The first major hurdle (oft dreaded poses that take years to master) is Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (see pic.)
If students can’t fully extend their top leg, they can hold their shinbone instead of the foot (see bottom pic) or just keep the leg bent. No big deal, right? If you can’t do it like the woman in Yoga Journal magazine, what difference does it make? You do your best, then let it go. (Unless you’re getting sponsored by a clothing company and posting on Instagram. Then the rules of yoga philosophy do not apply.) It might take someone four years (or ten, or perhaps it will never happen) to be able to straighten both legs in this pose. If you can’t be happy without doing a “perfect” pose, you’re in for a miserable
year decade life.
One Monday night I subbed Intro to Ashtanga at my favorite studio. A student rolled up his mat and walked out as soon as we finished Side One of this pose. I could see through the glass door to the lobby that he stayed there for about 20 minutes talking to my friend at the front desk. I thought she’d convince him to stay and he’d walk in quietly and unroll his mat. But he just left! THAT’s how hard this pose and THAT’s how much our egos can get in the way of our practice. The pose would’ve been over in another 45 seconds but he couldn’t ride it out. It drained him emotionally.
Later I learned from the front desk gal why he really left. She said, “Cindy was practicing on the mat next to him and she can get her legs completely straight. He thought that since this class is listed as Level One, no one should be able to straighten their legs.” I was relieved that he didn’t leave because of my nasally voice or bad jokes, but his reason for leaving early is hands-down the most ridiculous I have ever heard in my 10 years of teaching. Comparing yourself to the person next to you is unproductive and a waste of time.
Beginner classes are good for:
- Yogis who are tired that day (all levels)
- Yogis who have been traveling and feel stiff (all levels)
- Yogis who want to get back to the fundamentals (all levels)
When I told a friend the story of the Guy Who Left Early Because Cindy Straightened Her Leg, she quoted a lesson taught in her third grade classroom.
“If you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
In Ashtanga yoga you will never be the best in the room, and that’s how you grow. It will break down your ego and build you back up everyday. The Primary/First series is hard enough to keep yogis busy for decades and there’s no guarantee that a practitioner will ever move on to the Intermediate Series. Get over it, get to class and, if you can’t handle how amazing everyone is around you, don’t look at them.