Deepening our Yoga Practice
So what is an intermediate student? The unsatisfactory answer is anyone who has done more than one yoga class but hasn’t yet experienced enlightenment.
In practical terms it if you’ve been to some classes and decided that you like yoga and believe it is making a difference then you’re on your way.
If this seems like dodging the issue, that’s because it is. The problem is that one teacher’s idea of ‘intermediate’ means someone who can get into a challenging yoga posture for ten seconds, even though it hurts. For others, it’s being able to work smoothly through increasingly different sequences while dancing, sweating, laughing or hanging upside down from a silken sheet. There is a definite tendency, these days, to see yoga as posture only. The more complicated the posture – the more advanced the student. The thing is gymnasts, dancers and acrobats are all very, very good at yoga postures too – but most of them wouldn’t think of themselves as doing yoga.
In ‘authentic’ or ‘traditional’ or ‘real’ yoga, posture is only just a small part of what’s involved, the ability to work the breath, to stay focussed, to have mental clarity and to know something about why these things are valued, through study, are equally important. In Raja yoga, there are seven other important aspects, in Hatha Yoga there are five. It’s probably true that once a yoga student knows this and has some idea of what each is, then he or she could be called an intermediate student.
Even in posture work, there is more to it than getting into the posture. Can you be comfortable? Can you breathe in a ‘special’ way? Can you learn to watch yourself in the posture? Can you stay there for two, three or more minutes, calm and still? In yoga, all of these things are truly more important than being able to turn yourself into a human bendy-toy.
But, there is something more important than all of this. More important even than whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced student. Are you enjoying yourself? If you’re not, it won’t be too long before you’re an ex-student wondering whether to do Pilates or T’ai Chi next.
If you are enjoying yourself, then your next step is to spend more time doing what you’re enjoying. Think about doing more than one class a week. Think about doing some yoga at home. This sounds simple enough, but for most people, no matter how much they enjoy yoga these are challenging suggestions. But in the end it’s the only real way to advance – Do yoga more often!