The Yoga Learning Curve From Beginner to Advanced

Judy Rukat
The Yoga Learning Curve From Beginner to Advanced

The mind of a perfect man is like a mirror. It grasps nothing. It expects nothing. It reflects but does not hold. Therefore, the perfect man can act without effort. ~Chuang Tzu

First of all, the concept of Beginner's Mind, approach everything without expectations, applies to ALL practitioners regardless of how many days or years you have studied and practiced yoga. The mind likes to stay active, even during rest—hence the nickname "monkey mind."

We all confront hundreds of daily distractions that zap our focus from the NOW and transport us into "busyness" as usual.

Yoga reminds us to breathe, carrying us away from the monkey mind and back to the tranquil mothership of peace that exists right here, in the present, at the center of the self. Therefore, all yogis consider themselves beginners in this practice.

And, just by showing up on the mat consistently, we arrive at the big realization that with nothing to perfect the practice, it simply teaches the art of "BE-ing."

The Progression of One’s Yoga Practice

Every yogi and yogini faces very specific challenges that they must overcome during the progression of the practice. The good news is, as these lessons show up again and again in yoga and in life, you will not only know them, but also welcome them with open arms, embracing the opportunity to grow.

The valuable recognition of familiar stories, recurring themes, and even samskara awakens you to your core essence and teaches you how to embody your own divinity as you travel the way of the yogi.

Yoga Newbie: "How Do I Learn?"

Overcoming Self-Doubt

Humans, creatures of habit, develop lifestyle and movement patterns that become so ingrained that we rarely spend any time thinking about, let alone pause to observe how we get from Point A to Point B on any given day.

But, as soon as you settle your bare feet unto your brand new mat, your instructor will invite you to notice everything—from your breath, to the physical sensations as they come and go, to even those subtle thought waves passing through your ocean of a brain that produces infinite musings constantly!

Who knew that such a simple request, “Just notice,” could be so daunting?

Brand new yoga students can easily feel overwhelmed and embark on deep circular conversations with their chatty inner critic, rather than telling him or her to pipe down at least until AFTER Savasana. Newbies, take heart and remember these two very important things:

  1. When acquiring a new skill of any kind, allow yourself to NOT KNOW.
  2. Failure does not exist in yoga.

Gradually, as you figure out what works for you and what does not, you will understand your individual learning style, build on it, and eventually replace self-doubt with self-acceptance.

Intermediate Practitioner: "Why Am I Learning This?"

Overcoming the Waves of Excitement and Boredom

You no longer feel intimidated in the front of the room, you can flow with less effort, and your yoga hour(s) are truly the happiest part of the day.

You realize that ‘this yoga stuff’ works, and amidst discovering the amazing strength and flexibility you now believe you can cultivate, you find yourself actually looking forward to the next "AHA!" moment of self-discovery.

But then, as these moments happen less frequently, your focus wavers and you may wonder, “What is up with all this repetition?” Feelings of boredom arise and a desire to seek purpose or "truth" may take hold.

While the longing to know will motivate you to continue, searching too hard with rigid intent can lead to less answers and greater frustration.

Keep in mind that childlike innocence, full trust, curiousity, and openness will get you closer to contentment than actually coming to any conclusion. Observe life as it flows, and monitor those flames of ambition, because while a little heat can soothe, too much of a fire will burn.

The Advanced Yogi: "Will I Ever Stop Learning?"

Overcoming Ego

You may think you know, but you CANNOT know what you have yet to learn.

Sure, you have years comprised of six days a week on the mat, but never underestimate yoga's ability to illuminate the blind spots. We all have shadows and unexplored places in the heart and mind, and the power of presence will inevitably shed light where darkness exists and bring clarity.

Does your practice continue to humble you? If not, you may have found out the strategy of the ego, the "know it all" aspect of the mind.

We all adapt, and as the practice gets more familiar, almost like second nature, it is imperative that we stay aware and notice as we inevitably slip back into the unconscious habits of the newbie—as such, we come full circle.

There is no such thing as going "pro" in yoga. Every day brings new perspectives, new challenges, and new possibilities. The dedicated practitioner knows his or her body well enough to gauge strengths and weaknesses, and typically understands the progression of the practice.

If you stick with it long enough, you will attain that peak pose you desire. However, by the time you get there, you may have newfound gratitude for the journey, which eclipses the goal to achieve asana. May you embrace the ups, the downs, and every breath of this path, and do your practice!