My teacher, Matthew Sweeney, said something during our last course in Bali that struck me. He said that research is empirically validating what yogis have known all along: yoga postures are good for health and well-being. Then, he said the thing that has stuck with me:
“Research has shown too that the benefits are in the simple postures. Doing advanced postures brings no more benefit and in fact, brings increased risk.”
This was a new perspective, if not new information. And yet, many practitioners – myself included – are drawn to complex (“advanced”) postures.
This makes it clear to me that we practice yoga postures for many reasons. Health is one, but there are benefits that complex postures (this being relative to each person – essentially meaning “challenging” in this context) can deliver, for those who choose to practice them.
Humans can be described as “anti-fragile” – a system that becomes stronger, not weaker, under stress. Challenge is necessary for growth and even maintenance and stability.
There is an elegance, art, and aesthetic component to practicing yoga postures. We express ourselves creatively, as both the artist and the medium.
Finally, there is an awareness and an analytical piece: complex postures are typically complicated and intricate. Indeed, the risk is greater – and therefore the awareness may need to be greater, the precision greater, and the depth of understanding of how to express the posture with your own body greater. Challenge can be a lens that magnifies, clarifies, and brings into focus complexities we would otherwise never comprehend.
Needless to say, simple and advanced postures are not mutually exclusive. Understanding our motivations and benefits gives us the leverage to tailor even the mental perspective with which we approach our yoga practice. The choice is yours.