Working Struggle Free: What’s It Mean to Have an “Advanced” Yoga Practice?
By Michelle Cordero
I’ve taught a level 2/3 class off and on in my 15 years of teaching yoga. There are things that I love about it, and things that I wish I had the power to change. First, please, please, please do not come to the level 2/3 class just to get a workout. There are always a few serious athletic types or intensity junkies who self-elect to take an advanced class because they live in extremely athletic and capable bodies. Yet they aren’t necessarily a level 2/3 yoga student. I can spot these folks from across the room struggling and striving with forced exhales through the mouth.
Just last night, I had a young man take my class who was so sweet and nice when I approached and gave him gentle adjustments. If I hadn’t approached him, I might have written him off as a hard core athlete turned yogi who believes that he’s doing this correctly by breathing extremely loudly and going as deep as possible in every pose. No one has taught him anything else. Friends, this is not a level 2/3 practice. It is actually a prescription for pain later in life. Your yoga practice shouldn’t hurt, and it’s not a competition with anyone – even yourself.
So, what is a level 2/3 yogi? In my experience, it’s most often the humble student who has been practicing with me for several years yet still asks me if they are ready for a level 2/3 class who really gets the most out of the experience; having advanced physical ability and flexibility is not the prerequisite. An advanced yogi is embodied, present in both their physical and their emotional body at the same time. What I like to call being in feeling. Yes, you can get a great physical challenge from taking my class. For others, the greatest challenge will be to stay focused and breathing.
I really don’t like the direction that I see the yoga world going in…with the rise of social media challenges and instagram where all we see are beautiful people doing beautiful poses in exotic locales sometimes scantily clad. When friends tell me they think yoga is competitive – I have to pause. It hurts my heart, but I can’t say that they are having a misperception. It’s true: for many people yoga has become a platform of youth and beauty. I’m very excited to be leading a level 2/3 class at this time so that I can offer an alternative approach. Yes, we will try out extraordinary poses. . . and we will be supporting each other by staying embodied, knowing our limits and focusing on breath and movement of energy.
Here is an example on an advanced yoga practice that might surprise you: Sandra, an older woman in her 70’s, took my intermediate/advanced class years ago. Sandra would come with her yoga mat, a blanket and a pillow. When Sandra got tired, she would lay down and do a lying down meditation for the rest of the class. I used to point her out and say – “See! That’s advanced practice.” You see, Sandra knew she didn’t need to come into any pretzel poses. She desired to practice in community and she needed the accountability of coming to class.
You might think someone lying down in class is quite distracting. Actually when an advanced student takes care of themselves, figures out what they can do, or accepts help and practices in a way that works for their body – they don’t pull focus. An advanced student staying with their breath and their body might not do the entire sequence with the rest of the class, but they stay in integrity with the community pulse.
I’ve never had another yoga instructor take my class and do absolutely everything that I put in my sequence. If getting your foot over your head led to enlightenment, I’d be living in an ashram just sitting around letting you hang out with my coolness. The practice only gets more real and gritty as you advance. Nothing ever gets easier, in fact you begin to realize that once you find your way to the next level of a pose there is another one just beyond that. I’ve learned that focusing on feeling and breathing has gotten me deeper in my yoga practice than anything else. I believe it’s learning to relinquish control, instead of trying to get somewhere, that allows you accept where you are and breathe. You let go of ego, and that my friends is one of the reasons to practice. Remember, it’s a practice, not a perfect.
Join Michelle’s new Level 2/3 class Saturday mornings from 10:45am – 12:15pm at Innerstellar Yoga in Berkeley, CA.