3 Signs You're Ready for an Advanced Yoga Class
I’ve been teaching both all levels and advanced Yoga classes for about a decade now. I have seen many types of students and practices. I have students who almost religiously take my all levels offerings look at the advanced classes I offer the way I look at the idea of running a marathon: me? Do that? Hard pass. But then every once in a while, a student comes along and who is intrigued by the idea of an advanced class. At some point, such a student will inevitably pose the question, “how do I know if I’m ready for an advanced class?”
It’s a valid question. And my answer is usually a somewhat smug, “You just have to try it.” Yes, I am aware that this is not the answer anyone is truly looking for. I am also aware that smugness is not always the best trait in a Yoga teacher. I’m working on it, which is why this post is here. I do think there are a few objective criteria to consider before you unroll your sticky mat in the packed 5:30p Advanced Vinyasa class at your local studio.
I must, however, take a moment to say that I truly do believe my somewhat smug answer above is the best one out there. It may be vague, but it encourages you to take ownership of your experience and your practice. I believe that such a level of self-awareness is the most important thing to bring with you when you step into any Yoga class, advanced class included.
I find it important to keep in mind that when we speak about the Yoga practice, we are ultimately speaking about a mindfulness practice.
I find it important to keep in mind that when we speak about the Yoga practice, we are ultimately speaking about a mindfulness practice. Even in the most athletic forms of Yoga, we are using our bodies to train our minds. When our minds are alert, focused, and present, we perform at our highest capacity, regardless of whether that performance is an athletic or meditative one.
Now, for those of you who are looking for a concrete, smug-free answer to whether or not you are ready to venture into the world of “Advanced,” “Level 2/3,” or “Master Class” Yoga offerings near you, here’s my two cents:
(1) You feel pretty comfortable with your Yoga practice.
Feeling comfortable in Yoga pretty much defeats the point of Yoga. Yoga is most beneficial when we respectfully challenge our physical, mental, and emotional comfort zones. If you are at the point in your practice where you easily fall into habit and routine, it is likely that your practice does not require a high level mindfulness anymore. Taking a class that challenges you in any way makes you pay attention and helps you flex your mindfulness muscles.
If you are in your head more than present with the teacher in the room, it’s time to shake things up!
Next time you are on the mat, notice how much of the class you are actually listening to your teacher’s cues and engaging with instruction versus how much of class you are doing in your own head. If you are in your head more than present with the teacher in the room, it’s time to shake things up!
If you’re reading this, and your first thought is, “I feel like even the advanced class offerings don’t me out of my comfort zone,” you may want to consider Yoga Teacher Training.
(2) You are less distracted by what a posture looks like and more interested in how it effects your internal experience.
If you ever step foot into one of my group classes, you will often hear me say something to the effect of, “Experience is more important than image.” Because Yoga is a mindfulness practice, our inward experience is of more interest than the exact lines, angles, or Instagram-worthiness of our outward expression. How we do something and why we do something, also known as our intention, tells us far more about the level of our Yoga practice that the shapes our bodies make.
Certain postures will just work better in some bodies than others.
While Yoga asana (the physical postures of Yoga) can massively transform our bodies, it does so by recruiting the mind to be more aware of how to move effectively, efficiently, and skillfully. Not to mention that we are all unique snowflakes and our bodies are all different. Certain postures will just work better in some bodies than others. Some bodies (like gymnasts and dancers) have had years of training that make certain postures fairly easy to do. If a posture is easy to do, regardless of what it looks like, it doesn’t advance your mindfulness of how to utilize your body- it simply maintains a level of understanding you already have.
Instead of focusing on what a posture looks like, an advanced practice focuses on how a posture effects various aspects of your internal experience. How does the posture make your body feel? What emotions come up? Can you make sense out of the technique and intention of the posture?
(3) Your teacher suggests you try a more challenging class.
And alas, we must keep in mind that in spite of how many mala bead necklaces we have, we may still be at times unaware of what is truly in our own best interest. This is why the Yoga tradition puts so much emphasis on knowledgeable teachers. If you have a teacher you know and trust, you can always ask your teacher if moving into a more challenging class level is appropriate for you.
Asking a reliable source for advice is such a powerful way to step outside of the ego and look at your practice as emotion-free as possible.
While you do run the risk of your teacher giving you a somewhat smug answer, more likely than not if you are a regular student and your teacher has seen you practice, you will get a pretty straight answer. A true teacher will most likely guide you in a more objective direction than the little voice inside your head (it’s okay, everyone has that little voice, I’m not calling you crazy). Asking a reliable source for advice is such a powerful way to step outside of the ego and look at your practice as emotion-free as possible.
If you happen to be somewhat of a wallflower during Yoga class, it can be worth it to approach your favorite teacher and ask for private instruction. When you work with a teacher privately, it empowers him/her to see the ways in which you engage with your practice and how you are most likely to advance and improve most effectively.
But you know, that’s why we do Yoga- to face all that uncomfortable and scary stuff that life throws at us.
I wholeheartedly believe that every Yoga practice is unique. And while I hope that the three signs above can give you a way to observe your practice and aid you in deciding what next step to take, I will always stand by my smug yet authentic belief that the only way to truly know if you’re ready is to just take the plunge and find out. I know taking the plunge is uncomfortable, scary, and sometimes you really just wish you would have stayed home with the cats. But you know, that’s why we do Yoga- to face all that uncomfortable and scary stuff that life throws at us. Because let’s face it, the cats will be fine, and we all could bring just little more mindfulness and courage to this world.
Hello, I’m Daniela
I’m 30-year-old literature and philosophy geek turned full-time yoga teacher. I am passionate about living a wholehearted life that honors and allows me to enjoy the gift that is the human body, the power that is the human mind, and the beauty that is the human spirit. That’s how and why I practice and teach Yoga. I’m into making awkward jokes and being radically honest all in the hopes to bring light to truth, and connect. I aim show up in the world, both as a teacher and a human being, in a way that empowers us all to be the best versions of ourselves (most of the time). When I’m not in class, leading Yoga Teacher Training, or traveling, you can find me catching a Chargers game, binge-watching Survivor, or dancing and singing alone in my room to One Direction albums.