Yesterday, struggling to keep up with tweets, I was knocked down by this one:
“There is no such thing as an advanced variation. My body can not be more advanced than yours. It's just mine, and yours is yours.”
Whoa. Talk about changing my teaching in three quick sentences.
This came from Michael Taylor, a yogi I've followed for a while. In his profile picture, he’s rocking a pretty awesome pose. I’ve never practiced with him -- I’ve never even met him.
Though I am an active, vocal advocate for yoga for every body, I know I think of variations of poses in an hierarchy. And I know I have refered to them in the context of the hierarchy in my classes. Students who might have been turned off by this: please, please accept my apology.
Interestingly (or obviously, I suppose) I owe this same apology to myself. This hierarchical thinking about the poses has infiltrated my own practice, as well. I can hear myself thinking as I take a “prep” pose that someday, maybe someday, enough practice of the “prep” will lead me to the really cool “advanced” version, as if where I am isn’t good enough or doesn’t count. I’m going to have to turn that tape off -- I know it too well.
Of course, in yoga teacher training, like everyone else, I learned about the beauty of the beginner’s mind. But am I always able to get down with it and love it? Apparently not. It is so easy to be wowed (by others). And so easy to compare (mostly me to whatever is “better”). And even easier to discount (my own practice because it isn’t as awesome as _________). Easier to get my head out of my own practice and out of the moment. So I need to listen to Michael Taylor to pay back my practice the honor it is due. A more advanced practice does not exist. There is only the practice. My pose is just mine, and yours is yours.
Many people, myself included, begin practice with eyes closing and tuning into the breath. This begins to move the gaze -- the attention, really -- inward to what is important. Each of our hearts is the unique crystal of our own practice, the divine essence that we share with everyone and everything. Looking inward keeps our eyes off other people’s mats because it just doesn’t matter what is there.
When I read Michael’s tweet, I immediately thought of how it tied back to so many of the yamas and niyamas, yoga’s ethical guidelines. It speaks to Ahimsa in not thinking violent thoughts towards oneself, to Asteya in not coveting what someone else has, to Santosha in practicing contentment, to Svadhyaya, knowing oneself, and Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to something bigger than oneself. And back to the concept of the beginner’s mind: in the start of each practice, we begin, and we are still beginning at the end. This openness to what is, this willingness to allow the breath to bring us into the pose (whatever version), without judgement, is pure love.
Just as I know my breath is mine and yours is yours, so it is as well with the asanas and all the other elements of the practice. We are not categorized or divided by how we practice, we are united by the very fact that we do it. Thanks for reminding me, Michael.