This article raises a couple questions that I have asked myself numerous times: What does advanced yoga mean? and, What effects do images and videos of people performing complex poses have on current and potential yoga practitioners?
Yoga in popular culture, through images and videos, conveys the message that advanced yoga is doing acrobatics and crazy poses that seem to defy gravity. And while this is one aspect of yoga, it is not the core of what yoga is.
‘Doing’ yoga is a way of being, not a physical posture. In fact, yoga was created solely to prepare the body and mind to sit in meditation for long periods of time. The second principle of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the foundational text of yoga, translates as, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. In other words, yoga stills the mind; there is no reference to the physical practice of yoga. Yoga is simply managing energy and one way to access and manage one’s energy is through a physical practice. But, there are also other techniques that included breathing practices (pranayama), meditation, and chanting (mantra), to name a few. The physical practice of yoga, called asana in Sanskrit, is just a tool of yoga, not an end in and of itself.
One of the most common remarks I hear from people who have never done yoga, or are very new to it, is that they are not ‘flexible enough’ and therefore would be ‘bad’ at yoga. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There is no way one can be bad at yoga. You are either doing it, or, you are not. Yoga is all about intention. If you are present and your attention is on your intention, then you are doing yoga no matter what you are physically doing in the moment.
Although I am very excited that yoga is now mainstream and a widely-accepted practice, I worry that the way it is marketed is scaring people off. While I don’t think that these challenging poses should cease to be used to inspire and attract practitioners, I hope that the more subtle and basic postures will be included in the mainstream discussion of yoga.