A few years ago, I was approached by a photographer who wanted to work with me. In preparation for our shoot, I was presented with a portfolio of postures to consider. As I swiped through my options, I had no choice but to respond with, “Nope, can’t do that one. And, nope, can’t do that one either.” They were all beyond my physical capabilities. Splits, full Vrischikasana with the toes touching the head (look it up), and I can’t even remember what else. We ended up shooting standing poses. I’m not sure if I disappointed the photographer, but it was clear that my practice didn’t live up to expectations.
I think it’s fair to say that there’s a wide range of perspectives on what constitutes an advanced yoga practice. One need only spend just a little time on social media to theorize that, for some, there appears to be great value in impressive feats of acrobatics and extreme ranges of motion. I’m not here to judge; there are many doors into the Self. I do, however, question how these metrics ultimately influence the way we approach a yoga practice.
My personal practice is pretty basic. I continue to learn that just because something looks simple doesn’t mean it’s actually simple. It sure as hell doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, I think basic is really, really hard. I like to explore fancy poses sometimes because they can be fun and because they challenge me in a lot of useful ways—but I always find myself going back to the fundamentals. Truth be told, I haven’t really been able to get past the mind-boggling complexity of Virabharasana 2.
The more I practice, the more interested I am in rediscovering what I thought I knew. In fact, I’m mesmerized by the infinite unfolding of the postures. I feel like a beginner every single time I come into Trikonasana. I could write a thesis on Trikonasana—the anatomy, the biomechanics, the alignment, the energy—and still, most of the time, I feel like I have no idea what’s going on in the pose. It’s just like, Wow! Every. Single. Time.
To me, being an advanced practitioner has less to do with what you’re doing and more to do with how and why you’re doing it. It’s not about the pose, but the experience you’re having in the pose. The attention of a mature practitioner is sensitive. And while experience can allow for a broader landscape of awareness, in my opinion, it’s the quality of attention in the moment that determines the level of sophistication with which one practices.
One of the obstacles I face in the classroom is what I can only describe as chronic finality. I see a lot of folks who seem anxious to “do” a pose only to then appear equally anxious to get on with it. Every once in a while I get overwhelmed as a teacher by the lack of inquiry, but, while I’ve learned how to leave strategic breadcrumbs, experience has taught me that depth cannot be sold; it can only be revealed when the student is ready. We all have our own divine timing—different seasons, circumstances, and experiences that affect how and when we discover the depths of our practice, but really, the depths of who we are.
Being advanced isn’t about curating a portfolio of impressive postures, or in the achievement of a bigger, better practice. Being advanced is an attitude, a spirit, a state of mind. It’s a willingness to be vulnerable—to see honestly the cause and effect of our actions in real time. Being advanced is about approaching the practice with the wonder and curiosity of a beginner. When our experience in a pose moves our soul, it can deepen our relationship to our practice, but also our life.