When Ashtanga yoga is practiced Mysore style, students of all levels of ability practice alongside each other. While they mostly share the same set sequence of postures, the differences in their physical practices are apparent. For some, bending the body comes easily, for others age, injuries, body proportions and past histories make things more difficult. Every student will encounter challenges along the way, it is meeting these challenges that makes the practice rewarding.
It’s a natural tendency for students to glance around the room and see other practicing and draw conclusions based on how far in the sequence they have progressed or how they perform the asanas, as to how “advanced” in yoga they are. But the question should be asked, if someone is strong and flexible with a fluid, beautiful practice, does that make them good at yoga, while someone tight and stiff with a practice that is a struggle is not?
As a teacher, I often tell students that the best students are those who turn up everyday or as often as they can. I believe that yoga is in the doing. It is making the wholehearted effort to do your best in that moment, day after day, irrespective of whether your postures look “beautiful”. It is what is happening on the inside that counts.
So considering this, to be a good student of yoga you need to do more than bring your body onto the mat each day. Your mind needs to come too, and focus on three points of concentration – breath, posture and dhristi, looking place. Of course some days we are more focused or distracted than others, but it is the process of noticing these differences that is the path of yoga.
Does it end there? Is it enough to bring the body and mind to the mat each day? Well, no. My teacher Sharath Jois regularly repeats the teaching of his grandfather, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, that asana is the foundation of our yoga practice. It is both the start of the journey and the journey itself. It is the foundation that gives us the steadiness needed to evolve, grow and develop wisdom for living. Ultimately, Sharath says, yoga is for self-transformation. Which makes the question of whether you or someone else is “good” at yoga irrelevant. Perhaps a better question is whether yoga has made you better at living life? And that is something only you yourself can answer.
Does Nea’s perspective resonate with your developing practice? How do you feel your approach to asana has shifted since you began practising? How much does your mind wander at the thought of how well other people are doing? We’d love to hear your opinions on Nea’s article – please feel free to add your voice to the discussion below.