is vinyasa yoga as it covers so many different options and varieties.

I enjoyed ashtanga yoga when I first came across it, but as I said earlier on in this post, I plateaued and stopped progressing in my yoga ability. I think Ashtanga can be great, but not to do exclusively unless you’re extremely dedicated and fairly strong and flexible. I wouldn’t recommend Ashtanga as a starting place, or for someone who feels they’ve plateaued or for a complete beginner.

Series one of Ashtanga yoga can take years to master and I would advise going for great variety in your practise unless you have an ashtanga master to guide you. At least that has been my experience.

Ashtanga simply remained beyond my reach and therefore lead me to the plateaux of no progress.

Remember, progress is a journey and the journey is our experience!

Love Vegan Living

I haven’t done much yin yoga, mainly because I haven’t come across it so much, but also because I’m attracted to the faster pace of vinyasa. I’d love to do vinyasa in the morning and yin in the evening, and maybe that’s something I will start in the future if I can find a great yin yoga teacher online.

Iyengar yoga doesn’t really appeal to me so much because I want to be relatively free with the poses rather than perfect them. Perfectionism in posture doesn’t resonate with me at all, which is somewhat surprising as I grew up with the name Iyengar in our household.

My mother studied with Iyengar and when he first came to London to give classes, he used to stay in our house. He became a friend of my parents and my mother painted a painting of him. Yet I have never really practised Iyengar yoga, beyond my initial introduction to yoga.

How Yoga Changed My Life

Better read: how yoga is changing my life. Yoga is my companion. It leads me to places within myself which I had never discovered or had forgotten existed. It takes me back to enjoying my inner child.

When I was a child, I used to do things just because I could. As adults we lose that and look for a reason for everything. With yoga we can return to that state of just being.

As adults we no longer skip along just because we feel happy. Nor do we play leap-frog in the garden just for fun. But as we lose that aspect of being a child, we (most of us) also condition ourselves to resigning ourselves to a loss of contact with our physical, spiritual selves.

Yoga can reunite your soul with your body and of course your mind, and that is what it’s doing for me. Yoga brings passion into my life and I hope you get to experience it too.

Please connect in the comments below and feel free to come and follow me on Instagram @loveveganliving

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