Whether you’re a millennial who is working toward perfecting your headstand or an elderly adult with osteoarthritis, yoga is good for you. In fact, it’s just as effective as many other forms of exercise for relieving symptoms of health issues such as:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Kidney disease
- Sleep disorders
Perhaps one of the reasons that yoga is so beneficial is that it is a holistic science that addresses physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health. It aims to link the mind and body of the individual and connect people with the greater community.
Improving at yoga parallels your self-development. Yoga is a never-ending path, process, and practice. Although many people set yoga goals, such as perfecting a certain position, the ultimate yoga goal is tuning into the journey itself.
In this article, we discuss how yoga helps you evolve. We’ll talk about creating yoga goals that support your personal, social and spiritual growth so that you can consistently optimize your life and live your ideal reality.
Yoga is More Than a Goal
Yoga is not an exercise to be conquered or a series of poses to be mastered. It is a system that involves meditation, sound frequencies, devotion, and breathwork. Although it is widely practiced for relaxation and health benefits, it’s a spiritual discipline.
The practice has a long history. The philosophy of yoga has been passed down over millennia, resulting in the development of different schools of yoga.
Postures were not a primary element in original yoga traditions. Instead, the practice was founded on a particular philosophy. To understand yoga, you must recognize that consciousness, or energy, can be experienced as tangibly as placing your hand on your pet’s soft fur. Our thoughts, emotions, memories, and dreams are energetic fluctuations that can distract us from our true selves.
Through yoga, we can create a connection between those subtle energies and our bodies. We can learn how to stop identifying with the products of our ego, which are inherently limiting. Through yoga, we expand and connect our energy with the greater universe.
You might say that the goal of yoga is to optimize your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. According to the New York Times, the original purpose of yoga was to increase awareness and raise one’s consciousness while avoiding disease, which is a physical manifestation of blocked or unbalanced energy.
Perhaps the ultimate aim of yoga is to achieve Nirvana, which is the freedom from worldly suffering. But there are various schools of yoga, and each one has distinct beliefs about people’s relationship with the creator.
Today, there’s a rift between those who practice yoga for physical vs. spiritual development. While many people are aware that they feel clearer and calmer after a yoga class, they might practice just to strengthen their core or achieve muscular definition.
Others may latch onto the meditation or less physical aspects of yoga, using it to enhance their spirituality. The Himalayan Institute says that yoga helps us master the art of living.
You can take that to mean whatever resonates with you. Although it’s important to honor the traditions and origins of yoga, you can adapt the practice to your needs.
Setting Goals Based on the 5 Principles of Yoga
Whether you’re embarking on yoga for the first time or expanding your practice, you might want to set some goals. In the next session, we discuss how yoga goals are different than intentions.
Yoga is perhaps one area of life in which it may be preferable to focus on intentions instead of outcomes. In fact, goals are a bit taboo in the yoga world.
However, we’re human, and it has been proven that we’re hardwired to set and accomplish goals. Some of the benefits of establishing yoga goals include:
- Getting a mood-enhancing reward in the form of feel-good neurotransmitters
- Creating the motivation that we need to be consistent
- Helping you create a positive habit
You might want to set your goals surrounding the 5 principles of yoga, which are as follows:
Positive Thinking and Meditation
Meditation is a way to bring your attention to the present without becoming distracted by your thoughts. Some say that meditation allows you to reach a higher state of consciousness.
How can you set goals for your meditation practice? Start with something achievable. Some examples of meditation goals are:
- Find a guided meditation that I like this week
- Turn on relaxing music and meditate for 10 minutes before I get out of bed
- Follow along to a guided meditation before I go to sleep
- Read one chapter in a book on meditation this week
- Meditate for five minutes every day
Practicing meditation independently from yoga can give you the confidence to do it during a yoga session. It increases self-awareness and helps you redirect negative thoughts.
Many people feel like they’re not “good” at meditating. That’s because our minds are always hard at work. We live in a society that values productivity, intelligence and being busy over silence, stillness and rest.
Meditation takes practice. Setting goals for it can dramatically transform your yoga sessions.
