What is an advanced practice anyway?

Have you got an advanced yoga practice? What makes a yoga practice advanced anyway?!

Is it only the ability to do advanced asana, that makes an advanced practice?

This was a discussion that I had with some other yoga teachers over the summer in Bali. We were trying to define what is it to be an advanced yogi…Years practising, time spent practising each day, advanced series or asana, meditation, focus? Or all of them?!

The conclusion that we came to quite easily was: integration. The ability to integrate yoga naturally into life and a practice that integrates mind and body. This means practising in a calm, focussed, mindful way  – present with what you’re experiencing, without your mind elsewhere or without over-straining to please your ego.

For example, the ability to challenge yourself without straining, whilst remaining calm and focussed – being aware of possibilities and limitations. Yet also being accepting of your current state of mind and body, without losing focus and concentration. (At one end, don’t hurt yourself by trying to hard in a pose and don’t stay in a pose for the sake of your ego, yet don’t relax too much you fall asleep or avoid ever challenging body and mind.)

So, this focus, acceptance and awareness does come with time and experience – but also means that you don’t need to be practising super challenging postures to be advancing in your yoga journey. It has more to do with the state of mind you are in, whilst practising.

Interestingly  there is no real physical benefit to doing more advanced poses. A simple backbend has the same benefit as a deep back bend on the spine, and with less risk. There may be extra mental concentration and benefit to the nervous system in a deeper posture, but on a purely physical level we can gain as much from something much simpler.

4 Ways to Advance your Yoga Practice, without ‘advanced’ asana

  • Pay attention – to your body and your head. Try to notice when you’re thinking about breakfast/ dinner, work, what to wear later etc. etc. We all have these thoughts from time to time! But learn to notice and let go, come back to what you’re doing, your feelings and your breathing, and it becomes the norm.
  • Pay attention – to yourself, over others! In group classes it’s so easy to look around and compare but really what someone else is doing is irrelevant to you. Give your body and mind the  individual unique attention it deserves.
  • Observe your physicality and mentality, at that moment. Just because you have done a particular pose or sequence before, doesn’t necessarily mean you can, or should, do it today. Respect the fluctuations of the body and challenge it when appropriate, back off when required.
  • With all that practise observing your own body, thoughts and breath in yoga, you’ll find a greater awareness of them out of yoga. Embrace the ability to stay calmer, to stand taller and to think clearer. To be less judgemental of yourself and others, to have less mental chatter, fuller breath and more inner joy.