With so many images everywhere of extraordinarily pliable people in striking impossible yoga poses, advertising “yoga for beginners” does help to take the fear down a notch or two for the newcomer. Unfortunately, that hurts the image of yoga more than it helps it.
Carving up yoga into levels of physical difficulty, does not give the right impression of it. It sends the message that yoga is about how well conditioned and flexible your body is. In case you didn’t know … that has little to do with yoga.
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Rarely do I meet anyone who is not a yoga beginner, actually … and that goes for some extraordinarily flexible yoga teachers too. The modern yoga class culture would seem to suggest that physical mastery of some yoga exercises is the gauge we use to assess a person’s “level” of yoga.
If that were true, though, then we’d have to consider many athletes, world-class dancers and even circus performers as advanced yoga practitioners too.
But we don’t because we know that yoga has very little to do with how flexible you are or how much bodily strength and control you’ve gained. In the holistic science of yoga, these physical abilities really actually don’t count for very much.
Being an advanced yoga practitioner means much more than demonstrating how far you can backbend. It means demonstrating an uncommon level of poise amidst the challenges and turmoil of life … and a firm control over our emotions and mental urges too, not just our physical body.
Most importantly, it means showing others, by example, how to live in a way that reflects a deep respect for everyone on this earth, regardless of their ideologies or actions. That’s not easy for the average person to do, I agree, but the one who is advanced in yoga is truly no “average person.”
In contrast, I’ve met many so modern “yogis” who can do amazing things with their bodies … yet they continue to overindulge all their cravings and desires, and their personally lives seem to be in no less disarray than anyone else.
Yoga has the power to transform our lives so much, but if we want that to happen then yoga for beginners needs to start with essential guidance in the yogic approach to healthily, productive and evolutionary living.
If, right from the start, yoga teachers would approach yoga for beginners with a more comprehensive view, rather of just a physically focused one, then we might start to see some genuine “advanced yoga practitioners” eventually arriving onto the modern yoga scene … and that, in my opinion, would be good for all of us.
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Yogacharya is the Director of International Yogalayam, Editor of The Yoga News, and creator of The Yoga Tutor, a step-by-step online yoga training website.
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