When I began diving deeper into my yoga practice, I started to wonder what it really means to be an advanced yogi.
I remember being frustrated with certain poses that I just couldn’t do no matter how hard I tried. One day in a yoga class, I watched someone transition directly from a wide-legged forward fold to a headstand. All I could think at the time was, “Wow, this person is like a magical unicorn!” I could also hear the echoing little voice inside my head saying how I’d never be able to do that.
Well, I was wrong. A few years later, I nailed that variation—I’d officially become that magical unicorn.
Did I feel any more enlightened? No.
Did I feel like I’d raised the bar? Not really.
Luckily for us, the qualities of an advanced yogi have nothing to do with the physical part of yoga; the journey of tapping into a refined practice goes a few layers deeper, to the core essence of what it means to be a “real yogi”—whatever that means. We can learn a lot about ourselves when we’re being challenged. However, conquering that tough pose won’t bring enlightenment, so what will transform our practice?
Get ready to hold onto your chai latte, because here are the signs that you’re venturing into advanced territory:
1. They don’t give a f*ck about what other people think.
Advanced yogis check their ego at the door. They understand the value and fun of exploring something new (hey, arm balances and inversions!), but they also don’t care if they’re in child’s pose when the rest of the class is doing something else. Understanding that each day is different helps them focus on the present, which sometimes means challenging themselves and sometimes means letting go of expectations. They forge their own path, march to the beat of their own drum, and understand that a pose doesn’t define them as a person or a yogi. And it has probably taken them years to cultivate this quality.
I regularly witness longtime yoga students taking what’s considered the “easier variation” of a pose in class, which I think is freaking awesome! This doesn’t mean that an advanced yogi won’t challenge themselves—that too is an important part of spiritual growth—but they don’t beat themselves up over every little thing. The advanced yogi embraces where they’re at, without judgement. This skill is both a blessing and part of the subtle art of not giving a f*ck.
2. Props are their friend.
I remember when I first started taking yoga, my teacher mentioned how helpful it was to use a block in order to sit nice and tall. I thought, “I don’t need that,” and, “I’m better than that,” and a lot of other crap that didn’t serve me. Man, how naïve was I? Here I am, 15 years later, and I love using a block for my meditation practice.
Advanced yogis understand that props aren’t a crutch or hindrance, in fact, they are tools which can elevate your practice. The use of props can be fun, supportive, creative, and expanding. Letting go of the mentality that props are an enemy is a big part of advancing as a yogi.
3. They understand that every day is different.
Some days, rocking it in crazy, fun, challenging poses will seem awesome, while other days, going inward will be more valuable. Advanced yogis see this distinction clearly. When they arrive on the mat, they’re open to possibilities, whether that means taking it to the next level or surrendering to their expectations.
The big test will occur in yoga class because each person will be going through different sh*t in their life, which means that each yogi will be in a different stage of their journey, both on and off the mat. So if your neighbor is doing something completely different, who cares? Every day provides a new source of inspiration, challenges, achievements, disappointments, and everything in between. Honouring that notion is at the root of an advanced practice.
4. They understand the value of yoga, beyond the asana (poses).
From the outside, the way modern yoga is marketed is as a fitness routine. To see it as only a physical practice is watering down the heart of yoga. The asana is the surface level of a deep, vast ocean of knowledge and wisdom.
By studying yogic philosophy, I became aware there was so much more depth to yoga than what you might see on Instagram. When I realized the gifts it offered, my first thought was, “Wow, yoga pretty much reminds you how to be a good person.” Yoga brings us back to our essential nature, which is kind, compassionate, and loving. Isn’t that better than getting the perfect handstand?
5. Advanced yogis embrace everyone’s individual journey.
Just because someone is a vegan, Enya listening, full moon meditating, mantra loving, eco-warrior doesn’t make them any more of a yogi than the hamburger loving, metal head who’s never been to India. If they both commit to their yoga practice then they are both yogis. They may be at different stages of their journey but there’s nothing wrong with that. Advanced yogis recognize the power of being on their own path, while also respecting that we are all in a different place on that spectrum.
Being an advanced yogi doesn’t have to be one-dimensional. It is an adventure with peaks and valleys. There will be days the advanced yogi forgets that they need to stop giving a f*ck, or they struggle with their ego, or they lose faith in where they are on the journey.
Luckily, this is part of the exploration of the self, to the self. Catching ourselves in those moments of vulnerability and seeking out what it truly means to be an advanced yogi is part of our soul’s journey. Even when there are slip-ups along the way, committing back to the highest version of ourselves is the clearest path to channeling the advanced yogi within us.