What is an advanced yoga practice?
When I was new to my yoga practice, I would have said that an advanced practice was one that included a strong, vigorous flow and culminated in inversions, arm balances and complicated backbends.
I now believe that “advanced” is a state of mind. An advanced practice is one where you’re fully present, linking movement to breath and finding ease and spaciousness in the poses. The difficulty level of the poses is really beside the point.
In fact, I’ve found that a “basic” yoga class is often the best vehicle to get me into the zone in my yoga practice, where I’m no longer just working hard to get into my poses, but fully experiencing the practice. Basic doesn’t mean easy – the poses may be more fundamental, but if you approach the practice with the right frame of mind, a basic class can offer the opportunity to become truly engaged. And after all, isn’t that the whole point of yoga? The longer I do yoga, the more I find myself returning to basic classes to refresh my practice.
Here’s why a basic class is so essential to my yoga practice:
- Satisfaction: By keeping the poses simple, it allows me to explore each pose and transition in more detail than would be possible in a complicated flow class. I find that my Down Dogs, Warrior poses and Triangles are much more spacious and satisfying when I’m doing a basic practice, simply because there is more time and attention devoted to each foundational pose.
- Focus: My focus is more internalized in a basic class. Let’s face it – we all have some degree of competitiveness in us. I know I’ve found myself looking around the room and comparing my poses to others in the class, especially when trying to do the “fancy” poses. When the class is comprised mostly of more fundamental poses, I’m less likely to engage in watch-asana, and more interested in exploring how the pose feels in my body today.
- Meditation: A basic class can be a meditation in motion. If you’ve practiced yoga for a long time, the poses offered in a basic class are probably ingrained in your mind and body. I tend not to overthink my movements in a basic class and instead, allow things to unfold as I observe the effect on my body.
- Muscle Memory: Revisiting foundational poses without regard to taking the practice further into more complicated poses can ironically make the complex poses more accessible. It should be no surprise that the component actions needed to get into the basic poses are pretty much the same as those needed in more complex poses. Ingraining these actions into your mind and muscle memory through a basic practice can allow you to move into the fancier poses with more ease because the foundations of the pose are already imprinted in your body.
- Freedom: When I walk into a class where I know that the poses will be accessible, I don’t waste time wondering about what the peak pose(s) will be, or whether the class will be too challenging for me. This frees my mind up to focus on the moment rather than looking ahead to what may be coming next.
- Breath work: I find I can focus more easily on synching my breath to my movements when the structure of the class is less complicated. When the breath flows freely and naturally, the movement is so much more effortless!
- Grace: The actual physical practice is only one small aspect of yoga. If attaining crazy Instagram-worthy poses is your main goal, taking gymnastics and contortionism will get you there faster than yoga. Everyone is drawn to yoga for a different reason, but I’m willing to bet that physical strength and greater flexibility are only a portion of why you have a yoga practice. A basic class allows me to tap into the other aspects of the practice that I love – finding calm and ease and contentment in my movement, and learning to develop grace under pressure.
- The “AHA” Moment: I’ve had more “Aha!” moments in basic classes than I can count. When the poses are more fundamental, it allows me to focus more on what the instructor is trying to convey, whether it’s a theme or unique cues or an interesting sequence or transition. I’m an analytical person at heart, so it brings me to my happy place to discover new insights in my practice.
So, if you’ve avoided basic classes because you feel your practice has advanced beyond the basic, you may want to revisit this notion. Keep an open mind and an open heart, try a basic class with an instructor that you connect with and you may be surprised at what you may learn!
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She, unfortunately, did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement last year, she completed her 200-hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko, and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.
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