Before diving into the descriptive elements of an intermediate asana practice, it’s imperative to point out that our practice can only be labeled when it is stagnant. As yoga practitioners we can see the metamorphosis of our body and mind every time we step onto our mats. Change only comes about with action, and change has the innate ability to positively impact our practice. Whether we are challenged by new goals we have set for ourselves, or by obstacles that we hadn’t anticipated, change requires an adaptation of mind and body.
When it comes to defining our practice, the lines between beginning, intermediate, and advanced can get rather blurry. There is a limit to what can be gained by labeling our abilities. For the sake of qualifying where our physical practice lands on this continuum, (and to better ascertain our own levels of understanding and awareness) we can set a few markers that can help us gauge our progress.
Begin with the mindset that we need to accept our practice as it is, with the understanding that the asanas present us with the opportunity to be aware of our internal state, as well as our physical disposition. They show us where we are stuck, and offer us opportunities to transcend our challenges. Because we are always changing, we should be ever ready to work within the flow of our practice. But it is necessary to be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge our limitations, edges and habits. Whether or not you can touch your toes doesn’t move you from one category to another. A more helpful set of criteria would include understanding the actions necessary to take you into a posture, and the ability to make the subtle changes needed to find ease in each pose. Simultaneously, we bring our awareness to where we are now, where we can be, and where it’s too soon to go. It can take far more discipline to exercise restraint than to keep pushing ourselves. Understanding our bodies’ limitations is one of the key elements required to developing the trust necessary to further our practice. As we encounter more demanding asanas, it becomes even more critical to keep the lines of communication open between body and mind. This keeps us safe and inspires the evolution of our practice. This loving, nurturing and compassionate approach to a practice allows us to find the comfort and ease necessary to fully understand the potency of each posture.
Since the asanas were made for us, and not the other way around, it should not be assumed that we can properly enter a posture and stay there comfortably, the first time we try it. Finding and understanding the correct alignment for our body takes mindfulness and time. Our bodies don’t always conform easily to these new experiences, and that’s okay. We have our whole lifetime to practice yoga. We don’t have to get it all right the first time we step onto a mat. The physical practice of yoga is a journey and our bodies are not stagnant. Life affects us both physically and mentally. As we move through this intermediate phase of our yoga, the most helpful thing we can do for ourselves is to respond compassionately to the effect it has on our bodies.