The Joy of Small Progress

One of the most important things I’ve learned since starting a regular yoga practice about a year and a half ago is the power of small movements. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of or desire for the most intense and difficult postures—sinking a millimetre deeper in pigeon pose or your heels a nearly imperceptible amount closer to the floor in downward dog just don’t bring the same adrenaline rush that dropping back into wheel pose or managing your first headstand. Social media does not always help either. The “simple” poses just aren’t as sexy as inversions, backbends, and splits. But they’re equally important, and it’s equally important to notice and acknowledge our progress, however small, in whatever we do, and to recognise that there are different types of progress which are all worthwhile. 

Many people have discussed the negative effects of social media on yoga, and I definitely agree with many of those critiques. I am beyond tired of Instagram yogis preaching truthfulness and honesty then making undisclosed sponsorship posts an hour later. But I love social media’s other impacts on yoga—finding inspiration from more advanced practitioners, participating in “yoga challenges,” and learning tips from teachers around the world. Still, I think one thing that’s sometimes lost, not only on the internet but also in my and probably many folks’ personal practice is the way small progress can enrich your routine. There’s a reason, after all, that yoga is called a “practice.”  

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One of the first times I ever tried wheel pose, a difficult one for me due to a ganglion cyst on my wrist.

In every aspect of life, I am a big fan of setting small, achievable milestone goals on the way to a larger goal. Yoga-wise, one of my New Years resolutions for 2017 was to get my splits; I didn’t achieve that, not even close. I’m not disappointed, but I realise that what I should have done is set smaller goals to work on, from one to another. From X to Y degrees (with Y obviously not being near 180 yet), for example. Reaching these small goals would be a good way to motivate myself to stay on track.

It’s also important to remember that not all achievements are physical. In some poses, such as the final resting pose savasana, there is little opportunity to even make physical progress. There’s not much you can do to improve on lying flat on your back with your arms to your side. And yet there is still progress to be made mentally and emotionally, letting your mind be at ease as you finish your practice. Progress in savasana can’t be seen—even the most experienced yoga teacher can’t tell if your mind is racing or calm while your body is still—but mental progress has a far greater effect on the body than open hamstrings. 

This is true for all fitness-related goals; how you feel about your body is far more important than how your body actually looks. And it’s true throughout our lives—sometimes our goals are indicative of how we want to feel about ourselves, and keeping our mental health in mind while chasing our goals is equally as important as our achievements. 

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An attempt at wheel that came about a month after the above—my arms are straighter and I’m starting (key word) to shift my weight toward them.
As we go into 2018 and think about our goals and our resolutions, we have to remember that small progress is still progress. Sometimes even going backwards is progress, and we must remember to be kind to ourselves whichever direction we find ourselves moving.
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