When you teach yoga, you will meet different types of people. Some are beginners, and some will be advanced practitioners. While the principles of teaching each kind of yogi are the same, they come with various needs and goals.
As the instructor, teaching yoga for the advanced group is different from teaching newbies. Before we get into the main differences, let’s explore what an advanced yogi means.
So, Are You an Advanced Yogi?
When people talk about being an advanced yogi, the first thing that comes to most is a yogi walking in her Handstands, doing Hanumanasana, or flowing from an Ardha Pincha Mayurasana to a Pincha Mayurasana effortlessly.
But some people who don’t practice yoga yet are capable of doing all these poses—gymnasts and acrobats, to name a few. When we think about an advanced yogi, we connect it to what they can physically do. But yoga is more than just the asanas.
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word, “yuj”, which means “to yoke” or “to unite”. It means uniting the body and soul so that you can have a one-pointed mind. Yoga doesn’t mean you have to be physically fit or be able to do an Ardho Vrksasana.
In that sense, you can’t consider a yogi an advanced level even if she can do all inversions and arm-balancing asanas.
Mark Stephens, in his book, “Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes,” describes an advanced yoga student as “the one who shows up regularly in his or her practice with an attitude of a beginner’s mind. The advanced yoga student appreciates there is always something new to learn when doing yoga.”
Yoga is not linear, and the path to it is endless. In yoga, the only constant thing is exploration. While many yoga systems such as Ashtanga Vinyasa have advanced series, the idea of advanced yoga is to explore more complex forms and discover unexamined sources of tension so that we can release self-limiting beliefs.
Qualities of a Great Yoga Teacher
As a yoga teacher, your yoga classes must be accessible, meaningful, and sustainable. Stephens suggests that a yoga teacher in reference to classes must have these qualities:
Informed means the teacher should create classes based on accurate information about what he or she is teaching the students. A yoga instructor can use so many sources of information in teaching yoga to the advanced group and even to beginners.
There are kinesiology, biomechanics, functional anatomy, spiritual philosophy, subtle energies, and more. There is no limit to sources of information, and there is no limit to learning. A student will be able to advance at every class by just approaching the yoga practice using various methods.
To apply this in class, you can teach the students to approach a pose differently. For example, the most common way of getting into an Eka Pada Koundinyasana 1 is through a Side Crow. In your next class, try getting into this asana from Parivrtta Sanchalasana.
Efficient in teaching yoga to all levels of students means creating classes that move toward the goal in the simplest way possible. It doesn’t mean you will lead a class that is easy and simple. It means gracefully transitioning into a more advanced practice of yoga.
The teacher must efficiently teach beginner and advanced yoga students how to navigate the challenges they will face in their journey toward yoga.
In asana practice, this applies to creating a sequence that will make a student achieve the peak pose. For example, the peak pose is Svarga Dvijasana. Most people may not be able to do this asana on the first try.
As an efficient teacher, you will break down the pose based on what the students need to do to get into Svarga Dvijasana. You can have the students do balancing poses to prepare the legs as this is a balancing pose and asanas that warm up and open the hips, hamstrings, and shoulders. The sequence can go like this:
- Mountain Pose
- Warrior 2
- Reverse Warrior
- Extended Side Angle
- Extended Side Angle with a Bind
- Transition to Svarga Dvijasana or Birds of Paradise Pose by walking the leg inside the bind forward and then slowly standing on the other leg and extending the leg inside the bind.
Gracefully approaching the classes makes your students’ yoga practice beautiful. When teaching yoga for the advanced and beginners, nothing must be forced. Teach your students not to force themselves when they are not ready for advanced yoga poses.
But still, allow advanced students to progress. They should be doing each breath, movement, and asana consciously until such time that their practice is no longer about just the poses or the breath, just about how they feel inside.
Your students will have different goals when they come to class. Some students want to lose weight. Some want to have a physical workout to maintain their weight, while some want to reduce stress or maybe relieve anxiety.
As a yoga instructor, it is necessary to teach classes that offer all these qualities, even if they focus on one or two areas. The body, the soul, and the mind are interrelated. By the end of the class, they should feel integrated.
How to Create a Yoga Class for the Advanced Students
Principle One: Start from Simple to Complex Movements
Even when your students are already advanced yoga practitioners, create classes that start from simple to complex movements. Each asana requires specific muscle activation that supports sthira and sukha or steadiness and ease.
No matter how advanced your students are in their practice, they must still prepare their hands and wrists before doing the Handstand or other asanas.
Principle Two: Start with Dynamic to Static to Stillness
Humans are dynamic beings. We always move. Before we stay still in meditation or Savasana, we must first honor our humanity and move dynamically. Moving in and out of asanas using the breath allows our body to open slowly and deeply.
Doing this makes the body more conscious of the breath and connecting it with the movement. Mindfully breathing and moving prepares the body for deeper exploration of the asanas and how the asanas affect you inside.
The Surya Namaskara, Classic, A and B are great examples of dynamic movements. That’s why many classes start with a few rounds of them. When the body is warm, open, and activated, the class can move on to static movements with ease and steadiness. After static movements, the body is ready to relax and stay in stillness.
