How can success in yoga be measured? There were years that I attended yoga classes because that seemed to be the thing to do, but I realized later that I didn’t really get it. I didn’t experience the stillness and relaxation I was needing. I was not successful in yoga because my practices were limited to only sporadic attempts at asana practices where I found myself forgetting to breathe and frustrated with my inflexibility.
I have since learned that yoga’s purpose is to create union in the body, mind and soul to prepare us for self-realization. Its success cannot be measured in the merely physical ways I had once thought in the infancy of my practice.
Here I'll discuss asana, meditation and detachment as fundamental and complementary tools in a successful yoga practice. These three things can naturally work together (or in succession) to create a successful practice that extends to an increased sense of peace in your everyday life.
3 Elements of a Successful Yoga Practice
Through asana practice, we are able to invigorate the body and create space for energy to flow throughout us, purifying and cleansing us. It is the first practice to be undertaken to prepare for self-realization. An individual’s asana practice is how they are also able to connect with their body and breath. Being mindful of the breath during asana practice helps to create an insightful awareness of the outer and inner processes of the body. Once we become fully focused on the breath and movement of our body, we can naturally come into a state of moving meditation where thoughts cease to flow and we become completely present.
(More on why yoga is more than just the physical in Not All Asana: The Eight Limbs of Yoga and What They Mean for Your Practice.)
In meditation, we are learning to accept each moment. We observe the chatter of the mind and watch as limiting beliefs slip away. We learn that each moment is temporary, as are our feelings, thoughts, emotions and desires. Meditation sets the stage for detachment. Before we are capable of detaching, we must first identify the ways in which we are attached. We can look for clues in our emotional reactions to thoughts and situations. We can listen to the narratives that the ego tells itself to strengthen these attachments, and then begin to shift our beliefs to healthier and less attached ones. Some even argue that detachment is a natural byproduct of meditation.
(Turn your desires into a positive tool for self-discovery in this Guided Meditation for Finding Your Life's Purpose.)
My yoga practice has served me in a number of ways. Meditation and asana practice have created a pathway into a state of physical and mental health I never knew to be possible. Yet, I argue that detachment is the most freeing tool available in the yoga toolbox and ultimately the reason why I continuously practice and teach yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita explores attachment in various verses, including this one (verse 3.19):
tasmād asaktaḥ satataḿ
kāryaḿ karma samācara
asakto hy ācaran karma
param āpnoti pūruṣaḥ
"Therefore, only those who act without being attached to the fruits of his action, but as a matter of performing his duty, can attain the Supreme."
It is arguable that you are better prepared to learn how to detach to the fruits of your action through mindful asana and meditation practices, and that learning the art of detachment can be a pathway into magic and happiness. When you can learn to be flexible and comfortable with uncertainty, you allow yourself to open up to the infinite possibilities of the universe. This is where exponential growth and complete revitalization can occur in someone’s life.
In attachment, there can be never-ending problems, jealousy, disappointment and anxiety. In detachment, there can be more openness, healing, opportunities with pleasant surprises, presence, peace and happiness. As the Gita teaches us, it is the only path towards the Supreme or self-realization.
During my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I heard perhaps the most freeing phrase that has since become my mantra and has continuously nurtured my ability to detach in meditation and everyday life.
“I am not my body, and I am not my mind.”
This simple phrase can be meditated upon, syncing with the parts of the breath. It can be said to embody the principles of detachment in their truest sense. Our attachments to our minds, egos and bodies are the most imprisoning attachments we have. And so, detaching from the most “me” things we seem to have in life — our bodies and minds — allows us to detach from all other people and things. From there, we can sink into a sense of simple and blissful being-ness.
Success in Integration
When detachment comes in combination or as a byproduct of asana and meditation practice, we are equipped with tools to disengage from perceiving certain situations as negative or as obstacles. For example, experiencing tightness in the body during asana or a restless mind during meditation can be simply witnessed rather than judged by detaching from our identity with our bodies and minds. And while success in yoga is not something easily measured, it is arguably this knowingness that creates the stillness in the mind necessary to be “successful” in yoga — that is, to experience the sense of union in the body, mind and soul needed to move us further towards self-realization.
(Read on for how to Manifest Success With These 5 Yoga Virtues.)