How often do you relax during the day? You might put your feet up and watch TV at the end of the night, but this doesn’t still your senses and your mind. Your eyes are busy following the images on the screen. Your brain is trying hard to process what you’re seeing.
You can achieve true relaxation in both the mind and body. For most of us, this only occurs during sleep. Even then, we’re often not freed from worry and anxiety.
A regular meditation practice can help you achieve relaxation. You can incorporate guided meditations that walk you through releasing tension throughout the body.
You can practice relaxation techniques that support your yoga practice, setting goals for those as you progress.
Yoga can serve as a type of exercise. If you have an injury or need to take it easy on your joints, it may be the ideal form of exercise for you. Just remember that not all types of yoga give you a workout.
Setting exercise yoga goals should be fairly straightforward. Some examples include:
- Moving your body in a way that feels good for 10 minutes a day
- Practicing poses that increase your strength and flexibility
- Learning new poses
- Finding a teacher who you connect with and can help you get started
Breathing is natural and necessary for our survival. Yet most people do it reflexively and don’t have any awareness of it. Bringing your attention to your breath allows you to snap into the present moment.
It’s hard to stop your thoughts from going through your head. You often have to replace them with something else. When your mind wanders, focusing on your inhales and exhales can prevent you from becoming completely distracted.
There are many different yoga breathing techniques. They’re designed to connect your energy with your physical body.
Deep breathing also calms the central nervous system, promoting relaxation. You might set some proper breathing goals as follows:
- Learn one new breathing technique a week
- Practice a breathing technique for 3 minutes every morning
- Set a reminder on your phone to focus on your breathing for one minute in the middle of every day
- Practice an easy pose, pairing your breath with the posture
You are what you eat. This saying is especially true in the yogic philosophy. There is a lot of hype about different types of diets out there. Should a yogi be vegan? Should you eat only raw foods?
Ultimately, the best diet is the one that works well for your body. Some ways to ensure that you’re getting the right nutrition is to:
- Eat a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Try to minimize your intake of pesticides and chemicals
- Avoid processed food as much as possible
- Balance your consumption of protein, fat, and carbohydrates
- Pay attention to your energy levels and digestion to determine whether a food doesn’t sit well with you
According to yoga philosophy, a plant-based diet is ideal. Animal protein contains uric acid, which has toxic effects in the body. It’s also an irritant that makes it difficult to achieve a meditative state.
You should also eat foods that are as fresh as possible. Avoid frozen foods and leftovers when possible, and shop for in-season produce.
Finally, the yogic tradition involves practicing nonviolence with your nutrition. Nonviolence involves avoiding food that’s raised with unethical practices and being environmentally conscious.
Of course, you don’t have to adopt any of these measures as part of your nutrition. If you do, you might want to set goals such as:
- Eat only plant-based foods one day a week
- Consume at least two varieties of vegetable with every meal
- Fast from dinner on Sunday to dinner on Monday
- Buy three items from the farmer’s market every weekend
By making small changes, you can create a lifestyle that aligns with your yoga goals.
Goals vs. Intentions in Yoga
If you have ever attended a yoga class, you’ve probably been asked to set an intention before you begin practicing. One of the most powerful reasons to set an intention for your yoga practice is that the action becomes a metaphor for the rest of your life.
What is an Intention?
An intention is a quality or benefit that you’d like to cultivate. You can foster these virtues both on and off the mat. Some traits that you might want to foster as your yoga intention are:
- Inner strength
Intentions like these extend the benefits of your practice to your greater life. When you nurture these qualities on the mat, you take them with you even after you’ve strapped on your sneakers.
Setting an intention for each yoga session also improves your focus. Intentions exist in our mind. When we bring our attention to them, though, we think, speak and act in a way that’s aligned with our desires.
We set intentions all the time. When we pour a glass of water, we intend to drink it or quench our thirst. When we work, we have an intention to feel accomplished or make money.
Many of our intentions are unconscious. But the unconscious mind is the primary driving force behind our behaviors. Bringing awareness to our intentions helps us tune into what we really want and create a life that’s based on our passions.
