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Are you searching for a new challenge in your yoga routine?

Having mastered the simple asanas of the basic class, you may now be ready to advance your practise to the next level. Taking an advanced yoga class is something that takes time, discipline, and determination. You may even think that you have returned back to the level of “beginner” during your first advanced practice. But never fear! There are many ways to prepare for a challenging yoga class.

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1. Understand the difference between class levels

This is the biggest faux pas many yoga practitioners make. They think they've mastered all there is to know at the beginner or intermediate level, when really they have yet to scratch the surface. The initial classes are designed for all fitness levels. What matters is how aware you are of both mind and body. Stiffness, weakness, and fears are often released at the beginning level. Therefore if you find that you're still afraid of certain postures, you are likely not ready to advance.

Intermediate level is not about “moving up” but about maintaining what you have gained from the foundational practices then unleashing some dormant, latent potential. In other words, more breathing practices, like nadi shodhanam, kapalabhati, ujiayi, and agni sara. If you do not know what those are, you are not advanced.

2. Know what “advanced” entails

An advanced practice is not like the other two levels. “Advanced” is a class that takes what you know and broadens it. Beyond perfect sitting postures, breathing techniques, and a full understanding of what you are capable of, you will be introduced to enhanced meditation, concentration, visualisation, and mantra japa. The nervous system must be fine-tuned. Otherwise, your first challenging practice may be a negative experience.

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3. Strengthening the nervous system

Mentioned in the second section, the nervous system has to be controllable. This begins at the first practice and is something that never truly stops being built upon. Pranayama is the main way to activate and control the nervous system. The basic spinal twist begins to move energies through the body. Intermediate practices of uddiyana bandha, mulabandha, trataka, and nauli kaya strengthen the nervous system. Once you have done these long enough and can do them with ease, you are ready for an advanced practice.

4. Get your drishti on

When you are prepared for your first advanced class, you will know it by the quality of your drishti, or focus. Advanced yogis have superhuman concentration and actively practice was is called pratyahara or “withdrawal of the senses”. This means they are not looking around the room, distracted by noises, scents, and visuals. They do not pick at their toenails or stop for water in Warrior II.

5. Savasana has meaning

Many beginners balk at the idea of laying down for 5 minutes at the end of class because, what is the purpose? Ideally all previous asana are in preparation for savasana. An advanced yogi understands that savasana is where all work is done, where ego is lost and the mind, body, and spirit unites with the other energies of the room. The moment when you are basking in the feeling of one-ness and bliss rather than staring at the ceiling or making mental lists is the moment you are ready for an advanced practice.

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Remember, it doesn't matter how long you have been practicing yoga…

what matters is how “challenged” you are by the concepts. Advancement does not happen when you “nail” a pose. Advancement happens when you have built yourself up physically, mentally, and spiritually. Now that you know what a challenging yoga class entails, do you think you are ready?

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