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What is 'advanced' yoga anyway?

Updated: Jul 2, 2022

When you think of an 'advanced' yoga practice, what pops into your mind? I'm betting that for a lot of you it's an image of someone in an extreme shape, or maybe executing an impressive transition from crane to headstand or something I right?

But can that really be called yoga? Could it not equally be called gymnastics or something similar? If it is yoga, what makes it so?

I suppose we first need to understand what yoga is, and for that we'd need another blog post! In essence yoga practices are tools which bring us to a deeper understanding of ourselves on all levels. Asana for the physical, pranayama for the energetic and meditation for all aspects of the mind (this of course is vastly simplified but for the purposes of this blog you get the idea). Through the practice of meditation you might even glimpse the unity that is behind all perceived separateness. Yes 'yoga' = unity.

Now I'm not going to tell you that one approach is better than another. We all need to start somewhere right? The body is a very useful place to start our exploration because....well, it's right there. In the present moment. For most of us, it's the easiest aspect of ourselves to sense and feel. So let's make friends with it. It is pretty amazing after all. So begins the tentative practice of asana where we start to discover our tight bits, our stretchy bits, our sore bits, our strong bits and our weak bits.

Whether we are a doing the most basic poses or are someone who can make very difficult shapes with their body is not important. What is important is the attitude with which you practice it. I'm going to say it again......It is not important what you practice but the attitude with which you practice it. This is what makes something yoga.

Stop for a moment and try to figure out what your motivation is for practicing yoga......It might be a good idea to sit with this question for a bit. Is there any underlying self criticism?Any notions of not being good enough or a desire to escape your problems. Maybe you just want a nice tight butt, well that's ok but why do you want a nice tight butt?

If our motivation comes from a place of kindness towards ourselves then we're on the right track. I recommend taking a look at the 8 limbs of yoga as set out in Patañjali's Yoga Sūtras. Here you will find out more about the attitudes we are working to cultivate (a good relatable copy is Embodying the Yoga Sūtra' by Ranju Roy and Dave Charlton). Way too much to delve into here, in a nutshell, if you can step onto your mat and discern what is helpful from what is harmful, what to accept and what to change then you are practicing yoga. The shapes you make with your body are irrelevant.

The beautiful thing about framing our practice this way is that anyone can do it. We can practice if we feel tired, if we feel great, if we are plump or skinny, bendy or stiff it matters not! All you need is a breathing body and the ability to be aware and make good choices for yourself on and off the mat.

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