What is ‘advanced’ yoga?

Watercolour images of yoga asana with the words 'What is 'advanced' yoga?'

I’ve seen a few social media posts recently about ‘advanced’ yoga and ‘advanced’ practitioners/students/yogis (whichever term you use) and what this actually means.

So often, being ‘advanced’ in yoga is seen as being ‘more flexible’, able to hold ‘complex asana’ or being able to have a stronger/more intense physical practice.

I speak to people who have tried yoga and they tell me the thing they struggled with was ‘not seeing improvements’ – they were expecting more from their body every week – more flexibility, more strength, more complex asana, and when they didn’t see or feel this, they thought they were failing, or that they were ‘bad at yoga’ or ‘not as good as everyone else’.

This has made me reflect on my own practice a lot over the last few days. When people hear I’m doing my yoga Teacher Training (YTT), I’m often met with responses of “oh, getting all flexible” or “oh you must be getting so bendy!”.

If I look at my body now, compared to my body when I went to my first ever yoga class, I’m less flexible, my body is larger and I’m not as physically fit as I was. I think back to classes I did and I know for a fact I would be opting out of a lot of the sections or adapting it a lot to fit my body as it is now.

Does this mean I’m bad at yoga? No.

Does this mean I’ve not been practicing yoga? No.

Does this mean I haven’t improved? No.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt on my journey so far, is that the improvement I see in my yoga practice, is mainly mental/internal.

My yoga practice has helped me become more intuitive in life: intuitive eating, intuitive movement, intuitive self care and intuitive rest. My feelings about my body have improved, thoughts are centred on love and kindness to my growing and ever changing body, instead of constantly wanting to change or shrink my body. My practice now is much more focused on restorative yoga, letting my body have the rest it needs and craves, giving myself permission to rest, permission to learn how to just be.

My yoga practice now includes reading / self study, with a greater focus on the teachings of yoga which aren’t centred on asana (the physical element of yoga).

As a community, we need to expand our definitions of ‘advanced’ yoga and ensure we’re sharing the many benefits of yoga beyond the physical. And that improvement, isn’t the focus, it’s about learning to be, in that moment, as you are.

As teachers we need to support our yoga practitioners with managing their expectations. As practitioners we need to reflect on our own expectations. And as a community we need to share the experiences of others, and provide an alternative narrative to the idea that advanced yoga practitioners are the people doing handstands and complex binds.

How has your yoga practice changed over time? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, let me know in the comments below.

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