The Path of Personal Growth

Like “mindfulness” and “spirituality,” the phrase “personal growth” has become a buzzword, so often used that it is in danger of losing its power and significance. As interpreted through the lens of yoga, personal growth is more than a self-improvement project or a resolution to build new habits—it is a gradual and permanent shift in how we relate to ourselves and to the world.

Personal growth involves the development of all aspects of our personhood—relationships with self and with others, a sense of spiritual connection, intellectual and creative evolution, acceptance and nurturing of our physical bodies, and the ability to navigate our changing emotions with compassion and a healthy amount of distance.

If that seems like a long and tough row to hoe, remember that growth in each area propels growth in the others; the parts of our self and our life are inextricably interconnected. One small change creates what positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson describes as a “positive upward spiral”—a reverse domino effect that leads to thriving.

A Lifelong Practice

Remember, too, that the journey of personal growth may have a beginning—a conscious, intentional beginning, at least—but it doesn’t end. It is a lifelong practice. As Kripalu Yoga teacher Coby Kozlowski says, “Practice, practice, practice! Put yourself into the experiment of living: Feel what it’s like to flex that muscle, see what happens, and practice not being too attached to the outcome. That’s how we rewire our brains and get new perspectives on how we see and experience life.”

When it comes to rewiring our brains, meditation and yoga are among the most powerful and accessible tools for growth. Research shows that these practices literally change the brain, enhancing areas associated with well-being and decreasing activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear and reactivity.

Barbara and her team investigated the impact of regular loving-kindness meditation on people’s daily experiences, and found that it increased positive emotions, such as love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. These emotions, in turn, were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships, and good physical health. If you’re looking for a place to start, begin with meditation.

Taking It Off the Mat

In order to truly impact personal growth, what happens on the meditation cushion or the yoga mat must carry over into our interactions with others. “Being in relationship with others, moment to moment, is a deep form of yoga practice,” says yoga researcher and Kripalu presenter Angela Wilson. “To be human is to be connected. Even if we cultivate a largely solitary practice on the mat, we will always bring our relationships with us.”

Relationships become transformative when we stick our necks out, when we’re honest and vulnerable, Angela says. When we do so, there’s no guarantee that things will go the way we want them to—that person may accept your apology, or not; your friend may understand your sensitivity about their comment, or brush you off. “The transformation arises not from the outcome but from being honest, open, and willing to receive and be impacted by what comes from that authenticity,” Angela says.

Small Steps on the Path

Relationship with self is equally vital to the path of personal growth—learning to find stillness within, and to accept and honor who we are. That includes caring for our physical body, with good nourishment, exercise, and loving touch.

“One small shift practiced over time is really the route of transformation,” says Kripalu Lead Nutritionist Annie B. Kay. That could be as simple as getting outside more, taking a few minutes each day to breathe deeply and consciously, connecting with people you love, or incorporating creativity into your routines—whatever that looks like for you. “Being creative means living to our fullest potential,” says best-selling author and Kripalu presenter Julia Cameron. “Everything we do embodies a creative choice.”

On the path of personal growth, self-compassion may be the most essential thing to carry with you. Growth cannot be forced; it comes in waves, moving forward, pulling back, then moving forward again. As in meditation, each breath, each moment, is an opportunity to refocus on being present and aware, and savoring the benefits that come with that awareness. In the words of Swami Kripalu, “Growth can only be gradual. The seed that is sown today does not sprout into a tree the next day. It does so only in the course of time, at its own pace, and by its own order.”

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. To request permission to reprint, please email