Yoga

The Basics of Advanced Yoga

An Overview of Advanced Yoga

What are we really talking about when we talk about advanced yoga? It can mean the ability to do more complicated poses, but it can also mean having the experience to decide that those poses aren’t for you. Being physically adept doesn’t make you better at yoga. Some people can put their foot behind their head in their very first yoga class. Others may practice for years and never get that pose. They may have to get comfortable with the idea of releasing their attachment to that pose or any pose.

If we accept that the poses don't matter, should we all just lie down on our backs and breathe deeply instead of trying to do yoga asanas? That is a perfectly valid practice if it's what makes you feel good, but lots of times it feels better to move around. We stretch away stress and tension; we build strength and flexibility to help us stay healthy and prevent pain. We challenge our bodies to do things that are difficult because it feels good to rise to a challenge.

If we succeed we move to the next thing, and if we fail we find out how to be OK with that, discovering that the process is as valuable as the product. We learn to breathe deeply when lying on our backs and when standing on our heads. That's the purpose of advanced asana practice. 

Advanced Poses

A long-term practice is all about continually refining even the most basic poses. As your body awareness improves, alignment becomes your touchstone. As an experienced yogi, you can go into any class and make it as challenging as you want by tuning into your body on a deep internal level and working on the minute details of each pose.

 

When you do asana consistently over time, getting stronger and more flexible, increasingly challenging poses become more accessible. It’s a lot of fun to discover that your body is capable of doing things you never thought would be possible. However, it’s important not to become fixated on the results of this experiment called yoga. You don’t want to find that you're deriving your self-worth from your ability to do handstands or from others’ reactions to your ability to do handstands. 

Advanced poses include intense backbends (wheel pose, for instance), inversions (like forearm stand) and arm balances, often combined in complex ways (scorpion, anyone?). Standing balances and binds, such as bird of paradise, are also in the mix. When you’ll be ready for advanced poses varies greatly. It depends on how long and how regularly you’ve been practicing, but also things like natural flexibility and how many years of dance training you had before starting yoga.

In Ashtanga yoga, you have to become proficient in each pose in the established sequence before you go on to the next.

That’s not true in most other types of yoga, so it’s not unusual to find difficult poses being introduced in intermediate classes. It’s not inherently bad to start working with advanced poses, but you want to make sure that you don’t push things too far and get injured, especially with some of the riskier postures

If you happen to fall on the hyper-flexible side of the spectrum, you have your own set of challenges. Though it's tempting to take each posture to its maximum extension, you will be better served by not going as deep as you can. Consistently over-stretching is counterproductive because it leads to injuries that are difficult to heal. The idea is to find the middle way by making sure your flexibility is controlled in each posture so that it doesn't become a liability.

Developing a Home Practice 

With a mature practice comes the option to explore doing yoga at home on a deeper level. You may also find that home practice is the most expedient way to become comfortable with difficult poses.

Though breakthroughs can and do happen in class, you can never be sure if the teacher will include the pose you are working on or not. Progress happens through consistent attempts, which you can address through home practice.

That said, home practice is not for everyone and shouldn’t be used as a mark of yoga superiority. A studio-based practice continues to be a legitimate way to do yoga, no matter how long you’ve been at this. The community support that you get from a long-term relationship with a yoga studio should not be underestimated. A lot of people combine home and studio practice for the best of both worlds. 

Advanced Sequences for Home Practice

Putting poses together for home practice is a skill that comes with experience and through trusting your intuitive movements. If you're stuck, start with warm up stretches and basic sun salutations to get yourself moving. From there, try one or more of the following:

Becoming a Yoga Teacher

Many advanced yoga students think about training to become yoga instructors. There are lots of reasons to do a yoga teacher training (YTT) course, but a quick road to fame and riches is not one of them. Anyone who is making a living from teaching yoga is doing so with a lot of hustle, usually teaching at multiple locations and doing whatever they can to fill their classes. According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study, only 29 percent of yoga teachers report that teaching is their primary source of income. However, there are great reasons to do a YTT even of you have no interest in teaching. It’s a wonderful way to deepen your practice and one of the few opportunities to learn more about yoga anatomy and philosophy in a group setting, which has the added benefit of connecting you to a community of other yoga lovers. 

Meditation

You may have heard it said that the physical practice of yoga was originally intended to open the body in order to make sitting for long meditations more comfortable. Test this theory by starting your own meditation practice. Yoga asana is sometimes called moving meditation. Focusing on the body is a great way to get out of your head. Once you get a taste of what that feels like, try getting there while keeping your body still. 

Staying Motivated 

As with any activity that you do for a long time, your enthusiasm for yoga may waver from time to time. Sometimes you have to take a break, whether it's due to an injury, family obligations, work, or travel. This is totally normal and no reason to think that it's over for you and yoga forever. Yoga is a very forgiving practice; it will still be there when you're ready to come back. These tips for restarting your practice will help you ease back in.

What if there's no big reason for you to stop doing yoga, but you feel unmotivated or bored? Changing up your routine with a different class or by trying a new yoga style can make a huge difference. You may also want to check if you've slipped into any bad yoga habits. Things like negative self-talk and getting competitive with your neighbor on the next mat can suck all the fun out of going to yoga. Becoming aware of these behaviors is the first step toward revamping your attitude.

Yoga Myth Busting

The more you do yoga, the more you've probably realized that some of the things yoga teachers say about our beloved practice don't actually make a lot of sense. For instance, the myth that the yoga asana we do today has any resemblance to what was called yoga 5,000 years ago. Learn more about the recent history of yoga for a clearer understanding of where we're coming from. You may also question where some of the most often repeated maxims about yoga's physical benefits make sense anatomically (short answer, no). Yoga anatomy expert Amy Matthews did some anatomical myth busting for us to clear things up. 

A Word From Verywell

The covers of yoga magazines and the profusion of yoga photos on social media put forth one version of what advanced yoga looks like. But if you talk to anyone who's been at this for more than a few years, they'll tell you that acrobatic poses are not the point. The most advanced practices can be almost post-asana. Yoga is all about freeing yourself from attachments that bring you down. This very much includes attachments to yoga poses themselves. 

Source:

Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. 2016 Yoga in America Study. http://www.yogajournal.com/yogainamericastudy/

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