In my "Thoughts From A Yoga Heretic" blog post, I mentioned fancy yoga as opposed to advanced yoga. I started delineating the two some years ago after one of my regular students said she felt as though she was doing remedial yoga since she had to use the wall to support herself in a particular set of poses. My response was that she was actually doing very advanced work. She was attending to the specific, asymmetrical needs of her body after serious injury. She was hardly doing less than anyone else in class. In fact, using the wall allowed her to work much harder, rebuilding strength, realigning at the hip and knee joints, addressing a newly prevalent twist at the pelvis. Without the wall, she'd simply be making a shape. And that shape would be defined by the muscles that already worked, the current skeletal misalignments.
In fact, that student was/is a very advanced practitioner in my book. She was listening to her body and adapting the work to make changes in her body. I offer that kind of adaptation all the time since my students often skew older and/or injured. But it amazes me how many are stuck on the idea that what I'm offering as an alternative must somehow be remedial if it's not what the group is doing. It is fascinating how many people are determined to stick with the group, even if it hurts, rather than do something different, even if that "something different" will benefit them specifically.
So what do I mean by fancy yoga?
Google "yoga images" and just look at all the bendy people doing incredible-looking poses in exotic locations. Yes, these are impressive poses. Yes, these may have taken them years to master. But in my experience, the people in those photos represent a tiny fraction of the populace in terms of how they move. Most of us are trying to get a little more flexible, get a little stronger, breathe a little better. And we have to start where we are.
When I stand up tall and curve my spine backward and it barely moves and I look like a longbow, that is equivalent to the bendy person who bends backwards from standing and puts her hands on the floor. I'm working at my limit. And I'm working to increase my limit each time I practice. The fact that I don't move as far doesn't make my work any less advanced if I'm working from internal knowledge of my body and seeking improvement. Putting the hands on the floor is fancier looking to be sure, but if each of us are working within our bodies' abilities, my work is no less valuable, no less advanced.
So what makes a pose advanced?
Emphasizing the shape of the pose de-emphasizes the understanding of the pose. In the above example, do you know if you are actually articulating all along the thoracic spine? Do you know if you are creating the shape from increased lumbar curve (not a safe way to go)? Do you feel energized AFTER the creating that shape (back domes are supposed to uplift energy)? Do you feel crunchy in your mid/lower back? Are you trying to keep up with your neighbor? Are you listening to your limits? That kind of inner questioning, that level of awareness is what makes a pose advanced in my view. Not how far you bend backwards.
Fancy poses are fun to look at, fun to figure out what work you'd need to do to achieve them. I'm all for using a fancy pose as a goal. But what makes a pose advanced isn't the pose itself. It's everything you learn along the way, regardless of whether you ever achieve the fanciest version.
As I have often said in classes, balancing on one hand with your feet behind your ears while on the edge of a cliff doesn't make you a better yogi. Not being able to do that doesn't make you a lesser yogi. It's all about the work and the self-awareness that you acquire along the way. The more self-awareness, the more specific your practice, the more advanced. Period.
I've been teaching yoga for over two decades now. Every time someone who has taken other yoga classes joins my class, one of the first questions they ask me is, "Where will you be standing?" When I tell them I will be moving around the room, this is clearly not a satisfactory answer. But after that first class, when the new student has received actual teaching pertinent to their specific way of moving in their body, the light bulb goes off.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.