What makes you an 'advanced' yogi?

Often some classes are marketed at ‘advanced’ or level 2-3 and it got me thinking: what makes you advanced at yoga?

When I first started yoga, it was all about the physical, the asana. My whole focus was being able to do a certain pose, to be the stretchiest or the strongest. I’m not going to lie, it was my competitiveness with other people to be better than them which actually kept me coming back.  With practice I got flexible and strong, could do the splits and a variety of funky arm balances. But does that make me advanced?

Having started to teach yoga and speak to a lot of yoga teachers, I’ve noticed that those who really flourish in their practice are the ones who have delved deep into yoga philosophy and truly encapsulate the principles of ‘ahimsa’ (non harming) and ‘santosha’ (contentment). The ones that try to do less actually achieve more. You’ll find in a class that the more ‘advanced’ yogis, the teachers or those who have been practicing for years will be the ones taking childs pose, having a rest, not taking every single option. On the other hand, those newer to yoga will often be forcing, grimacing and puffing and panting their way through flows and options that their bodies just aren’t ready for yet.

The more we start to embrace the ideas of contentment, the less we are driven by the ‘ego’. It is our egos which force us to do more, to think negatively when we fall or lose balance, it is the ego that draws unflattering comparisons to others about ourselves. But we are all different, our bodies are built differently, what one person can do another may physiologically be able to do. The person practicing next to you could have been doing yoga for 20 years or even teach.

When we break yoga down, it’s so much more than the physical. While I absolutely love the physical, it’s not what makes me come back to the mat. For me, the practice is starting to become a place where I listen to my body, if I want to move and do a strong practice I will, but if I need a slow, yin like-practice I’ll embrace that. I accept that my body doesn’t want to attempt handstands every day, that I can actually get so much more out of my practice through a steady and slow breathe, some stillness and quiet.

The magic happens when we go beyond the physical, I think that what makes you more ‘advanced’ at yoga is when you get less attached to the poses, this way it doesn’t matter if you face plant, you get back up and try again, even if it’s a million more times. Everything is just an opportunity to experiment and explore, to try something new and learn something about your body, that way you’ll never fail and you’ll never be good or bad, it’s simply an investigation.

Be curious, let the ego take a back seat, take your yoga to the next level.