Yoga is a complex body-mind practice, and every experience is different. Is it even possible to measure if you’re getting better at it? And is there only one direction to go or can you progress in multiple ways?
Measuring progress through various tests is an important part of your practice because it helps you set achievable goals, makes it easier for you to improve, and makes you more motivated. These tests should be well-suited to your needs and performed at regular intervals – just like with anything else, consistency is key to progress.
Yoga works with your body, making it stronger and more pliable, and with your mind, making it calmer and more resilient. You probably came to Yoga for one reason or another, and perhaps noticed other benefits along the way. Of course, achieving the super-difficult pose you’ve dreamed of is a success but it’s not the only way to track your progress in Yoga.
As you might know from your athletic training, doing the same workout over and over again might make you really good at doing just that but won’t push you any further. It’s the same in Yoga – gradually increasing the repetitions, holds and range of motion is essential to improvement. But how would you know if you’re getting better without having the means to track how you’re doing? Here, we bring you the tools to do just that.
How to track your progress in Yoga
Yoga practice improves your functional strength and trains muscles that may not get much attention otherwise. You use different movement patterns in Yoga, balance a lot and repeat certain moves. You know if you’re getting stronger because you can simply perform poses or transitions you couldn’t do before. But that’s not where it ends!
Measuring your strength progress in Yoga can also be done through timing how long you can hold a pose, such as plank – that’s what we use in our new Athlete Assessment app feature. We focus on plank as it gives you excellent feedback on your core strength. And a strong core is key to virtually all movements as it stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction as well as having proper balance. Core strength supports good posture, prevents back pain, enables you to move both upper and lower body with control, and makes it possible for you to do arm balances, and other advanced poses. You cannot really progress in Yoga or athletic training without a strong core.
Either set a timer or count your breaths and aim at steadily increasing the length of the hold. In positions where you perform repeated movements, counting the repetitions is an excellent tracking tool – or you can alternate repetitions with longer holds. Either way, this type of progress in Yoga is easy to follow and feel good about!
- Flexibility and mobility
This is probably the most obvious way to track your progress. Most of us turn to Yoga with the idea of increasing our mobility, and it certainly works. However, while you may have imagined that perhaps just a bit of stretching will transform you into a contortionist, the reality is a little different.
Different bodies have different limits, and it’s sensible to respect them – it’s not uncommon to rip a muscle or a tendon in Yoga practice if you ignore warning signals! Work with your body, measure your own progress, and ignore super-bendy Yoga gymnasts on Instagram.
The best strategy is consistency – if you practice Yoga a few times a week, you’re on the best path to improvement. In some positions, such as forward folds, tracking how far you can reach with your hands is a good way to measure your progress in Yoga – check out our Athlete Assessment app feature. In other positions, it may be that your spine, muscles and tendons allow you to bend more backwards, sideways or twist. Or that you can finally join your hands in a position that requires binding.
For Athletes, certain areas take longer to become more flexible or for your muscles to allow a greater range of motion to your joints. Hips, hamstrings and quads tend to be super-tight so you may not be able to do even some beginner Yoga stuff but over time, you’ll improve through regular practice – and it’ll feel that much better because you’ll know how far you’ve come! These large muscle groups are usually strong in active people as they move us about and stabilize our movements but they don’t get stretched a lot unless you specifically focus on them. Add to it that the whole posterior chain – from the back of your neck and shoulders, through middle and lower back, to your hamstrings and calves – suffers when we do sedentary work. Sitting for hours weakens some of the muscles (glutes, spine erectors), yet puts strain on others (hip flexors, trapezius), and the result is loss of mobility, back pain and other issues. Luckily, Yoga can help remedy these problems but it’s also good to be mindful of your posture at work, and get up and move around at regular intervals.
- Alignment and execution
With some yoga poses, it’s easy to see if you’re getting better – for example you can balance better, you can perform the full pose instead of preparatory stages, or you can simply reach further than before. It works as excellent motivation but sometimes we focus too much on the end result and forget about the rest of the body.
You can reach your toes with your back totally hunched and almost tearing your hamstrings because your ego just wants to finally get you there. Or, you reach your toes with your spine long, your head in alignment with your back and your shoulders open. The latter may take longer but it’s better quality progress, leading to more effective practice.
