There are thousands upon thousands of yoga poses and variations, and it’s tempting to try them all. I always encourage practicing a variety of poses rather than getting stuck in the habit of doing the same favorites.
If you follow any Instagram yoga accounts, you might feel inspired (or discouraged) to try some of the “fancy” and photogenic poses, and you might think you have to be ready for an advanced yoga pose–whether you really are or not. It might start to seem like those poses are the goal of yoga.
BUT. That’s not to say they’re not great poses. In yoga, all poses are beneficial; there’s not one you could call “better” than another.
And when you practice, some of them will end up coming to you as a result of that practice (and not even necessarily as a result of practicing that pose). That’s great. What’s not so great, at least in my humble opinion, is when we get so set on achieving a certain pose that we lose track of the process it takes to get there, we miss the many other benefits of our practice, or we hurt ourselves by trying to do something too soon.
So how do you know when you’re ready for some of those poses?
You’re Not Afraid
Years ago, I felt afraid to headstand. Never mind that I did it all the time as a child; now I was a grown-up and it was scary. I was afraid of falling over.
When I stopped feeling that fear, I started practicing headstands.
Of course, fear can and should be faced, but when it comes to certain postures that can put our limbs at risk, fear isn’t going to help us. It might make us more shaky and uncertain when what we need is stability and confidence.
If you’re feeling afraid of a pose like headstand, it could be because your body knows something your mind isn’t admitting, like maybe you’re not yet strong enough or don’t have the body awareness you need to do that pose. Just keep practicing yoga, gain that strength and confidence, and one day the fear might go away on its own.
The Pose Is a Natural Progression
All poses are beneficial, and they naturally build upon themselves. A kneeling plank and knees-chest-chin to the floor gradually works up to full plank and chaturanga.
As you practice bakasana (crane pose), you’ll naturally move on to twisted crane or one-legged crane as you gain confidence, not to mention the strength and flexibility you’re also absorbing from other poses that help inform twisted crane, like twisted chair. That doesn’t mean you’ll leave crane behind forever. You’re just gradually opening up more options.
I practiced yoga for awhile before I ever tried ekapadakaundinyasana (one-legged Sage Kaundinya pose, pictured below), and I couldn’t do it. Then I didn’t try again for a couple of years…and then I could do it. It just appeared. I hadn’t been working on it specifically, but everything else I had been working on gave me the strength, balance, and awareness to do it.
It Doesn’t Feel Forced
If you have to crank on your leg and distort the rest of your body to get it into lotus, and then you can barely breathe because it’s so uncomfortable, you’re not ready. In fact, our breath is a pretty reliable indicator in general. Of course, we may get a little short of breath when we’re doing a challenging pose like dhanuhasana (bow) or flowing through a long series of suriya namaskarasana (sun salutations), but if you’re twisted into a pose and feel like you can’t take a deep, slow breath, you might be doing a little more than you’re ready for.
In yoga, we don’t want to force anything. We want to allow.
You’re Doing It For You
Keeping up with Instagram is a lame reason to do anything. There are some asana that may pose more risks than benefits for certain populations. If you’ve had a hip replacement, for example, you would probably avoid parsvakonasana (side angle pose), no matter how photogenic it is.
What poses benefit your mind, body, and spirit? What poses and breathing techniques are needed right now to bring your mind, body, and spirit back into balance? What feels like fun to you?
The yoga journey is spectacular because it is uniquely yours. Your practice will never look exactly like anyone else’s, because your needs and wishes aren’t like anyone else’s. Embrace the timing and progression of your practice, and approach those advanced poses as you truly feel ready to do so.
See my latest post at Bad Yogi: 5 Things to Consider Before Going for an “Advanced” Pose — this one focuses on being in a yoga class and choosing to do a more advanced version of whatever pose the teacher is teaching.