Setting intentions in yoga allows you to trust yourself. It stops you from running on autopilot—which is essentially operating by your unconscious thoughts or beliefs. Yoga intentions give you the opportunity to craft your experience of the world.
How Are Goals Different Than Intentions?
Yoga goals are a little different. Whereas intentions guide the present moment, goals can be set for the future. Goals allow you to line up your intentions so that they point you down a specific path. Setting yoga goals can help you stay motivated and dedicated to your practice day in and day out instead of just inspiring you in the moment.
Intentions are often private and relate to your inner wisdom. You don’t have to share your intentions with anyone. They’re tied to your unconscious mind, and the experience of intention setting is highly personal.
You can share your goals with the world. In fact, some experts say that you can reach your goals faster by sharing them. Making them public gives you accountability.
Intentions aren’t quantifiable. It’s hard to measure patience or peacefulness. On the other hand, goals should be calculable. They must be clear and articulate.
Intentions usually focus on how you want to feel in the present moment. It’s not about achieving anything or succeeding. Goals can be feeling or process-oriented too. However, goals are often geared toward achieving a particular result or outcome.
Here are some examples of yoga intentions vs. goals:
- Perform crow pose within 3 months (goal); be patient with my progress (intention)
- Do a new yoga pose every week (goal); focus on my inner strength (intention)
- Practice 5 heart-opening asanas during today’s session (goal); open my heart to receiving (intention)
One of the pieces of wisdom that you learn from yoga is the ability to relinquish your attachment to the outcome. You might wonder how you can set goals if you aren’t committed to the idea of them coming true.
Your goals simply provide you with direction. They serve as a way for you to improve your dedication and deepen your practice. They’re not the definitive marker of yoga success.
If you set and follow your intentions, you’re more likely to achieve your goals. That’s because acting from a place of desire helps you achieve what you want.
Think about it this way: what if you measured success by your alignment with your values instead of your accomplishments? You would probably feel more fulfilled and live a more meaningful life.
Of course, you can have both—the success and the integrity—but you need to maintain perspective and make sure that you’re not gauging your self-worth by the goals that you accomplish.
Yoga Goals Can Expand Your Practice
Yoga is never a stagnant practice.
Focus on Your Least Flexible Body Part
Do you avoid certain poses because you’re not flexible or strong enough to perform them? The beauty of yoga is that it’s adaptable and can be altered to suit your skill level, strength and range of motion. However, you will limit yourself if you don’t try to expand your repertoire just because you’re not good at a particular asana right now.
When it’s time to learn a new posture, consider trying one that addresses your tightest muscles or biggest weakness. Don’t worry about perfection. Remember that yoga is about the journey.
To make the goal effective, set a time frame. Perhaps you’ll incorporate the new posture into every other practice session for the next month.
You might also want to look up some yoga poses that help you work up to a more challenging one. Make it a short-term goal to learn one of those each week, and consider extending the deadline of the more challenging asana.
Improve Your Consistency
Perhaps you enjoy yoga, but you haven’t made it a consistent practice yet. You might go to a class once a week or a few times a month. When you’re in the mood, you follow along to a YouTube yoga video.
But you don’t practice yoga consistently. In fact, you’re not sure if you would even call it practicing. If you were learning to play a musical instrument, you would probably practice every day or every other day. You should strive for the same type of consistency with your yoga goals.
You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of time on yoga. You might only work on asanas for five minutes a day. But during those five minutes, you get some quiet time, bring your awareness to your breath, relax and energize your body.
How often should you do yoga? You can look to some of the studies that have been done to determine the best yoga schedule. But your routine may also just depend on your personal preferences and intentions.
In a 2007 study, researchers found that people who practiced yoga once a week for 60 minutes experienced a decrease in stress and anxiety within 10 weeks. For these participants, yoga was just as effective as relaxation exercises in calming them down.
A 2016 study looked at male athletes. The evidence showed that those who did yoga twice a week for 10 weeks improved their flexibility and balance.
Both of these studies indicate that the frequency of practice doesn’t matter as much as the consistency. Setting a goal to do yoga once or twice a week for 10 weeks might be ideal for you.
