Advanced Practice by Taylor Hunt
What does it mean to be an advanced yoga practitioner?
This question has been lingering in my head for the last few months, especially after assisting so many people under my teacher, Sharath Jois, at KPJAYI in Mysore. After listening to his conferences every week, I feel like my teacher shares the same sentiment I have.
An advanced practice has nothing to do with the quality of the asana. Asana is only one part of the vast thing we call yoga. Advanced practice has everything to do with being authentic, with being honest with yourself and the people around you. Honesty and authenticity are part of practicing satya, or truth, which is part of the Yamas, the first of eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. If you can’t be authentic, if you can’t just be yourself and be okay with it, then you’re missing out and probably hurting yourself and others. That goes against another foundational Yama: ahimsa, which means doing no harm. Ahimsa doesn’t mean just eating vegetarian and not being violent towards others. It’s about your mental state and your words, too. If you are gossipy, rude, and just a plain asshole then you are pretty far away from what yoga is all about, no matter what series you’re on.
So what is yoga really all about? Is it a fitness class?
Nope. For me it is a daily spiritual practice--a daily reflection. I get to check in every day and evaluate my priorities. I work on myself by looking into the mirror of yoga. Where can I improve? Where do I need to find strength? Where do I need to be more gentle? I focus on my breath. I pay attention to the present moment and I find my drishti. I focus. Every day I get better at it. This is critical for my sanity and perspective. I spend time going inside--instead of on social media channels.
Social media, with its focus on photos and images, can make it seem like yoga is all about asana, or all about fitness. Asana is important, but the way your body looks on the mat has nothing to do with why we practice asana. Asana is supposed to heal our body of diseases and make our sense organs pure so we can engage with God. Perfect form in asana doesn’t mean perfect practitioner in life.
An advanced practice comes out in how the person operates in life, not necessarily on the mat. In my home community, I see advanced practitioners every day, and it doesn’t have anything to do with how many legs they can put behind their head or how deep their backbend is. My community cares about each other. They check in with each other when someone’s been MIA or seems down. They work together on service projects that clean up the community and help those who need an extra hand. They welcome newcomers. They smile at each other.
Let’s all take a step back and realize the true power of what yoga has to offer us. Why do we confuse the means with the end? Why has the question shifted from “How to find your true self?” to “What pose are you on?” I don’t know, but I think we can change it. I think we can rediscover the deeper meaning of yoga.
So, what really makes an advanced practitioner?
Are they kind to others? Themselves? Do they listen to others? Are they willing to change? Are they willing to ignore the story in their head—that one that says, “you’re not good enough?” Have they worked through their stuff?
I don’t judge my practice by how far I am in whatever series. This is not the circus! I judge myself based on the questions above.
Edited by Emma Hudelson