It is only been in the recent decades that yoga has become a group thing! Yoga traditionally was practiced 1 on 1 with a master/guru while also doing your “OM” work (play on words for “home” work) on your own daily.
What defines a level in yoga? And how do you know where you fit in – in a class? Does yoga require a certain IQ, knowledge, strength or flexibility to practice? If you are new, where do you start? If you are new, it starts right here, just reading this to educate yourself on yoga and to become more aware of what defines a yogi is a practice of it’s own, it is called Svadhyaya.
Svadhyaya = “Self-Study”. It is part of the 8 limbs of yoga. So to practice any kind of self-study or research is a big part of yoga. You are here, reading this and doing Svadhyaya/self-study. Welcome to your “practice”!
Yoga is this very ambiguous zone. To say there are levels in something we “practice”, is just a guideline for western practitioners or studios to describe a class to either entice a seasoned practitioner to come to the class or detour a newbie to choose a different option.
But what really classifies a level 1, 2, 3… class? What really classifies a level of practitioner? Because someone can do a handstand? Does that make them the best yogi or highest level practitioner?
In my many years of study, teaching and practicing yoga I have learned that a handstand does not define a yoga practitioners level of expertise. It just shows that they have less fear of inverting, going upside down and the strength to do it. Which I do give kudos too… it is not my strong point! Also I am not down playing doing a handstand with intention, that is not the goal of this blog post. But handstands can be achieved by non-practicing yogis too… there are many people in the world who can do a handstand and have never been to a yoga class, right? A handstand also doesn’t define your yoga IQ or how well you know the practice of yoga or yourself, your mind-body-connection.
I once had a yoga student who practiced yoga (or so called yoga) at a local studio I worked at. He is the only person I had the pleasure (or non-pleasure in this case) to guide through a yoga practice or non-practice I should say. I swear, the more he practiced, the meaner he got! Seriously! I can’t even make this shit up! Some of you reading this know exactly who I am referring to because I wasn’t the only one to witness this. For a year or more I watched him less and less follow my lead, my guidance and my teachings to just do his own thing and his own thing was constant handstands. It didn’t matter what I said, did or taught. He would be in handstand from beginning to end. The second I would start class in childs pose he would begin to kick up! While we held Tree pose or any other standing balancing pose, he would be kicking up! During Savasana he would either get up to get water to quench his thirst so he could stay after class to do more handstands on his own or just leave class early and skip Savasana. It was constant and distracting. Many students complained, he was rude to the instructors, would only attend classes of certain instructors, even verbally made it known that he would not practice with certain yoga instructors rudely to their face. Eventually the manager of the yoga studio had to request that he back-off several times and after many attempts, she finally had to suggest that if he didn’t stop doing it then she would have to revoke his membership, after that he never returned. While this man came to the yoga studio almost 7 days per week to practice, he wasn’t practicing yoga. I hope that somewhere out there he can learn to get it, I hope he can find a place to call home and find some peace of mind that he can be in a place to learn, share and stop to smell the flowers. I do wish him well.
So if a handstand doesn’t define a level, then what does?
I have come to learn and believe that yoga is in all of us. The definition of yoga is to “Yoke or unite”. So if you try hard enough to recognize that:
- A community that pulls together and shares a common interest is yoga.
- A person with a strong connection and understanding of who they are is yoga.
- A person with a strong connection to their spirit is yoga.
- A person with a strong connection to unite the mind-body-spirit is yoga.
- Doing good deeds and carrying yourself with strong morals is yoga.
- Treating others as you would want to be treated is yoga.
- Living for today and treating each moment as a precious moment is yoga.
- Enduring pain, as you have never felt before and surviving it is yoga.
- Coming to a group yoga class and feeling at home is yoga.
- Being responsible for your happiness and wellbeing is yoga.
- Taking time to breathe in the fresh air of a walk or flowers along your path is yoga.
- Taking time to be in stillness and honoring the beauty around you is yoga.
- Seeing the beauty in the scenery/company around you no matter what is yoga.
- Tuning into how you feel in each yoga pose as you practice yoga is yoga.
- Letting go of thinking there is a level to how you/we practice yoga is yoga.
- Knowing you don’t have to do a single inversion in yoga to be a yogi is yoga.
I could go on forever… but I think you get my drift.
There is a yogi inside of all of us wanting to be cultivated. A need to “Yoke” or unite with the Mind – Body – Spirit and a community. To feel peace in a time of uncertainty. To feel alive in the time of a tough event in your life, a yoga posture, marathon. To have something to share, teach or give. Finding something new to learn daily and often we learn from each other. It is a connection to ourselves just waiting to be cultivated.
So to me… a high level yogi is someone who can find and practice those things listed above. And if you find all of that while in a handstand? Then you are doing a handstand for the right reason. But if you can do a handstand because for some reason it comes easy to you or because you want to fit into a category/high level? Then you are no more of a high level yogi than a beginner.
So know your “Why”? Why do you feel the need to do a handstand? How do you feel in a handstand? Honor it, become it and resist letting it define you as you honor all the yoga poses or even the thought that doing zero physical postures is still yoga. Make becoming a master of Savasana the new handstand!
Meditation, laughter, eating well, living for today and breathing can all be described as a practice of yoga. Ayurveda is a big part of achieving this.
So, given all of this… what is your level of yoga? What are your intensions and what is it you seek?
Even though Svadhyaya = Self-study, it doesn’t mean you know where to begin and have to do it all on your own! In my intro I mentioned Yoga traditionally was practiced 1 on 1 with a master/guru while also doing your “OM” work (play on words for “home” work) on your own daily. So find a guide, mentor or companion to help you along your path.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
I have several offerings to help you explore, let me know how I can help.
- Sign up for my online course “Cultivate Your Inner Yogi” training. It is a fraction of the cost of a full 200 hour teacher training and will cover all the yummy stuff, minus becoming a teacher. No experience necessary to start (remember, you already started your practice just by reading this!) and if you are a more seasoned yogi you will be enlightened by learning more off the mat techniques and theories. 10 hours of yummy, yoga off the mat, mastering your mindset, online learning from the comfort of your own couch or bed! The Modules are self study and can be watched anytime, on your own. You can even listen to the audio only version while you walk your dog, run or commute to work.
- Schedule a private, 1 on 1 session with me in person or online if you are outside of the North Front Range of Colorado.
- Visit my online yoga studio “Svadhyaya yoga and wellness by Renee Stahl” where I have posted a couple of free offerings like a recorded 15 minute breathing exercise and 15 minute Guided Sun Salutation A. Plus see my upcoming offerings as well.
- Visit and browse my website to read more blog posts, schedule private yoga, facials or a wellness consultation with me.