"Yoga can be a rough sport," said a good friend of mine as I whined to him about yet another yoga-related injury. In recent months I had found myself visiting yoga therapists and various other body-workers almost as much as I was practicing. And while I can blame the inevitable aging process for part of the problem, there seemed to be more to it than additional birthday candles…
What was going on?
So on my next visit to the yoga therapist [who by now, is also a friend], I asked him precisely that. "What exactly are you doing in your practice?" he asked. I began to relate all the classes and workshops I had been attending – the very least of them intermediate but most of them advanced. I had been determined to get a solid grasp on some poses that had thus far eluded me: intricate arm balances and inversions that took their names from the insect world. "And why do you feel the need to master these asanas?" he asked politely. "Well to become a better yogi – to be an advanced yogi," I replied. "So your interpretation of an advanced yogi is someone who can do Scorpion Pose?"
My very wise friend – who has spent a good deal of time studying and living in India -- set me straight that day. In fact, I had a bit of an epiphany.
"A true yogi," he explained, "is someone who approaches his or her entire life with an open heart and mind. They are kind and loving, and they strive to do good work in the world. It seems to me, that you are doing just that. You are a dedicated teacher, and you share knowledge with the world through your magazine. So you see, you are already an advanced yogi."
Our conversation continued for the rest of the session, and I slowly began to realize the wisdom of his words. It made me think about why I have been equating being an advanced yogi with the degree-of-difficulty of my practice. Was it just my Western mind convoluting Eastern sensibility? I thought I needed tangible proof of an advanced practice, but for whom? And why? The end result of all this self-imposed pushing was that I was hurting myself. Surely, I wasn’t practicing ahimsa. And if I’m not paying attention to the yamas and niyamas, how could I ever call myself "advanced"?
Since that day, I’ve come to realize that people in the West – especially in America – often define ourselves by the goals we set. And many of us get so caught up in reaching those goals that we miss out on the process that took us there. But yoga IS a process. There is no end goal – it just simply is.
And so I continue to learn to be in my process, and when I find myself in an "advanced" class, I happily opt to skip the Scorpion whenever I can.