Friday, June 17, 2011


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.


Kendall (On An Inhale) said...

Wow that gives me a lot to think about esp being in YTT. Have a great weekend!

LulyShahabudin said...

Thanks for this post.I am a new yogini.I go for classes and I noticed other students in my class comparing poses like who can do this n who can't.To me that's not what yoga is all about.when i am on my mat,I dont care about who is beside me.I found ur blog thru twitter..Namaste

Anonymous said...

The power of semantics is really quite strong. Being told that you're rockin' a "beginner's pose" just doesn't seem as rewarding as being told you're rockin' the "advanced" variation. Some days for me, extended side angle makes me feel like I'm on top of the world, and I don't need bird of paradise to give me that feeling. Or bridge pose gives me such a sense of calmness and peace that I don't event WANT to go into wheel.

I think the best yoga teachers are not those who can demonstrate all of the flashiest moves but those who have a strong command over language and can connect with everyone in the room through their words. No Yogi Left Behind! :)

Marianne said...

Such good thoughts.

Jennifer Fields YogaLifeWay said...

Oh wow. You've just changed my teaching now too! Thank you.

nancy said...

sooo true! even the best teachers need reminding. thanks!

Teeg said...

beautiful reminder that sometimes its the simple things that matter most. its the journey not the end result. as my teachers constantly remind me - you do not get a prize for doing an advanced pose. <3