In my life outside of yoga, I’m a filmmaker and producer. I’m currently in the middle of casting my next project, and as I go through all the headshots and resumes, I’m noticing that quite a few actors list yoga as one of their “skills”. Here’s an excerpt from one actor’s resume:
Special Skills and Talents: independently moving eyebrows, stage combat, basic piano, horseback riding, firearms, intermediate tumbling, yoga
One of the roles in my next project calls for a woman in her early 20’s. Although there is no mention of yoga in the casting call, roughly 90% of the actors submitting for this role claim yoga as a special skill, right alongside other skills like “can drive stick” and “fluent in Cantonese”.
Beyond the obvious chuckle factor, this caught my eye because I don’t really think of yoga as a skill. To me, it’s an ever-evolving practice, as well as something that keeps me (somewhat) sane and (somewhat) grounded. As a result, it’s never occurred to me to put yoga down as a skill on my own resume, but apparently I’m the odd man out.
So what’s the difference between a skill and a practice? In my mind, a skill is something that you can be better or worse at. It’s also something that you can be admired for, and maybe even rewarded for. So, for instance, Shaquille O’Neal has basketball “skillz”, and he’s received a lot of money, fame, and adulation as a result. A more down-to-earth example might be a skillful carpenter — he doesn’t necessarily receive fame and fortune for his “skillz”, but he probably does receive a certain amount of respect and appropriate compensation for his skillful work.
A practice, in contrast to a skill, is more about the process or the journey. True, people often practice in order to hone their skills, and they can also evaluate a practice session as being good or bad. But practice is less tainted with the expectations or demands of performance. When we practice something, we can make mistakes and experiment. It’s expected. When you exercise a skill, however, you generally cannot do this and still be considered good at what you do.
So is yoga a skill or a practice? Well, I guess you could call it a skill and a practice. But to me, there’s something funny about treating yoga like basketball, carpentry, math, or cooking. If we approach yoga with an attitude of non-judgement, then it doesn’t make sense to say something like, “I’m better at yoga than you are.” Likewise, it doesn’t make sense to think of yoga as something you can be good or bad at. Your practice just is what it is, based on your current physical/mental state.
Some days when I step on the mat, I hardly have the energy to do a proper vinyasa. Other days, I’m floating into arm balances and handstands with ease. These extremes are neither good nor bad. I’ve been doing yoga long enough to know that one’s yoga practice can fluctuate dramatically from day to day, and year to year. It’s not a skill, per se, but something more like a place that I visit. I come back repeatedly, and somehow these repeated trips add up to one long, unpredictable journey.