What Is an 'Advanced' Yoga Class?

Last week I got interviewed by Nina & Liz, the podcasts hosts at Finding your shine (formerly ‘Wine & Shine’ if you’ve come across that name!) and of course, we talked about… Well… Yoga.

Their philosophy is to interview (mostly) women who have their own way, their own special skill, if I may, of helping others grow through changes and re-adjustments in food habits, exercise and movement, spirituality and other holistic practices. All guests - and both hosts - have this mission to encourage women to question their habits and mindset in order to make space for growth, change, and evolution. I guess we could  pretty confidently say my way to do it is through writing and lots (lots...) of questioning and detective work.

Although I don’t want to spoil the episode for you, I do want to discuss a topic that came up during our conversation: advanced yoga.

Advanced yoga pose: headstand, salamba sirsasana

Advanced yoga poses

Is this more challenging that sitting in meditation for an hour?

The thing with yoga these days is that the way we perceive it is very tainted by what we see on Instagram and the media in general (think about Yoga Journal magazine covers, yoga studio websites, images that show up on Pinterest when you look for vinyasa yoga flows). Beautifully curated Instagram yoga feeds make us believe yoga is a) only about poses (when they’re only ⅛ (!!) of the practice), that b) there is such a thing as a right way to do a yoga pose and c) that the more inversions and physically challenging poses you can do, the more advanced you are.

Of course, the asana practice, i.e. the physical practice of yoga, is usually the aspect of yoga we become familiar with in the first place. Of course, it matters to practice yoga so it’s safe and prevents (very real) yoga injuries.

And yes, of course, you will (and can!) get a kick out of mastering a challenging yoga pose after consistently dedicating time and energy to practicing a handstand or flying pigeon.

But what about taking what you learn on the mat… off the mat?

What about adding a bit of presence to your day-to-day conversations, the way you do on the mat? Shouldn’t that also be part of the concept of ‘advanced yoga’? How about that consistency and resilience you built throughout all these months (maybe years!) spent working on that physically challenging pose - don’t you think they would seep into your relationships, add to your set of personal and work values, maybe even through the way you cook or run?

Advancedis a very subjective word and when it comes to yoga, the possibilities for using it are virtually endless.

Advanced: at a higher or more difficult level.
— Your Friend the Dictionary

This means that, depending on one's own experience, the more difficult level won’t be the same for a professional dancer, someone who grew up in silent mountains or a busy city, or someone who’s been taught to express gratitude from a very young age.

So, consider the following situations and see for yourself

Would you consider these advanced? Why or why not?

Sitting in meditation for an hour
Being completely present and focused during a full hour of restorative or yin yoga
Being able to use ujayi pranayama, a breathing technique, during a whole vinyasa class
Spending time every morning meditating on the Radiance Sutras
Reading about the philosophy behind yoga, for example, the topic of yamas and niyamas (the ethic principles)

Are we really doing the world of yoga justice when using the word 'advanced' only in reference to yoga classes when they're only one aspect of the challenges?

Find a meditation routine and style that works for you

Going further and deeper, we can also start questioning the whole purpose of being an advanced yogini. Why be advanced? Can someone really be an advanced yogini? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of yoga, which ultimately, is about letting go of the ego in favor of acceptance, tolerance, openness, truth, ultimate love?

How about simply experiencing yoga? 

Let’s not forget (be ready to read this over and over again), yoga is 8 limbs. The problem with considering advanced yoginis only people those can master so-called ‘advanced yoga poses’ and attend ‘advanced vinyasa classes’ is that it excludes the seven other ways anyone can be advanced. It puts the physical practice of yoga on a pedestal. It reinforces our egos. It scares 'beginner' yogis away. Do we really want that?

What does advanced mean to you? Had you thought about all this before?

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