30 Jul Are we always a Beginner Yogi?
When do we know it’s time to finally move on from calling ourselves a ‘Beginner Yogi’ to ‘Intermediate’ or ‘Advanced’? Read on to find out why we may not want to…
When ever I visit a yoga studio, the classes are always listed as ‘suitable for…beginners, intermediate students or advanced students’. Of course, in this type of circumstance it is really important to label classes so students can get an idea of the types of poses that they are likely to be doing and to get an idea of the the pace that they will be moving at. Sometimes people like to label themselves as a particular type of student – a beginner, intermediate or advanced yogi. Who decides this and when do they get to call themselves something different? Personally, I believe that we are all beginner yoga students, no matter how long we have been practising, here’s why…
A beginner in our body
Yoga is a discovery and an enquiry that can span a lifetime. Every time we step onto the mat we are learning something new about ourselves. I don’t think I’ve ever stepped onto my yoga mat and felt the same as I did the day before. Somedays I feel tired or my mind is busy, somedays I just want to leap around and carry out all the fun inversions I can think of and somedays a particular part of my body is talking to me and telling me it needs caring for. Just like the world around us, we are constantly changing.
Sometimes when we step onto our mat we have an expectation that our bodies and minds will be just as they were when we left it, but you will soon find out (if you haven’t already) that this is never the case. So much happens in one day. We take around 23,040 breaths, our heart beats around 115,200 times and around 28,800 blinks a day – and that’s just the things we don’t notice!
When we take time to pay attention to our body, it is like we are learning for the first time about ourselves.
Ask yourself these beginner questions when you next step on your mat:
- How does my body feel today?
- What does my body want and need?
- How can I move in a way that supports my mood?
- How can I make my practice remove any unwanted feelings?
- How can I make my practice enhance any positive feelings?
- How does my body feel in this pose?
- What is my mind doing/saying when I stay in this pose?
A beginner on the mat
I’ve been practising yoga for well over 10 years now and I still feel like a beginner. Everyday I’m learning a new way to move into a yoga pose and how to position my body better to get the most from a pose. Again, everyday this can be different for me depending on how I feel.
Even the most accomplished yogi’s are still learning and discovering asanas. Take students of Ashtanga yoga for example. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Ashtanga yoga, it is a sequence of yoga poses that are carried out in a set order and held for around 5 breaths. There are six series of sequences that move from Primary to Intermediate and then four Advanced series. It take can a person years to master all of the primary series before they move onto the Intermediate series.
Some people in their lives never move on from the Primary series! For those practising the Ashtanga style of yoga, they are constantly evolving and learning about each asana in detail in order to perform it in the sequence. Everyday they are learning something new and remain beginners in new poses.
Ask yourself these beginner questions next time you step on the mat:
- How does my body feel in this pose?
- Do I feel strong and stable in this pose?
- Do I feel soft and relaxed in this pose?
- Could I move my foot/arm/torso slightly to make this feel more comfortable?
- If I use this prop, will it help me move further into this pose?
- Does this pose feel right for me today?
- How can I transition effortlessly from this pose to the next pose?
Remember, even though you are asking yourself these questions, try not to attach yourself too much to them and their answers. Instead, remain focused on the breath and feel the ease as you move through your practice.
The Ego & Attachment
Overall, I think it is much healthier to approach yoga with a beginners mind rather than someone who considers themselves ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’. When you start thinking that you are an ‘intermediate’ yogi, a certain attachment of how the poses should be can begin to creep in and we can become frustrated if they weren’t how we were expecting them to be.
Buddha once said “The root of suffering is attachment”. If we can let go of our expectation and learn to be open and inquisitive we will find much more joy in our practice.
As well as attachment, our ego can begin to creep in if we see ourselves as intermediate students. The ego is a persons sense of self they have built up based on their own beliefs. If we believe we are more than a beginner, we begin to bring in an expectation that we are better than a beginner and can do more than maybe the body would like to. We have an expectation of how we should be in a pose or how much we can stretch a certain way. If the body is tried one day it may not want to stretch to its maximum capacity, but if our ego is too attached, then we do it anyway because this is what we expect of our body. This then results in injury and unhappiness because we couldn’t do something we thought we could or expected ourselves to be able to.
To let go of the ego is to let go of our limiting beliefs of how our practice should be. It gives the body permission to be as it wants to be and moves as it feels best. It opens us up with the possibility of learning something new or finding a new way to approach a pose. Sometimes when we listen to the body, it thanks us in return by making us feel better or by showing us something we never knew about ourselves.
Beginners have more fun
So at the end of the day, having a beginners approach to yoga is much more fun than calling yourself something more. Everyday the body changes and we can honour and accept it by showing loving kindness as well as a willingness to listen and learn!
Next time you’re on your mat, give being a beginner a go and see what you can discover!