Adding Measurable Gains to Your Daily Yoga Practice
Committing to a daily yoga practice can be an uphill endeavor for many. Whether you’re in daily attendance for class at the studio or you’ve used our “5 Keys to Developing Home Practice” to develop a steady routine, the threat of stagnation always looms. So how do we stay inspired?
Measurable Gains for Actualized Progress:
Internally we are all competitive, or at least ambitious, in striving to create the optimal version of ourselves and our lives. We do yoga because mentally, physically or spiritually it seems a path to self-improvement. If you suffer from extreme circumstances – debilitating muscular tightness, serious injury, shortness of breath or respiratory disorders – the benefits of yoga and improvement from daily practice can be obvious. But if you’re already a regular practitioner, those improvements and victories of progress can seem fewer and far between. If we take time, observe and create opportunities for success, you’ll realize growth every time you unroll your mat.
While it’s hard to quantify spiritual gains and mental wellness, here are a few methods to incorporate into your daily practice to measure physical improvement.
Long Holds – Select a pose and have a timer ready, such as the stopwatch utility built into most smart phones. If you don’t have a smartphone or access to a reliable timer, simply count to yourself using a consistent tempo like the classic “one-Mississippi.” There are two methods to strength long holds:
Max Out – Start your stopwatch (counting up) and hold the selected pose for as long as you can maintain proper alignment (remember never push to the point of significant pain or injury). When you need to release, stop your timer. Save your results in your phone or a training log/notebook, and in a day, a week, or a month return to this posture with the goal of surpassing your previously recorded time.
Create a goal time to hold your selected pose, for example a 2-minute long hold, and set your timer to reflect that. Start your timer (counting down) and hold the pose for the length of the timer or until you lose good form. If you achieve your desired time, record it and in your next attempt up the duration of the hold. If you’re unable to achieve your goal time, continue training toward this time, or if it seems far off set a more reasonable goal time to begin the process. Remember, above all we’re creating opportunities for success.
Either of these long hold measurements can be applied to our yoga practice in four ways:
Strength Holds – Select poses that build strength and challenge you physically such as extended or forearm plank, half boat, handstand, or warrior poses.
Balance Holds – Select poses that require an element of balance like tree, dancer, half moon, or eagle.
Deep Stretch Holds – Select poses that are at the edge of your flexibility such as half or full split, bridge or wheel, bound angle or pigeon.
Just as you can measure time, you can measure repetitions. Similar to the idea of long holds, you can either set a goal time or try to max out. This can be as basic as seeing how many times you can flow from left-side plank to right-side plank without losing balance or something more subtle like seeing how many times you can alternate down dog leg lifts without losing focus.
Repetitions benefit our goal setting, but they also give us an opportunity to practice our sequencing. Create a simple sequence of 3-5 poses that link together fluidly e.g. standing mountain, forward fold, half lift/half fold. Once you’ve set your sequence, repeat it and count your repetitions until you’ve achieved your goal or reached your max. Try creating and measuring a variety of sequences and overtime you’ll have an extensive repertoire for your flow practice. And as always, don’t forget your breath.
Breath Measurement Exercises:
Breath retention (holding in) and expulsion (holding out) is a vital part of our yoga practice. Aside from being a tool for measurement, retention and expulsion practices are a subtle stretch for the intercostals and surrounding musculature of the ribs, helping to maintain a nimble rib cage and even benefit spinal health.
The Bean Jar:
Begin with a container of beans or some similar type of small object. Also, have an empty jar, glass is preferred, but any readily available container works. use the beans as a visual marker of progress, and a constant reminder for inspiration. Set your count to the number of times you’ve practiced that month, number of classes you’ve attend, or for your upcoming Pilgrimage 14-day challenge. A bean jar can also be a great way to keep track of your 108 sun salutation practice during seasonal changes. If you achieve your goal, reward yourself and indulge in that piece of pizza you’d be holding off on, or just give yourself a psychological pat on the back.