There have been two fairly big changes to my yoga practice in recent months. The first is that I began practicing Ashtanga fairly vigorously, after several years of only going to vinyasa flow classes. The second is that I started teaching several all-level yoga classes each week.
As you can imagine, my students practice at a VERY different level than the students I surround myself with in Ashtanga. But what's been profound for me as I go from the class where I practice to the one I teach, is that NO ONE is any better than anyone else when it comes to yoga.
See, I've been really hard on myself with my own practice since starting Ashtanga. I thought I was a pretty strong yogi until I rolled out my mat next to people who are already on the third series and have probably been doing this vigorous style of yoga for half of my life. In Ashtanga, we face each other in the studio, so it’s nearly impossible not to let someone’s leg behind their head and pickup-jump-back make me sink slightly inside. I tell myself I’ll NEVER be able to do that.
And maybe I'll never do it. But who cares?
The ability to put a leg behind one’s head has probably not even entered the realm of possibility to the students I'm teaching. Touching their toes in a standing forward fold might be their biggest accomplishment this month. But they're still showing up, working hard, and breathing through the postures that don't come easily to them. They make me so proud. And they humble me.
The thing about yoga is that there’s no better or worse, and there’s no right or wrong. Of course, you want to have proper alignment in the postures, but when it comes to what your body is physically capable of, it’s all relative. And I would bet to say some of my yogis could sit quietly in meditation a lot longer than some Ashtangis.
We all come to our mats for different reasons. When I close my eyes and begin breathing at the start of my practice, I tell myself to let go of what’s bugging me right there and then. To put aside all the crap in life, and get present.
Leg behind the head or not, that’s really what matters.