What is 'Advanced Yoga'?

According to top teachers, true advancement is more than just a physical experience or a fancy pose.

Photo by  Ashley Batz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

When you hear "advanced yoga," what immediately comes to mind? If you're like me, first come the images of handstands, deep backbends and fancy arm balances. Then there's a part of me that rolls her eyes.

While there is a legitimacy to considering the time, effort and education that often accompanies these poses, yoga is more than acrobatics and contortion.

In my first yoga teacher training, we read Matthew Sanford's book, Waking. Now if you are serious about yoga and haven't read it, get yee to Amazon and buy it now.

Without spoiling it for you, the book is about the internal experience of yoga and its application in transcending serious trauma. The book is themed that way not because Sanford wanted to say something unique for the simple sake of building a brand, but because he's a paraplegic yoga instructor.

Now what comes to mind as you picture "advanced asana?" Hopefully something a little more nuanced than Instagram-ready photo fabulousness. In a bathing suit (I'm Guilty).

I asked experienced yoga instructors and passionate students of yoga what "advanced yoga" meant to them.

"Being advanced or beginner has almost nothing to do with which postures you can or cannot come into. The postures are a way to organize our consciousness and understand our hearts and minds. just because you are throwing a leg behind your head doesn't mean you are deepening your connection to self and other. the discipline of yoga (yes, i said it) has the potential to create a physical, chemical, emotional, mental, and spiritual transformation. but if you were born with a particular physical ability, then it doesn't take effort to work up to a pose -- but maybe it takes effort to meditate, or something like that. Advanced practice is when self awareness and other awareness are balanced.I've observed the last decade of yoga teachings swing from one to the other, ten years ago the emphasis was serving others now its radical self care. Neither alone is the answer, they must be in balance with one another. Too much self awareness is narcissism and too much other awareness is codependency."
-Jessica Stickler, Adv. Cert. Jivamukti Yoga Teacher @yogastickler


"Advanced yoga-- some view being advanced as a physical manifestation. Deeper, riskier, trickier asanas with longer isometric holds. Maybe it's a difficult arm balance or challenging inversion. While this is advanced in some sense, I feel as though yoga as a practice is meant to combine the spiritual with the physical. That is the point of yoga, isn't it? An advanced yogi, to me, has the meditative aspects of yoga so deeply ingrained in their physicality, in their emotional and mental being that they reach new planes of existence just by breathing. Advanced in yoga is that deep deep spiritual, mental and physical connection that engages directly with a journey towards self actualization and a sense of oneness with the universe. With the letting go. There are few truly advanced yogis in the world, because to be truly at peace is quite a difficult practice."
-Brittany Posas, CPT, group exercise specialist, fitness nutrition specialist and yogini @posasposas


"Advanced yoga to me means having super clear internal dialogue.  In regards to yoga asana practice when I see someone modifying, asking for assistance, and/or truly listening to what their body is telling them - that is an advanced practice.  In regards to all other aspects of life -  when a person is fully aware of their decisions, actions, and reactions.  From where they grocery shop, to what they are buying, to the thoughts that pass through their mind, to the emotions that fill their heart - they are aware, mindful, and undisturbed.  Thoughts, words, and deeds are all one." 
-Ryan Kenney, 200hr Sarva Yoga, 800hr Cert. Jivamukti Yoga Teacher, 125hr MNDFL Sound Practitioner @ryanleekenney


"Advanced Yoga to me means more than just the physical practice, more than the “advanced” asanas that we work thru on our mat.  As our journey of yoga matures, so does our bodies.  What we were once able to do with great ease on our mat is no longer that easy, and so the “dis-ease” comes to the forefront, it is up to our advanced yoga practice to bring that equal mind set that we strive and work towards in our practice.  Accepting change, and moving with ease is the advanced yoga. By stepping on your mat time and time again, month after month, year after year, we cultivate the work to achieve the advanced yoga practice.  We often mistake advanced yoga to more difficult postures, which it may be for some.  But someone who is stiff that can barely fold forward in Uttanasana and reach for their toes can have the similar experience as someone who is working on Paschimottanasana D and have the same positive effects, how to work with the discomfort and fears that may come up.  Whom you were on your mat when you did your first Surya Namaskar to whom you are today, is a different you.  You are Advancing forward in your yoga practice." -Juan Sierra, Adv. Cert. Jivamukti Yoga Teacher @biedermeier


"The yoga practice that spans body, breath and mind is the beginning of the transition from a basic understanding of the practice. Intention is another key ingredient - without clarity and depth of purpose, the experience can be reduced to an inspirational stretching session. One must also consider the teachers who facilitated their yoga practice - not only those encountered in body, but also those who passed these lessons on for centuries. Reverence for teachers and honoring the lineage are true signs of an advanced practitioner.  Consistency and dedication to practice advance one's progress on the path. When the student carries the practice off the mat and reflects on the quality of every thought, word and deed, this marks the entrypoint to advanced practice. One becomes a master with a life lived according to the yamas and niyamas, in which body, speech and mind are all considered. The advanced yogi operates from a place of carefully tested and considered morals and ethics, informed by an innate universal intelligence." -Allison Joy Phillips, Certified Yoga Instructor, Director of Yoga at The Three Jewels NYC @allisonjoyoga