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This is exactly what it means to be “good at yoga”

April 24, 2013

Someone please give me a dollar for every person who’s told me “I’m not very good at yoga” so that I can retire.

Is this guy good at yoga?

Is this guy good at yoga?

I’m being (perhaps too) honest when I say, I can’t stand hearing it. It’s goes into the file folder named “Unrespond-able Comments You Should Never Use On A Friend or First Date.” It goes in there with “Do these jeans make me look fat?” I know you know what I’m talking about.

Please don’t tell me you’re “bad at yoga”, because now I’m in the really awkward position where I have to smile politely and respond with one of the following statements:

  • Oh, no, come on, I’m sure you’re not bad at yoga. (No! Those jeans look GREAT on you!)
  • There’s no such thing as “bad at yoga.” It’s not a performance, it’s a practice.
  • Hey as long as you show up to class and breathe, you’re doing it perfectly!

Or some other contrived response (which in fact, are all true) but nevertheless awkward to dole out.

Now before you pigeonhole me as the embittered yoga teacher (hey yoga teachers are allowed to bitch too), let me also say…I get it!

If you don’t have much experience with yoga, you might liken it to some sort of competitive sport you win or lose, a skill that is mastered then performed, or some other course you take that is measured and scored.

The truth is, in yoga, there’s no winning.

There’s no performance. (except for this insanity…

which in theory I think is kind of gross but also entertaining because I love watching masterful bodies in motion)

And there’s no grade.

So if you think someone else in class is “better” than you, it’s because of some previous conditioning and after a while you’ll learn that yoga is a gift rather than anything else in this life.

BUT there is such a thing as advanced yoga. Studios do offer different levels. Some label them level 1, 2, 3 and others beginner, intermediate, advanced. So I’m going to tell you what advanced yoga really is and what makes a person “good” at it. Of course I have to start with what it’s NOT and hold you in suspense thirty seconds longer.

It’s NOT the guy who can go from forward bend to handstand (although again, I love watching this.)

It’s NOT the girl who can tie herself in a knot. She was probably born that way.

It’s NOT the person who practices every day no matter what.

It’s NOT the person who chooses child’s pose over doing another vinyasa (yeah! Weren’t expecting that one eh??? That just means you practice safe yoga and respect your boundaries – not everyone does. So it’s a good thing.)

Here’s the answer. The difference between a newbie and an advanced yogi, is this:

And advanced yogi can process and integrate 8-9 cues from the teacher about one pose or movement at a time.

That’s it. Simple. Straight forward. Beginners can usually take 2-3 cues, tops.

I learned this early in teacher training but hadn’t really understood it until after many years of teaching because I myself still didn’t know how to TEACH 8-9 cues per pose or movement.

For Example.Child's Pose
Child’s pose for the newbie sounds like this:
Sit your butt back onto your heels. Place your forehead on the floor. Reach your arms out in front of you.

Child’s pose for the advanced yogi sounds like this:
Extend your hips back towards your heels. Separate your knees until your ribs can settle down between your inner thighs. Place the palms flat on the floor as you extend the arms forward drawing the shoulders back, plugging them into your upper back. Engage uddiyana bandha as you breathe ujayi and activate hasta bandha to roots hands to earth. Relax through your ankles and soften the muscles of your face.

So there you have it. Next time someone says, “I’m bad at yoga,” you can now opt to say “oh so you’re still working on your body awareness and subtle cuing? Keep it up! You’ll get to 8-9 cues someday.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jennifer Novak permalink
    May 12, 2013 1:17 am

    This is the best article I have ever read about yoga! Thank you for telling it like it is! Last week I almost gave up yoga completely. I was frustrated and exasperated that I couldn’t do anything whereas others seemed to be able to do everything in class. I often have no idea what the teacher is talking about and it’s been hard for me to ask questions. For example, I had no idea what “put your feet hip width apart” meant until the teacher actually showed me and moved my feet into the right position. Thank you for being so encouraging. Oh and btw, I’ve taken your class and you totally rock!

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