Principle Three: Cultivate an Energetic Balance
Even when your students are advanced, your classes should still cultivate an energetic balance. The class shouldn’t be too relaxed so that the students feel lazy and uninspired, but not too exhausting that the students cannot stay calm. The students must feel awakened but still calm in the class.
The yogic philosophy describes this as the “sattvic” state of mind—when one has a sense of completeness. The yoga students are not dependent on external forces, such as how they look in certain poses. They practice yoga, and it’s not only in the class. They also practice it outside the mat. They live a yogic lifestyle.
Principle Four: Integrate the Effects of Actions
The actions taken in yoga create new possibilities and needs in some people. When your students practice certain poses that deeply open parts of their bodies, these poses open and prepare their bodies for deeper poses.
They have new possibilities. However, these poses can bring new tension to the body. To avoid new tensions and injuries, the student must neutralize.
In asana practice, we call this the counterpose. For example, when the yoga students can do an Ustrasana (Camel Pose), the chest is in flexion, and the low back and neck are in extension. If the extension of the neck and low back is too much, the student may feel dizzy.
To counteract this extension, they need to do the opposite of extension, which is flexion. Balasana (Child’s Pose) is an action or movement that requires flexion of the neck and the low back. That is why you hear your yoga teachers tell you to go straight to Balasana after you do an Ustrasana.
Principle Five: Encourage Sustainable Practice
When teaching yoga to an advanced group, you will find students who have been practicing for many years. These students are serious about yoga. But you will also find yoga students who are not sustainably doing it.
Their practice often focuses on the physical aspect of yoga, which instead of giving them time for self-exploration, causes them burnout. They come to classes regularly for a month, then don’t show up for two weeks because their bodies are tired. Some students are naturally flexible and can do asanas we consider advanced without much effort and thought, leading to injuries.
Yoga is a great practice to cultivate overall health and wellness. But life is constantly changing as much as your body. Today, your to-do list is short. The next day, you tell yourself you need more than 24 hours a day to finish your to-do list.
Today, you feel like your body can handle anything, while tomorrow, you may find that your body can’t even walk for 10 minutes. Because of this satya (truth), you should encourage your yoga students to adjust their yoga practice so they can practice yoga and have overall health and wellness their whole lives.
No matter if they are beginners or advanced, yoga students must practice with intelligence and inner compassion. As their yoga teacher, guide them to a sustainable yoga practice by letting them know that they don’t have to practice mentally and physically exhausting asanas all the time.
Their bodies need to rest and restore. They need to practice ahimsa (non-violence) to their bodies to practice sustainably.
Advanced-Level Asanas and Pranayamas
The principles in teaching yoga to advanced yogis are the same in teaching beginners. As advanced practitioners, though, they have to constantly explore their limits to develop their practice further and not become stagnant. Here are tips on how to teach the advanced asanas and pranayamas to your students:
Teach the Full Range of Pranayamas
Guide them to practice breathing exercises in conjunction with different Bandhas (Mula Bandha and Jalandhara Bandha) and breath retention. Once they develop a steady practice of Kapalhabiti Pranayama, introduce Bhastrika Pranayama.
Begin with More Sun Salutations
Begin asana practice with more Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskara. Guide them through at least five rounds of this sequence. Sun Salutation is a great dynamic movement that warms up the whole body quickly. You may also do more dynamic movements.
Target One Muscle Group Per Class
The muscle endurance of advanced yoga practitioners is high. You can now create classes based on one muscle group. For example, Monday classes are all about the lower body so you can link multiple standing asanas together.
Wednesdays are for arms so you can do more arm balances. Fridays are for Inversions so you can teach them different varieties of Sirsasana.
Introduce Floating Transitions
Start introducing floating transitions from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) to Uttasana (Standing Forward Fold) or Arm Balancing Poses such as Bakasana (Crow Pose) or Titibasana (Firefly Pose).
Introduce More Variations of Backbends and Twists
Guide them through asymmetrical backbends and twists, such as this variation of an Eka Pada Rajakapotasana:
Another asymmetrical backbend advanced students can do is this variation of a Camel Pose:
Teach the Full Expression of the Poses
Teach your advanced yoga students the full expression of the poses. For example, introduce King Dancer Pose or King Pigeon Pose after finding steadiness in Dancer Pose or Pigeon Pose.
How to Measure Your Students’ Improvement
Yoga is limitless and a lifelong practice. Some students may find this fact discouraging. they may end up not coming to class anymore when they feel like they’ve already learned everything. To encourage them to continue with their practice, help them measure their success so they know which area they need to improve on.
Here are improvements they can look for:
Measuring Physical Improvement
- Ease of movement
- Range of motion
- Reduced physical pains
- Increase in muscle strength and endurance
- Weight loss or muscle gain
- Better sleeping habits
Measuring Mental Improvement
- Lower stress levels
- Improved mood
- Better relationships with one’s self, romantic partner, family, or work
- More gratitude
- Increased focus and mental clarity
- Improved self-esteem
- Better control of the breath
Teaching yoga to beginners, intermediate, and advanced yoga groups is the same. However, each level of yoga practitioner has different needs. To teach yoga to advanced practitioners, always encourage them to explore and improve their practice, even when they think there is nothing more to learn.