I teach a lot of beginners. Like many yoga instructors, I found that studio jobs were really competitive and hard to get as a freshly minted RYT, so I found myself in gyms a lot. Many of my students had never set foot on a mat before, and were unimpressed by my Sanskrit or my sutras. I had been embarrassed that as a teacher I couldn’t do what I thought was “advanced yoga,” like handstands and scorpions. Turned out, it didn’t matter.
My role as a “professional yogi” is to do as much as can to dispel my mystique or any impression that anyone has that I’m posing at some unattainable level. It was a hard thing to reconcile in this world of social media and perfect bodies doing amazing things. I had worked so hard to be able to touch my toes and stand on my hands. Now I had to teach classes where I needed to look good enough to look like I knew what I was doing, but make it look tangible enough as to not be discouraging.
After nearly ten years of yoga practice and four years of teaching, I realized that your stage of practice has very little to do with whether or not you can put your foot behind your head. Asana, or the physical practice of yoga, is just one of the eight limbs of practice. It’s what helps you access the others, but it is by no means the goal.
I do believe that there is a “beginner level” to yoga that requires more guidance and attention, but do you want to know a secret? When I take beginners’ classes, I still find them challenging and rewarding. You will always be working against yourself in yoga—your own body, your own weight, your own monkey mind. Some of us come to yoga as dancers, athletes, martial artists and couch potatoes, and that means we each bring a different level of physical ability. But we all benefit. How is that?
Yoga is the great equalizer. You ever notice that no matter how much you think you sucked at class that day or how great you think you were, everyone finishes class with that same “ahhhhh” feeling in savasana? That’s the point! We move to reach stillness.
So again, what is advanced yoga? It’s not a handstand or a perfect utthita hasta padangustasana. It’s getting on a crowded train and knowing that “this too, shall pass.” It’s only taking what you need at a buffet. Its being grateful for the job and the boss you hate. It’s knowing when to skip the gym and take a nap, or put your phone down because someone in front of you needs you more.
That’s a truly advanced state of mind.