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When I first started taking yoga classes, I thought “advanced” students were those who could do one-armed handstands in the middle of the room. You know the ones I’m talking about; they always chose to take the Level 2/3 option in a Mixed Level class. I had this perception that “advanced” meant that a student would eat only healthy, wholesome foods like quinoa and goji berries, wake up early every morning to practice asana for two hours, and study the Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita every night before bed. Of course, I now know how silly and naive this perception was.
I’m sure there are people out there that are so disciplined in their yoga study, but I’ve never met them (probably because they live in a cave somewhere). I have, however, met a lot of people who seem to want others to believe that they live this way. They talk endlessly about organic, local produce and use Sanskrit in their everyday conversations. I’m guessing they have the same ideas I once had about what it means to be “advanced” and they’re trying to fit the stereotype.
The longer I practice, the more I realize that the truly advanced practitioners are the ones who honor their bodies, not the ones who try to impress their classmates with their stellar poses or perfect diet. More than likely that guy standing on one hand in the middle of the room isn’t exactly contemplative or looking for inner peace in that moment. (I can’t say for sure because I’ve never had this experience. I’ve attempted, and fallen on my head, but never balanced.) Being advanced at asana practice to me means following your intuition, really feeling the sensations of the pose, and using the poses as a tool to learn more about yourself.
Being an advanced yoga practitioner runs even deeper and extends into daily life. The yogis I admire most are those who know—and are willing to admit—that they don’t have all the answers. They know that it’s not about the poses, the food, or even the number of trainings you’ve taken, but how you live your life. You can achieve the most awe-inspiring poses in the world and still be unkind to others or to yourself—and that’s missing the whole point.
I think it’s when you quit caring whether or not you are considered an “advanced” practitioner that maybe, just maybe, you actually are.