The photo here shows my son Kyle and I doing a forward bend. It appears that my bend represents an ‘advanced’ stage of yoga, while Kyle’s represents an ‘intermediate’ stage. In fact, we are at the same stage; we are both beginners.
Any activity you do with full integrity places you at a virtual beginning stage. In this case, doing yoga fully means that I thrust forward until I reach my limit. Kyle is doing the same. We are both at our limit; we are both beginners.
However, we don’t usually see life this way. Instead, Kyle appears to be the beginner and me the master. Seeing it this way is competative and causes us to assume that the goal is to bend forward like the ‘master’. This usually rouses comments akin to “I can’t do that” or “I can do that better”. Actually, the only goal in yoga is to do the task at hand fully and honestly. This applies to all action. The Bhagavad-Gita points this out, although from a Taoist point of view, much too romantically.
3:7 But great is the man who, free from attachments, and with a mind ruling its powers in harmony, works on the path of Karma Yoga, the path of consecrated action.
6:17 A harmony in eating and resting, in sleeping and keeping awake: a perfection in whatever one does. This is the Yoga that gives peace from all pain.
In this yogic approach to life, one is always a beginner, regardless of how it appears to the outside world. If one is always a beginner why show examples of what appears advanced? That just sets up false goals and limits, i.e., “I must do that” or “I can’t do that”. I’d say, comparing and competing are natural stages we go through on our way to impartiality — the Holy Grail of Taoist thought. Chapter 16 ends with, Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural, Natural therefore the way. The way therefore long enduring, nearly rising beyond oneself. Yep, rising beyond one’s ego sounds peaceful indeed!
We instinctively admire expertise and strength, and in the case of yoga, flexibility too. There is also a social component; we embrace role models who exemplify the strengths we seek for a ‘better life’. Chapter 36 reminds us of the ironic path we trod, In desiring weakness, one must first strive, In desiring to let go, one must first begin… Weakness is superior to strength.
I suppose you could say we begin at the end and travel back to the beginning. From a correlations point of view that makes total sense, i.e., time stays backward, energy moves forward. (photo: who is doing the better yoga?)