There was a time in my practice where I was REALLY concerned about being able to arm-balance. And I hate to even admit this, but I would try for so long and so hard that my wrists would end up hurting for days. I thought they looked so cool and if I could do them then people would think I'm a better yogi, or even a better teacher. And furthermore, I would think I was a better yogi! People would be impressed and I would feel accomplished. However, my body just wasn't quite there yet, hence compromising my wrists in order to get into a pose I wasn't ready for and ending up in pain. Not bad pain, and not permanent pain, but pain nonetheless. Is that what yoga is about? Trying to impress people at the expense of hurting yourself? Getting into a pose so that you can finally be "good at yoga"?! HELL NO! Yoga is meant to heal, not hurt. But it can absolutely do both if we are not mindful and aware. My practice has changed a lot in the past couple years. I still like to practice arm balances and handstands from time to time...but I'm not obsessed with them. And I'm certainly not willing to hurt my body in order to get into a pose just to take a picture :)
This leads me into my next soapbox...
There is so much power in BASIC yoga postures. People often underestimate or discount them because they become so familiar. But even a simple down dog can be endlessly refined and adjusted. Even hands and knees position has a lot going on if you really pay attention! Even simply standing with integrity and awareness can be refined more than you could ever imagine!
Sure it's cool to be able to balance on your hands or tie yourself in a knot, but that's not YOGA. I see so many people that are obsessed with trying to get into a certain pose they saw in a magazine or on instagram (myself included at times) -- even at the expense of compromising their joints or hurting their back or what have you. My question is this: What do you think you will get from being able to do that pose? A gold star? Recognition from others? Praise from your teacher? Or maybe a serious shoulder injury? Is it worth it??
In other physical forms of exercise, oftentimes athletes are encouraged to work through or even ignore pain in order to continue to excel at their sport. The yogi is encouraged to LISTEN to their body and what it is trying to tell them with that pain. They then modify or take different variations that better serve them. I teach from a place that resonates for me, but that doesn't mean it's going to work for everyone. Yoga is not one size fits all. I love looking out at one of my classes and seeing people in different variations of poses because that's what works best for them on that particular day.
That said, it's not bad or wrong to have goals or poses you want to work towards.... but take it one step at a time. And listen to what your body is telling you. There are some poses I will NEVER be able to do because that's just not the way my body is built, and I'm ok with that. Take pictures when you get into a headstand for the first time and celebrate it! But don't break your neck trying to get there!
Yoga is a process and a journey that is never ending. If you think you're going to somehow be better or more awakened or happier once you can do full splits or press up into handstand, then you are in for a rude awakening... but you will have a cool party trick Sounds cliche, but it's truly about the journey not the destination. You can never fully arrive. You will always be learning. I am always learning, and the more I learn the more I realize I don't know. Allow yourself to be a student. Be humble. Go slow. Take your time. And be patient. Breathe. That's yoga.