*Advanced means different things to different people at different time. What I mean for the purposes of this article are poses that are more difficult or involved and that are inspirational for many of us.
Open any yoga publication and I can pretty much guarantee that you will find hundreds of beautiful photographs of slim white women doing gravity defying or contortionist yoga poses.
These photos are often beautiful – I can appreciate them for many reasons. The artistry, the work that went into them (having done a few photo shoots myself, let me just say…ow), and the poses themselves, which I find fascinating.
There’s been some backlash lately. I’ve participated in it myself to a degree, decrying the lack of diversity in yoga publications and yoga stock photos. I’ve heard many arguments against the proliferation of these asana photos including accusations of ego and showing off, exploitation and sexualization of yoga, encouraging unsafe practice with little or no instruction and therefore causing injuries, and triggering an effect of feeling “less than” among less flexible or less strong yogis etc.
Some members of the community are going so far as to say that not only should we not be photographing “advanced” poses but we shouldn’t be doing them or teaching them at all. The argument, as far as I can tell, is that these poses aren’t necessary and that the potential for injury is too great. In addition, most students can’t handle them so, as teachers, we shouldn’t be encouraging their practice. Some have gone so far as to suggest that doing these “advanced” poses distances us from the original intent and practice of yoga.
I can understand these arguments and I think every teacher and practitioner needs to react to evolving trends in the yoga community in whatever way is most authentic to them. However, my own reaction to these photographs has been different. Instead of shying away from “advanced” yoga poses, I’ve made more of an effort lately to include them in my own practice and I’ve been photographing them as well. Why? Well for starters, I don’t think the solution to the lack of diversity in yoga publications is for me to opt out. One thing that I absolutely can do as a representative of one part of the diverse yoga community is to take photographs of my practice and share them as widely as possible.
Secondly, attempting to do difficult poses as a larger person has been an incredibly interesting process for me as a student and teacher of yoga. Figuring out an asana that doesn’t come easily or naturally teaches me so much about myself. I can observe my reactions to stress or frustration, which constantly surprise me. The experience of struggling to master a new pose shows me so many tools to use in my teaching when a student is confronted with her own frustrations or barriers. In short, I think the aspirational poses – whatever that means to you – are necessary, important, make me a better yoga teacher and are valuable teachers in their own right.
Yes these poses are risky – there is always a risk of injury in any physical endeavor we choose. We all have to decide for ourselves whether the risk is worth it. I always encourage students and readers of my blog to mitigate that risk by proceeding slowly and carefully with the aid of a qualified teacher. But, in my opinion, policing “advanced” yoga or taking away the opportunity to practice any asana or sequence would be completely antithetical to my work of making yoga accessible to everyone. Instead, I do my best to help students find a way to make poses and sequences work for them no matter who they are, what they look like and what they’re capable of.
Pictures courtesy of SupportiveYoga.com