Advanced yoga poses are a group of challenging yoga postures that require significant flexibility, strength, and mental focus.
For most people—that don’t have a prior background in gymnastics or dance—it can take many years of practicing consistently beginner and intermediate level poses before it feels the right moment to attempt advanced level asana.
In this blog we’ll explore the benefits of practicing advanced yoga poses tailored to where you are in your yoga practice. As well as how your mindset and thought patterns can influence your yoga practice.
What are Advanced Yoga Poses?
Advanced yoga poses are complex postures that you can’t imagine practicing with ease.
It’s likely that with these difficult yoga poses you don’t just find them physically hard but also have some mental and/or emotional challenges around the postures. As well as an accompanying belief that you feel these asanas are impossible to attempt or practice with ease.
Since everyone is different, yoga postures that feel hard for some people will feel relatively simple to others. If you’ve been practicing yoga for some time you might notice that over time the specific yoga poses that you find difficult change.
For example, for someone that is relatively new to yoga and has tight hamstrings and shoulders the Downward Facing Dog Pose, Adho Mukha Svanasana, will feel like an advanced yoga pose. For this person it is a very hard posture to hold for even one breath and every time they attempt to do the pose they have an accompanying thought that they will never be able to feel comfortable or straighten their legs in Downward Dog.
While for someone else that has been practicing yoga for a few years and is relatively flexible but not very strong, they might feel that the group of arm balance postures and handstand are advanced. For this individual, they might have started avoiding arm balances in their practice because they have feel that they don’t have any upper body strength to be able to do this group of asanas.
How to Approach Advanced Yoga Postures
Working towards an advanced yoga pose can be fun and helpful to encourage you to practice yoga more consistently. Since a hard yoga pose is one that you aren’t yet familiar about how to practice, it’s important that you attempt these with guidance from a qualified yoga teacher.
Your yoga teacher can first assess your current yoga practice and use their experience to decide which advanced yoga postures they feel are safe for you to approach without a big risk of injury.
With many difficult yoga asanas it’s useful to first learn how to do similar physical actions with the body in simpler poses. These are often known as preparation poses and are important pre-requisites to practicing a more advance pose.
For example, in order to safely practice the splits, Hanumanasana, you need to already be proficient in yoga poses like the Seated Forward Fold, Paschimottansana, and the Low Lunge, Anjaneyasana. Without being able to first do these preparation postures your ability to do the advanced pose will be limited and possibly result in an injury.
One of the great things about having a series of private yoga classes or practicing in a self-practice group setting is that the yoga teacher can guide you personally towards a peak challenging posture that is at the right level for you.
You can then focus on one or two advanced yoga poses in your practice and practice them consistently for a period of time. Giving you really the time to explore the physical and mental intricacies related to this challenging yoga pose.
Why Do We Practice Advanced Yoga Poses?
Yoga can be translated from Sanskrit to “union” of body and mind. Therefore, when you do a physical yoga practice it’s not just about feeling physically good in your body but also about observing your thoughts and feelings.
This means that in yoga you aren’t just learning a difficult yoga pose in order to do the posture itself but its also about the process of learning and observing how it feels to try something difficult.
The process of learning a difficult yoga pose can give you insights into your internal dialogue (self talk), thinking patterns, attitude and feelings that you have towards yourself. It is therefore interesting, and an important aspect of yoga, to observe how you internally react when you attempt a yoga pose that you can’t yet do and perhaps are unsure if you will ever be able to do.
By practicing an advanced yoga posture it can also help bring you into the present moment rather than doing your yoga practice on autopilot. This can be particularly helpful to help bring your focus to how your body and breath feel moment to moment.
In the end it doesn’t really matter what the difficult yoga pose is or even if you are one day able to practice it. But by taking the time to attempt the asana consistently you will get not only a better understanding of the way to physically approach the pose but also interesting insights to your accompanying thoughts and observations as you try something that feels difficult.
How Your Mindset Can Affect Your Physical Yoga Practice
Focusing on the technique and alignment in difficult yoga poses and having guidance from a yoga teacher are of course very important, but often it’s possible to underestimate the role that your mindset has during your yoga practice.
For example, if you have fear of balancing on your head upside down in the Headstand, Sirsasana—which is quite a common and understandable—your emotion and thoughts about how scary this pose is will likely have much more influence on how your practice the pose compare to if you have the required strength and flexibility to do the pose safely.
Although from a safely perspective it’s your physical ability that should lead the decision as to whether a particular advanced yoga pose is appropriate for you to do. It’s often underestimated the role that your mindset has on practicing advanced yoga poses.
Next time you try a yoga pose that you find difficult see if you can also observe what your accompanying thoughts and feelings. See if you can allow your thoughts and feelings to be there—no matter if they are positive, negative, or neutral. And remember all of your observations are part of your yoga practice!
By getting more familiar with your internal reactions and mindset during difficult moments in your yoga practice you can get interesting insights into the way your mind works.
Bringing more attention towards the process of learning a hard yoga pose rather than the ability to do the posture “well”. Learning to cultivate a non-striving and accepting attitude towards your yoga practice and perhaps also life outside of your yoga practice.
As you practice cultivating a non-striving and accepting attitude in your yoga practice you will likely find that over time your internal dialogue starts to change. Slowly you find you are able to respect the signals your body is giving you of where you can comfortably work and be during your practice.
You begin to allow the process of learning a new yoga pose to unfold, without a fixed idea of what you want to achieve. You are able to let go of any sense of striving and be happy where you are in this moment. Accepting that each body is different, and that your journey in yoga will be different to others.
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