Levels of practice in Yoga



There is a lot of talk nowadays about “advanced” Yoga. There is a studio down the block from me that has a large banner that says “advanced teacher training.” I wrote a post about a woman who would not attend classes at my studio because the highest level is labeled “intermediate 2” and she wanted something more “advanced” even though she did not practice on her own.  So what exactly considered “advanced” in Yoga?

Yoga Sutra 1.22 says mrdu madhya adminatratvat tatah api visesah, or the time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense. Of course every practice in the beginning is “intense,” or at least “intense feeling.” The ego is quick to identify this as “intensive practice” or even “advanced.” But does that make one “advanced” at Yoga?

A raw beginner at yoga needs at least two years of standing poses done two or more times a week before that practitioner just gets a “glimpse” of what the body is supposed to do in Asana. From my experience as a teacher and practitioner, that figure is more like 5 years. Keep in mind I am only speaking in terms of Asana and not the other limbs.

The progression from what I can perceive is as such: first you learn how to do the asanas while maintaining the yamas and niyamas. Then you learn pranayama. Then you begin your own practice based on what you have learned and study the sutras. Then you start to have realizations that asanas are not merely physical postures and pranayama is not merely “breathing exercises,” but create certain effects in the mind and behavior. Then you have realizations that the practice is slowly stripping away parts of your self perception that don’t correspond with your own true self. Then, eventually, there is only the true self practicing. You are no longer doing asanas and pranayama, they are doing you. At this point, then one can say they are “advancing” in Yoga and not necessarily “advanced.”

If this does not fit into your concept of Yoga, then good! You will not have the aforementioned experiences in a yoga studio, in teacher training, in workshops. You will only experience these on your own in your own practice. Are you mild, medium, or intense? That’s up to you. Are you advanced? That is not for me to judge.




6 thoughts on “Levels of practice in Yoga

  1. safi4775

    Love this and as someone who has done only online classes for two years, I am relieved to hear that mastering standing poses can take years as I keep finding nuances (and wobbles!). Am grateful for your blog.


    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks for your comment Safi! Classically, Yoga is said to take several lifetimes to master. Asanas are only a small part. That creates a different meaning for “advanced.” I myself am only just a beginner in Asana and in Yoga.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. k8macdo

    Excellent observation! And one that needs to be broadcast to the studios on every street corner and the practitioners who attend them! The practice is as vast as the ocean, and most of us who practice might understand or experience less than one tiny drop…
    In terms of the asana practice itself, there is no end to the depth of understanding possible for even the most “simple” asana.
    Many thanks for articulating this important issue : )


    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks k8! I highly doubt this will be broadcast anywhere: doing practice on one’s own would take away from profits. It would certainly not fit into the current model of upselling a $3000 TT program to every warm body that comes through the door. We all know that is the true motive of most of the studios around every street corner.


      1. k8macdo

        I remember the days when it was actually counter-cultural to practice yoga!
        It’s more and more difficult for yoga studios to be financially sustainable. They grab onto the teacher training in order to stay afloat, and yet it’s counter-productive, because they are “producing” more and more “qualified” teachers who want to teach somewhere. So – more yoga studios are opened. And then there is the exploitation of the now qualified yoga teachers by those yoga studios. Most studios pay their teachers according to how many students drop in for a class. A friend of mine recently had 2 students show up to a class and received (drumroll please) $10 for her efforts to prep the class, get to the studio, do administrative duties and sweep the floor.
        It’s a real mess. It will be interesting to see where it all goes…


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