How to Be Good at Yoga

Headstand Yoga for Athletes

Can you be “good” at yoga?

Take a moment to build a mental image of a person that is really good at yoga.

What pose(s) are they doing? What are they wearing? Where are they practicing? Who are they practicing with? What does their mat look like?

Even though these might seem like the most relevant questions, they’re actually pretty far off from what matters most. The main issue with these questions is they address external characteristics of this hypothetical person.

Reading Books by Their Cover

We’re conditioned to think that we can know all we need to know about someone by what we see. Taking this into the yoga room, it’s natural to conflate physical abilities with internal qualities.

But, to be good at yoga, almost every determining factor happens internally, within the person. Being good at yoga is in a person’s intention or purpose (invisible), their ability to stay focused in the moment for extended periods of time (invisible), making intelligent choices based on their physical limitations (invisible).

You can’t see if someone is good at yoga. In any yoga class, what’s really happening is individuals experiencing their personal practice in a group setting, even if this setting fuels the very thing yoga seeks to subdue.

Final Thoughts

So, that person doing a handstand over there? Good for them. Their ability to do this single pose doesn’t make them better at yoga or, more importantly, a better person.

Also, you’re not getting better at yoga by watching them.

It’s in our nature to compare, compete, worry, and give in to distractions. These external factors contribute to a mind that’s constantly in flux and rarely at peace. Working on the things that help us focus and prolong tranquility is what makes us better at yoga.

Yoga is More Than Just Stretching

Plank Pose Yoga for Athletes

A common misconception about yoga is that it’s all a bunch of “stretching”.

When speaking with athletes and coaches, I often receive questions along the lines of “what yoga stretches do you know for [insert physical ailment]?” or “how are yoga stretches different than regular stretches?”.

These are fair questions. Stretching is a major factor in common yoga classes and a lot of people get into yoga as a means to “get more flexible”. We’re also conditioned to think that stretching and yoga are synonymous due to the way yoga is commonly portrayed in the media.

As fair as these questions are, they reduce yoga to a single physical act. Considering yoga and stretching as essentially the same thing is like saying soccer and kicking are equivalent. At the end of the day, isn’t soccer just a bunch of kicking? To the person who hasn’t spent a lot of time watching or playing soccer, “kicking” pretty much sums it up.

But, of course, kicking is just one of the physical aspects of soccer. Taken a step further, physical aspects are just one part of the greater whole of the experience. What about the the psychological demands the sport plays on the athlete?  Or, the community that grows around the sport?

So, when I receive questions about “yoga stretches”, I have a difficult time giving a straight answer. The best response I’ve come up with is this: do yoga.

What’s the best yoga stretch for tight hamstrings? Do yoga.

How are yoga stretches different from regular stretches? Do yoga.

Even though it seems dismissive, the act of doing and experiencing yoga will answer these questions better than words.