What is an Advanced Yoga Practice? (Rerun)

by Nina
Year-Old Snow and New Snow by Philip Amdal
A number of years ago, I encouraged a close friend of mine, M, to join me in taking Rodney Yee’s advanced class. Even though she had a muscular, athletic, and stiff body that made doing super bendy poses difficult, if not impossible, I knew that she understood how to take care of herself in class, that she would adapt the poses for her particular body type, and keep herself safe. So I wasn’t worried about the class being too hard for her. She was interested, however, she expressed some concerns about not being “advanced” enough for the class. I decided to discuss the matter with our teacher himself, feeling fairly sure of what he was going to say. But what he told me when I asked him if she was “advanced” not only took me by surprise but has stuck with me all these years, transforming my thinking about the asana practice in general. What he said was this:

“Of course, she’s advanced enough. M does yoga more mindfully than any student I’ve ever seen.”

And here I’d been thinking that being advanced meant being capable of doing difficult poses, like 10 minute headstands or extreme backbends, at some level or another! But doing yoga “mindfully”—now, there was goal we could pursue for our lifetimes. No matter our level of physical capacity was, we would always have the the ability to go deeper and deeper into the practice.

I’m thinking about this today because I’m helping a new friend adapt her practice to allow her to heal from an ongoing injury. It’s taken her a long time to even be ready to temporarily give up certain poses and ways of practicing, because she felt such regrets about excluding poses from her practice that she used to be able to do with such great enjoyment. But as Baxter mentioned in his post on Wristful Wrists: How to Keep Your Wrists Safe, sometimes rest is the best way to heal from an injury. So being willing to adopt mindfulness as a goal in the practice rather than achievement is a necessary element in being able to heal from an injury.

People who are aging may find themselves in a similar position, not necessarily due to injury but simply due to the physical changes that come along with aging. To be honest, I used to have what I sometimes call a “semi-fancy” yoga practice. But in the last few years, I developed arthritis in my right hip that makes it impossible to do seated poses that involve a lot of external rotation. Lotus and half lotus are now impossible for me, and seated forward bends and twists that require certain leg positions are painful and difficult. And I need props in many of the standing poses now. Still there is no question I consider my practice more advanced these days than it was in the years when I regularly took the East Bay’s most “advanced” yoga class.

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