I teach a gentle class at one of our local community centers. There are 8 people in my class and they are all beginners. After the fourth class one of my students asked about moving to the next level. This question made me pause and think. My explanation was that yoga is more about a personal level. Unlike dance or martial arts one does not graduate and all of a sudden become advanced. A beginner yoga student should be able to attend an advanced class and be able to follow and like wise an advanced student should be able to attend a beginner class and be challenged.
Keeping this conversation in mind I started our next class talking about just this. The next level. I also thought that perhaps this group who signed up for gentle yoga was looking for more. I told them to go out and try lots of different teachers. Do drop in classes everywhere until you find something you like. Maybe that's me as a facilitator and maybe it isn't, but it is not about making the teacher happy.
I discovered a big box of blocks when I arrived into my room. Normally the room is set up for me and I just have to roll out my mat and start the music. I gave everyone a block and used it to build on some of the postures that we had been working on. Telling them they could use their own bodies or a block, whatever helped them out to make the posture more comfortable. They loved it. Some mentioned during class and others waited until it was over, but all seemed to appreciate the help and the difference the block made.
I had explained to them at the beginning that one of the differences between beginner and intermediate is that an intermediate student does not always have to wait for the instruction. They hear the name of the pose and can assume that posture without being shown or told what to do. I encouraged them to do that, if and when they could. This left many of them with smiles on their face. Especially when I said that the next posture is trikonasana/triangle. Most of them popped right into triangle without waiting for me to tell them how to do it. A proud moment for me as well. I love to see my students fly...
We continued on. They learned a few new postures. Fell over a few times. Laughed at themselves (with my encouragement). From what I saw, they enjoyed their practice. At the end I spoke about the blocks and how in the old days a teacher would take a phone book and each day rip a page out. Phone books have hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages, years in the life of a yoga practice. I use this analogy to demonstrate that yoga is a practice, that it can take years to learn or master a posture and that this is good. It's not about being advanced or beginner, it's about being where you are - today.
I was reminded of this myself the other day. I have been practicing Bhujapidasana/shoulder pressing pose for almost 15 years. I have never been able to attain the posture fully. However, I finally did it. I'm not sure why after so long I am able to balance on my hands while my legs are elevated but I can do it. Maybe my stomach muscles are stronger, maybe I am pressing my legs more, maybe it's because I am thinner, maybe my arms are stronger or my hips more open... who knows. This is all part of the practice, if you do the same posture as well as complimentary postures over and over eventually you will get it an it will feel right.
As a teacher and a student I too attend lots of different classes. I like to see how others teach. I like to try postures that I maybe avoid or don't think about. Mostly I just love the practice in all kinds of forms and venues. Blocks or not, beginner or advance
Jennifer is an RMT, long time yoga practitioner and teacher. Follow her musings as an RMT, yoga teacher, prenatal educator and mother of three.