This Is The Yoga We’re Looking For: An Essay In Favor Of An Advanced Yoga Studio Class

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.

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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:

 https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=777118642330150

6 thoughts on “This Is The Yoga We’re Looking For: An Essay In Favor Of An Advanced Yoga Studio Class

  1. Good luck in finding/creating the type of class you want. I think many teachers under-estimate the fluidity required to feel comfortable in types of classes you seem to enjoy. I had hoped to take what I like about Bikram, the heat and consistency and the workout, and bring a little more fluidity and variety to it. It didn’t really take off. For what it’s worth, though, my classes for men become exactly what they needed to be, and I have no regrets with the process.

    I disagree with your comment that the heat is what makes Bikram difficult. Sure, it adds to the intensity. What makes it a challenge is to overcome boredom and to bring focus and determination to same poses day after day. But then I simply don’t find the variety that’s offered in most Yoga classes all that rewarding.

    • Thank you for the kind words. For me it was the heat in the Bikram, but I was unprepared for my first (and only!) Bikram class, and I’m chronically dehydrated – a bad combination.

      I agree re: boredom in set sequence classes. While I’m an Ashtanga fan, it’s only about once every six weeks for me for that reason. Personally, I want to try something new in a yoga class, a new pose, sequence, something. Like eating out – if I can make it at home, I’m not inclined to pay someone for it. Otherwise I’ll just stay home.

  2. I agree with this post. When I first started yoga, I didn’t know that there were different types of yoga classes, so I did the equivalent of gentle or restorative yoga for my first 2 years. It wasn’t until I found a more advanced class that I started actually liking yoga. Now after 10 years, I am finally in a class where I get challenged every time and I continue to get progress.

    I would like to take a class from you.

    Thanks for the article,

    Ben

    • You’re welcome, Ben, and thanks for the kind words.

      I just recently tried out to teach at a local studio that has like 70 classes that are in the “level 1/2” category, nothing more difficult than that. As I was talking with the manager about my “ideal” class that I’d like to teach, she, thinking out loud, said that there’s probably a lot of students at the studio who are “ready” to move toward a level 2/3 or level 3 type of practice. I liked that she came to that conclusion on her own. I’m hoping they can find a slot or two for me.

      Fingers crossed on that one, it’s a great facility with an enthusiastic faculty and students.

  3. YES. I found your blog bc you subbed a class I took yesterday. I really dug the class. Anyhoo, I am used to practicing yoga in NYC. It’s funny you call this “Chicago style yoga” bc to me it’s NYC yogs (Jivamukti/Dharma Mittra/random flow classes at my studio in Brooklyn). Also in NYC, my classes were super-adustment-heavy. Like, teachers would practically lay on us in downdog. While I love my super-chill lay on a bolster Asheville classes, I miss being pushed by hard, physical classes that got me sweaty and yoga high. There is something about being in a class that is aspirational.

    • Hi AYL: Thanks for the kind words, a note to the studio about how much you enjoyed the class would be awesome if you have a second. My favorite Ashtanga teacher back in Chi would do the “lay on you” adjustment, but she was like 110 lbs. I usually don’t do a lot of touching when I sub because I don’t know the students and they don’t know me.

      You’re welcome to try out my Saturday Hot Power Flow class, like I said, about the same effort but it’s like 98degrees. Not a lot of touchy-feely stuff, that’s just not my thing.

      Thanks again, see you soon, and be sure to introduce yourself.

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