Last month I got a phone call from someone who was confused that our class schedule has different levels of Simple Yoga. Her assumption was that something simple must be for beginners. Experienced Simple Yoga just wasn’t making sense.
The Simple Part
I explained that the simple part doesn’t define a level of ability, but instead refers to a way of practicing that reduces strain and excess effort. This helps people feel less agitated, more coordinated, and more settled.
In short, reducing strain creates inner simplicity. It organizes the workings of body and mind. This is valuable for beginning and advanced students alike.
Emphasizing ease and simplicity doesn’t mean that a simple practice lacks challenge. To the contrary, it can be as demanding and dynamic as other sorts of yoga, though some of the challenges that arise may be different.
In fact, this simple perspective nudges the practitioner to consider (and reconsider) some commonly accepted assumptions about what is challenging, what is skillful, and what is advanced.
For instance, in my role as a teacher I’m less interested in whether a student can put their palms flat on the floor in a standing forward bend. I’m more interested to see that they’re gaining the skill and sensitivity to encourage their body to open, while maintaining ease and presence.
As a side benefit, the emphasis of awareness over flexibility actually supports long-term increases in flexibility and strength that are appropriate to the student’s body.
Some students do develop (or already possess) aptitude with asanas that might commonly be understood as more advanced, such as capacity for deep forward bends, back bends, arm balances, etc.
Measures of Skill
While the ability to do these poses is one measure of skill, it does not automatically correlate to the self-reliant sensitivity that I mentioned earlier.
Sometimes outward proficiency is clearly connected to inner awareness. Other times, a person’s surface ability to do more advanced poses is disengaged from inner awareness. This will lead to injury.
On the other hand, a student might be less flexible, but still possess a deep sensitivity to the workings of their own body. They may also have valuable knowledge of ways to negotiate their limitations. This is advanced.
Such advanced practice is worth celebrating because it goes against the grain of lot of the asana that’s happening these days.
Attitude and Asana
I often encounter students coming to the practice with an attitude of trying to attain the postures as shapes, without respect to long-term physical integrity and the consciousness that infuses and supports it. This can end up pushing the body to open in an unbalanced way.
Avoiding this sort of approach doesn’t mean avoiding challenging practices. In fact, the skill of moving from effort to ease is key to integrating advanced asanas because unconscious strain is the major obstacle getting in the way.
Therefore, any method offering a way to release restrictive habits is well-suited to provide effective support to grow one’s practice. Simple Yoga is one such path.
Bringing Theory into Practice
If you’d like to test the usefulness of finding ease in a demanding practice, choose an asana that is just at the edge of your abilities. Something perhaps challenging enough that your body (and mind) get a little shaky being in the pose.
Before you do the asana, imagine being in it and see if you notice any mental bracing, or tightening of your body in response to the difficulty of the pose. Then proceed into the asana and keep your awareness open to any sensations that feel like extraneous tension.
After you come out, reflect on your experience, and consider what effort you may be able to subtract, allowing the pose to remain supported, and letting yourself be open to greater ease.
The next time you enter the asana, take information from your previous explorations and also bring an attitude of overall ease into the pose. How does this change your experience?
The above inquiry can begin to reveal how simplicity and ease are essential to all levels of practice. Maintaining ease offers a way to meet challenges with more skill and grace.
The awareness fostered by this approach means that sometimes it can take a little longer to solidify integrity, but doing so means that the next step in opening (whether it’s a more involved asana or an intricate breath practice) will have the support it needs to thrive.