What's the point of advanced poses?
Early in my yoga career, I believed that with disciplined and consistent practice I’d be able to perform advanced poses with ease and grace. But that didn’t happen. I have a clear memory from the late 1990s of struggling in Parivritta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle pose) and realizing with utter clarity that due to the osteoarthritic stiffness in my joints, I’d likely never be able to do many basic poses (let alone jaw-dropping ones) without significant modifications and support. Nevertheless, I find practicing some of the more demanding poses on a regular basis to be a transformative experience, not because I’m getting stronger, more flexible, or more accomplished in the poses, but because this type of practice, for me, is a gateway to expanding my consciousness beyond the borders of my stiff body and often brooding mind.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as I prepare to teach monthly classes for Down Under Yoga “live from Mexico City.” My intermediate/advanced master classes are designed to explore how foundational poses provide the foundation to try more advanced ones. Conversely, it can be fascinating, and comforting, to observe that if advanced poses aren’t possible, we can trace the shape and form back to a foundational pose that is attainable. My “stiff bodies” series introduces supplemental stretches and variations of familiar poses to gently nudge ourselves beyond the known, or familiar. It's possible to experience joy and inspiration in this process. Here are several Iyengar teachings that offer insight and guidance in this area.
Spiritual knowledge begins when the mind extends a little further than where it is at present.
-BKS Iyengar (from 70 Glorious Years of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, as cited by David Santucci, Iyengar Yoga Association of New England (IYANE) president, in IYANE’s most recent email)
It is your practice that brings the secrets to you. No teacher can give you the secrets.
-Geeta Iyengar, as posted on YogaMiami’s Instagram page
Asana is training for life, not a means to develop physical prowess. All asanas lead us toward neutrality – that’s why we begin with Samasthiti (aka Tadasana), which means all things equal.
-Prashant Iyengar, January session on the philosophy of teaching yoga