However, there are some benefits to practicing yoga every day. These include:
- Faster progress in challenging poses
- Learn your limits more quickly
- Potentially reverse bone loss
- Stimulate mood-enhancing chemicals daily and ward off anxiety
- Enhanced self-forgiveness
- Better connection with your body’s rhythms
You don’t have to do a high-intensity routine all the time. In fact, many experts recommend doing different asanas every day to avoid injury and give your muscles time to rest. But you might want to make your practice more consistent, whatever that means for you.
If you have trouble finding the time to practice yoga daily, try working it into your current routine. There are plenty of poses that you can do at your desk. Stretch out your tight hips and shed some of the daily frustrations that you pick up during a day at the office.
Master a Pose
Yoga isn’t just about the poses. DoYouYoga says that asanas only make up one-eighth of a yoga practice. Still, you might be more comfortable moving forward if you feel confident when performing certain asanas. But it can take years to perfect a posture in yoga.
Are there certain asanas that you avoid like the plague simply because you don’t like them? You might begin to enjoy them just by practicing them.
It’s similar to what happens when you hear a new song on the radio. The first time you hear it, you may not like it because it’s unfamiliar. The second time you hear it, you think, “I’ve heard this song before.” The third time, you’re snapping your fingers to the beat, telling yourself, “Cool! I like this song!”
We often dislike anything that’s unfamiliar. However, we often confuse our distaste for change in general with an aversion to the activity in question.
Try setting a goal to practice a pose that you don’t love once a day for a week. If you still hate it at the end of the week, you don’t have to push yourself to keep doing it. But your attitude toward it may change.
If you want to master a pose, you have to remember that at least half the battle has to do with your mindset. In many cases, you don’t need to work on your form or flexibility; you have to focus on being less judgmental or bring your concentration back to your body.
Here are some steps that you can take to master a yoga pose:
- Master preparatory poses.
In many cases, you can work on your mindset, flexibility, and strength in easy poses to build up to a more complicated asana.
For example, here are some basic poses that set the stage for more challenging ones:
- Wheel pose – Shoulder-opening twist, plank pose, sphinx pose, low lunge with backbend, camel pose, bridge pose
- Plow pose – Wind-release pose, bridge pose, both big toe pose, half plow pose
- Crow pose – Cat pose, lizard pose, sleeping eagle pose, warrior III, half boat pose, four-limbed staff pose, reclining crow pose
- Be patient.
Sometimes, practicing the simplest poses is the most effective route to a complicated asana. It is said that Savasana, or corpse pose, is the hardest yoga pose even though it appears to involve little physical effort.
Practicing it gives you a chance to connect your mind and body. It allows you to focus on awareness without judging yourself if your mind wanders. Although you may think that you need to work on your physical strength to perfect a particular pose, it may just be your mind that needs balancing.
Don’t try to skip ahead just to master a pose that looks fun or challenging. That’s like skipping ahead to the end of the book. The whole point is to immerse yourself in the story, not to find out how it ends.
- Be dedicated.
If you’ve set up goals to work on your consistency, you can dedicate yourself to mastering a certain pose. You don’t have to become obsessive, though. Balancing commitment with devotion is important for maintaining a flow in your life, which is what yoga is all about.
- Look at it from another point of view.
Gain some perspective by attending a class taught by a different yoga teacher or trying an entirely different activity. What you learn in a sound healing session or while playing soccer with your teammates may inform what you do on the mat. Allow yourself to see the possibilities. Don’t limit yourself.
- Prepare yourself for a journey.
Even if you end up mastering the pose, you’ll probably realize that perfection was never the goal. Take some time throughout your yoga process to reflect. You might want to keep a yoga journal so that you can keep track of your progress. The most important part of this step is to be observational without being critical.
Some elements that you can record in a journal include:
- Setting an intention at the beginning of class and writing down whether the class helped you realize that intention.
- Writing down the thoughts that were going through your mind
- Noting how you felt before, during and after a session
- Recording any insights that you had
- Observing your breath and energy balance
Having a written record of your journey is helpful to see where your path is taking you, what obstacles might be in the way and how far you’ve come.