If you can’t do a certain pose, start with a simplified version – if you can’t do cobra, don’t try to break your back by forcing it, just lift your chest a little, and next time a little more. Once you’ve mastered cobra, move on to upward facing dog, or the progression from plank, down through chaturanga, to upward facing dog. In other poses, such as forward folds where you try to reach your toes, use a prop – a strap or block. Over time, you won’t need them and that’s a sure sign of progress!
Almost any pose in Yoga can be simplified or modified so you can start with one variation, move on to the next, achieve the full pose, and then even make it harder if you wish. This kind of progress is easy to track and very satisfying.
It’s also a good idea to check your form by recording yourself practicing every couple of weeks or so. If you do it too often, you may fall into the ego trap where you forget about the actual practice and focus more on how you look. You may look amazing flowing between Yoga poses, however, this visual check should mostly serve as a tool to assess if your form and alignment are as they should be or need some adjustments. You’ll be surprised at what you discover – you may need to redefine your idea of straight arms or knee over-the-ankle alignment.
If you’re tempted to practice in front of a mirror, you’d better reconsider. A mirror is a constant distraction, making you less focused, and teasing your vanity, so you keep looking even when you don’t need to. The occasional recording is a smarter strategy!
- Mindfulness and mental health
During your Yoga practice, you focus on your movement, breath, and staying present – being mindful. At the beginning and end of the practice, you typically also breathe deeply and slowly, working on your parasympathetic nervous system (that’s the chill one). All this works wonders because it lowers your stress hormone levels, decreases anxiety, and makes you better able to handle stressful situations.
Also read: Mindfulness in Yoga and Athletic Training
As you progress in your Yoga practice, you’ll probably notice you’re better at staying present during your training, your mind running away less, and that you can focus better in general. This is also reflected in your ability to synchronize breathing and movement in Yoga. And being more mindful has another benefit – it makes you better able to work with your body, reading your own body’s signals. There’s no point in pushing yourself to the limit all the time, getting stronger but feeling miserable. Yoga helps you achieve a better balance – making you physically stronger and more flexible, and at the same time able to focus and calm your mind. Mental and physical health affect each other so by working on both at the same time, Yoga improves your wellbeing more than you may have thought.
Another sign of progress is in how easily you get upset or angry, or how well you keep your composure in a challenging situation. You can keep count of how many times a day you lose your cool. Over time, the number should be going down.
You might also make a note on how you’re feeling every day at the same time – one simple line is enough. And while you’re at it, also note how you slept – how many hours and if you woke up a lot. It can help provide a useful insight into your mental wellbeing.
Our Athlete Assessment app feature helps you test and track your mental wellbeing, too. It’s a handy tool to check up on yourself and take notice of how you’re doing.
How to work on your progress
To achieve any kind of improvement, consistency is a must. Regular Yoga practice three times a week is an ideal scenario in which you can progress but also have time for your other training and work-life balance.
Being motivated and excited to see improvements is great but don’t push your body to the point of injury. An inherent part of Yoga practice is learning how to work with yourself – some days, it won’t be about increasing the length of the hold or repetitions, but about better alignment and balance – and all that is progress!
To help you track how well you’re doing, we’ve developed an original app feature:
The fundamentals of good health and high athletic performance are a strong core, a large range of motion and a calm mind. That’s why the Athlete Assessment feature is made up of three scientific tests to assess your mental well-being, flexibility and core strength, and combine all three in one single measure: Your Athlete Score. Taking regular assessments will help you monitor your progress towards your goals and help you stay on track with your training.
- Mental Well-Being
The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing scale was developed by a panel of experts to facilitate the monitoring of mental wellbeing. It consists of 14 questions and covers key aspects of psychological functioning and positive effects (feelings) to evaluate improvements in mental health.
The sit and reach test is a common measure of flexibility, and specifically measures the flexibility of the lower back and hamstring muscles. This test is important because tightness in this area is implicated in lumbar lordosis, forward pelvic tilt and lower back pain.
The plank test measures the control and endurance of the core stabilizing muscles, and can also be used as a fitness exercise for improving core strength. Core strength is less about power and more about the subtleties of being able to maintain the ideal posture – to unload the joints and promote ease of movement.
For each test you’ll receive an individual score, which then will be combined to calculate your Athlete Score, a measure of health and readiness to perform at a high level. Try it out now!