In my recent travels across the country I tried to make a point of taking a yoga class in a new city every couple of days. I looked for classes to match those I had become accustomed to in Chicago, such as :90 minute Level 3 flow (difficult because of the effort involved in doing an extended flow with a some technically advanced poses), Ashtanga variants (difficult due to the nature of the poses and the many jump-backs), and offerings by some of the Anusara-trained teachers there (advanced because the classes would build up to a more technically challenging pose). I think a full yoga studio offering, for a “general” practice yoga studio in a city, should include advanced classes – Level 3, Advanced or Master Class – call it what you want. I think there’s many potential students out there for such a class.
I thought this was normal yoga, what we were doing in Chicago. These classes, even at 10:30 on a Thursday morning, were always packed. I’m used to this, this was my regular studio practice for years, I was looking for this, it was all I knew from a studio practice. “Chicago Style” I’ve since named it. And you know what? I couldn’t find it. Nowhere. Not even here in Asheville, which by all definitions is a big yoga and spiritual city. The classes that I attended in other cities, while well-taught and interesting, just weren’t physically challenging to me, either effort-wise or technically. That’s just facts.
There is this BKS Iyengar video making the rounds on Facebook (link below), where he leads a vinyasa style class of obvious advanced practitioners. They jump from down dog to bhujapidasana back to down dog to astavakrasana etc. Now, I’m not saying I’m at that level, far from it. But achieving that level is obviously possible, and is a goal to strive for, for some of us. For a lot of practitioners, doing a bunch of Warrior II’s and Trikonasana’s, and just maybe a single arm balance per class doesn’t get us where we’re trying to reach in our asana practice, or get us where we’re heading with our bodies. The “edge” for some of us is deeper into the “Light On Yoga” than for others. That’s just facts.
What is an “advanced” yoga class? I see it defined in a few ways, depending on the instructor’s goals. It can just be an intense vinyasa practice, lots of poses piled on top of each other, keep the movement and momentum. No “difficult” poses, but lots of poses. Make ya’ sweat and get out of breath. It can be a class with lots of twisting, binding, and arm balances – a pretzel tying class. I taught a level 2/3 in Ketchum where I always gave arm balance or jump-back exit options on many poses, and bind options, to increase the physical intensity of the class. Yes, some of us like adding these flourishes to our practice, some of us can and want to do more than one arm balance per class. That’s just facts. This is the yoga we’re looking for.
As an aside, the other day I recalled a pose from one of the Rodney Yee videos I used to do years ago when I first started my practice. He called for holding a down dog *for a full minute*!! I remember how impossible this seemed at the time. Now holding a long DD barely registers. This is the point I’m trying to make.
As I’m talking to people about my teaching here in Asheville, I’ve been told that no one will attend advanced classes; that people want gentle, restorative, healing yoga, that these are the most attended classes. Cool for them. The way I see it though, the AVL area has over 400,000 people, and so far I can’t find one class that I would call “advanced” or “Level 3” like I’ve defined here. Sure, there’s a few Ashtanga classes, and some Bikram (which is difficult, IMO, only because of the extreme heat). And some billed as “Level 2/3.” But nothing of the intensity that some of us desire in a practice.
So what do you say, Asheville – are you ready for some Chicago-style yoga? With a little perserverence, I’ll be teaching one soon.
Iyengar Video Link: