I’ll never forget when I started to practice yoga there was a student in my class: a young, ripped dude with—inexplicably—a Calvin and Hobbes tattoo on his massive bicep, who always arrived at the studio early and proceeded to stand on his head until class began.
I found it exceptionally annoying.
It seemed like he was shamelessly looking for attention and making a statement loud and clear, “I’m better than you. Suck it.”
Maybe that wasn’t the case. You never know what’s going on in people’s internal lives. But sometimes you have a pretty good idea.
This was back before I even considered that I may someday be able to do a headstand myself, and as such, I was admittedly envious of his ability to do so. But reflecting on it now, from a place where I can do headstands, and lots of other cool stuff too, I wonder about the value of what I call “fancy-pants poses” versus the value of standard ones. You know, the down dogs, the warriors, the side angles and trees. The poses that almost everyone can do; maybe getting them done un-beautifully or with a ton of props, but getting them done nonetheless.
Let me be clear:
Both kinds of poses have their place. The fancy-pants poses are arrived at through years of hard work and discipline, and test our willingness to face our fears, our insecurities and the unknown. As such, they are invaluable. But they can also alienate and intimidate students, and put yogis in situations where they’re more likely to get injured. (I’ve got two herniated discs in my lower lumbar to attest to the truth of that, and I know I’m not alone.)
The people who are drawn to fancy-pants poses are often, like me, pitta or fiery types, and as such, want–at least in part—to do them out of a sense of competition. And even the most inexperienced student knows that indulging in the ego is the quickest way to take us away from our purpose in yoga.
The simple poses, on the other hand, are universally beneficial, and promote a sense of sangha, or community; which, in a sense, what yoga really is about. The idea that we are all one is better advanced in moments when we are all working on the same thing with as little ego as possible.
Also, I believe the simple poses hold a more important challenge for us yogis than degree of difficulty. For beginners, the challenge is obvious—just to get them done with some degree of accuracy. But for those of us who have taken more than 10 or 20 classes, the challenge becomes keeping your attention as laser-focused in down dog as you do in twisted side crow.
It’s like the difference between being able to appreciate a Sparrow as completely as you appreciate an Indigo Bunting or a Barred Owl. It’s easy to forget the sparrow is a miracle too, because they are so common.
By cultivating a willingness to bring your total attention to poses you consider easy, you can begin to truly deepen your practice. Approach each one as if it is the most important pose you will ever do.
Savor it, relish it, explore it.
Remember too, that every time you come to a pose, even when you repeat the same pose within a single class, it will be a different experience than any other time. Each moment will find you more or less, strong, focused, flexible, happy, enervated and a million other things. Search for the unique quality in every breath and movement, and you will be on the road to a deeply authentic practice.
We are not doing yoga to learn to tie ourselves in pretzels and flip those pretzels upside down. We are doing it to train ourselves to reside in the present moment, and to be there gratefully and gracefully, no matter how mundane that moment may appear to be.
Don’t let the sparrow fly away unnoticed—within each one there is a sacred gift.
Like elephant yoga on Facebook.
Ed: Sara Crolick