I always think of your level as a yogi more in terms of your mental state than your physical prowess... because it's true! If you've ever been around an enlightened being... you know in your soul that the yogic state has NOTHING to do with bending into a pretzel. For an authority on this topic let's look back (waaaay back) to the ancient text Śiva Saṃhitā*. It offers some powerful insight that coincides with what I've noticed over the years. Note that some words in classic texts can be extreme or hyperbolic - this is called arthavāda - and it's actually meant to trigger shock to help us learn and remember a point! The language meant to shine the light of awareness on our inner attitudes, so that we may mature as yogis. We might also keep in mind that not all of us start as beginners (in terms of internal mind set)... or that we may bounce around at different times of life, depending on our internal or external circumstances. Read on...
Beginner Yogi - Focus on the Body
"One who is unenthusiastic, foolish, sickly, slandering the teacher, greedy, of wicked mind, overeating, oversexed, fickle, timid, diseased, dependent, rude and ill mannered." (Śiva Saṃhitā)
Okay, I'll admit, this is a little rough (I almost bailed on the whole article because of this quote)! Keep in mind there is some arthavāda here (that's that extreme language I warned you about). To simplify the point, a beginner is rough around the edges and needs extra support, on all levels. Try to remember... what were you like when you started. For example, unenthusiastic - most begin a yoga practice with some interest, but often a beginner has been "dragged" by a friend, is "checking it out" or "getting their toes wet" but isn't yet full of enthusiasm for yoga. Or take the word sickly - this can simply mean such a person has more health problems, which explains why a beginner is often focused on exploring the pure physical benefits of yoga. We could also look at the word fickle - beginners tend to float in and out of yoga until they are more stable, committed and enthusiastic due to the results they have gotten!
Beginner Yogis are ready for
• Learning to feel comfortable and at ease in the body
• Developing trust in the yoga and the teacher
• Foundational poses that promote physical healing and stress reduction (these are often Fully reclined, resting poses such as Shavasana)
One is a beginner as long as one is in the process of cultivating the basics - basic body awareness, basic trust in the the teacher, basic enthusiasm for the practice, basics of the foundational poses. What's beautiful is that the yoga itself brings one through the process of transformation and resolving the "issues" of a beginner. We become ready for intermediate yoga when we start to experience some of the healing of the body we were looking for, as well as some changes beyond what we were looking for - some of the full spectrum benefits of yoga.
Intermediate Yogi - Focus on a Yogic Life
"One who is even-minded, endowed with patience, intent on merit, soft-spoken, neutral and without a doubt equal in all activities is a middling [intermediate] practitioner." (Śiva Saṃhitā)
Okay there's hope for us! Things are definitely looking up here! Some practitioners first come to yoga already in this "middling" state, and though they still may begin at the beginner level for practical reasons (such as learning the basic poses), such a student moves more quickly to Intermediate Yoga. This person approaches the practice with curiosity about what more yoga has to offer them beyond what they got at the beginner level. They are becoming more aware of the overall effect of yoga on their body and their life. They see the physical practices of yoga as a means to a healed and transformed life and are motivated to change more. How and when one moves from the beginner level to intermediate simply depends on the individual.
Intermediate Yogis are ready for
Deeper Yogi - Focus on the True Self
"One who has a stable mind, is self-reliant, energetic, high-minded, endowed with compassion, forebearing, truthful, courageous, with faith in yoga, appreciating the teacher and fond of yoga practice should be known as a special practitioner. To this student, the teacher imparts yoga entirely." (Śiva Saṃhitā)
Again, like with intermediate yogis, some practitioners first come to yoga already in this Deeper Yogi state. Though again, such a yogi will still start at the beginner level of yoga poses for practical reasons, they likely move more quickly to this Deeper place, called the "special practitioner". Students at this point approach the practice of yoga with a heightened interest in the more subtle effects of yoga, as well as the deeper knowledge of the principles of yoga. The deeper yogi has a deep commitment to themselves. They trust yoga and see yoga as a means to Self-awareness.
Deeper Yogis area ready for
"One who is endowed with great energy, is enthusiastic, charming, heroic, learned, disposed to practice, free from delusion, unperturbed, full of vigor, eating moderately, with senses controlled, fearless, pure, efficient, giving, a refuge for everyone, competent, steady, wise, knowing his own mind, patient, well behaved, of virtuous conduct, doing noble deeds secretly, polite, peaceful, endowed with confidence, worshiping the teacher and the lord of creation, such a very special practitioner of yoga finds success in yoga. (Śiva Saṃhitā)
Yes! Wouldn't this be grand? This describes where we are all hopefully headed as yogis, someday, and the kind of person one should seek to be in the company of. We can embrace these ideals in others and in ourselves as they naturally arise, and we can aim to promote them when possible, without being overly critical of ourselves and others when we seem to fall short.
So Again... It's What Kind of Yogi Are You Now?
This knowledge from the Śiva Saṃhita is helpful to all of us as students of yoga to take an honest look at our minds and behavior, without judgement, labels or feeling badly, and recognize where we still have room to embrace a more enthusiastic, heroic, learned, pure, steady, wise way. We still have some behaviors that could be called foolish, greedy, or rude. We all have room to grow into ourselves, and to use yoga and awareness to become a "special practitioner"... or even "very special practitioner". We might find one phrase from the quotes where we can improve, or one phrase that we can embrace. Just becoming aware of some of our "weaknesses", without blame, and embracing the qualities of a "very special practitioner", one at a time will truly guide us in a yogic life. Remember, yoga is a practice of awareness. I'd love to hear your insights... share in the comments below or find me on Facebook!
*Translations from the Siva Samhita from Teachings of Yoga, by Georg Feuerstein
Yoga Therapist, Ayurvedic Practitioner & Mama - these articles are to support your yoga practice with knowledge and inspiration.