What if I told you that an ‘advanced’ yoga asana practice has nothing to do with how deep you go into a stretch or how acrobatic your poses are? To be honest, I actually don’t like the idea of calling an asana class ‘advanced’ because I feel that it can (mis)lead yoga students towards achieving something instead of encouraging them to know and respect their bodies.
As a Yoga teacher, I experience resistance from certain students to modify poses when I suggest it, even when I keep repeating that the most important is to keep the body safe, and that the body needs to be at ease in order to maintain an even rhythm of breath. It seems to me that some of them even feel ashamed when I suggest that they rather sit on a chair than on the floor. Why is there shame connected to the limits of our bodies?
In the yoga asana practice the most important is the mindset we have while practicing than what kind of poses we do. The yoga asana practice can be such a powerful tool to keep the body healthy by balancing between stability (strength) and mobility (flexibility), and learning to keep a deep and even rhythm of breath. We use the breath to calm the mind and the nervous system so we can bring our attention to the body as we move in and out of poses.
It isn’t the complexity of the pose that makes the practice powerful, it is the attention we pay to the body and the breath. I would argue that an ‘advanced’ yogi is the one that knows and respects his/her body and patiently practices with the goal of moving at ease in everyday life and, ideally, to be able to sit in meditation with the same ease.
There are several problems I see with the pursuit of complex poses, or what we often call an ‘advanced’ practice. Instead of cultivating a calmer state of mind, we stress the body and the mind by constantly pushing ourselves to achieve that pose that we think will bring some sort of satisfaction. In this pursuit we can get lost in ego and in the worst case senario hurt our body. What happens when our body can’t achieve that specific pose we want to achieve, or when with age, we loose some flexibility and/or strength? Are we then ‘less’ yogis?
We live in times where we are so used to put pressure on ourselves in almost all aspects of our life. It is so difficult to be content with what we have and where we are without having the feeling that we should be aiming for more. We are constantly wanting to improve, to get more, to achieve more. But how much is enough? If we bring this mindset to the yoga mat, we are not doing anything to help us improve our lifestyle, we are just bringing our stress, doubts and worries to the mat and nothing changes.
Lastly, I would argue that an advanced yogi is the one that little by little starts establishing his/her own practice. The role of the teacher is to guide, but at the end of the day, the advanced yogi knows his/her body and mind so well, that he/she is able to choose what is right for him/her.
So next time you’re in a yoga class and the teacher hands you a block, accept it with curiosity and see what it does to your body in that specific pose. 🙂