Teaching advanced yoga poses can be part of your teaching repertoire if you desire. Consider that advanced poses and sequences are another form of yoga therapy. Physically demanding poses are a tool for focusing concentration and for harnessing energy.
Excessive energy manifests itself as irritability, distraction, struggling to concentrate and feelings of unease. Too much energy might come from poor eating habits, erratic exercise routine or any other external factor. Advanced yoga sequencing can help students control their energy and find energetic homeostasis throughout the day.
A feeling of energetic homeostasis is the ideal state of mind and lends itself to productivity and creativity. Most people don’t thrive when their mood is constantly oscillating, but regardless of which external factors are causing that oscillation, yoga is the antidote. Yoga is the therapeutic tool to create energetic homeostasis. Yoga as therapy must not be misconstrued as “slow and gentle;” vigorous and physically demanding yoga might be the key to energetic homeostasis!
Teach advanced poses to students who are looking to diffuse excess energy. Like everything, it’s important that you only teach what you know. When you have knowledge of how the pose feels and the process it took to do the pose, you’ll be able to relate to your students as they attempt challenging poses. Challenging asana has the potential to be injurious so as always, disclaim that students are to check in with themselves and only do what their body is capable of.
Note that it’s not always necessary for you to demonstrate every advanced pose that you teach. Sometimes you might not be warmed up or you might be injured and demonstration won’t be appropriate. This is another good reason for you to have first-hand experience of the pose – you will be able to provide verbal cues to assist your students in the pose. If you have never successfully done a headstand, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to articulate how to recruit the appropriate core strength. Don’t teach poses that you have never done.
Always refer to advanced yoga poses as advanced asana. Remind students that you are talking about the physical (asana) part of yoga. Emphasize that a complete advanced yoga practice encompasses much more than just the poses. To this end, doing advanced poses is not a mark of being “good” at yoga!
Explain that being good at yoga includes one thing: getting on your yoga mat. Explain that whatever iteration the practice takes is exactly the practice needed. The value and longevity of the yoga practice is its adaptability. The only requirement is stepping on the mat.
Ok, so with the above comments in mind, advanced asana is a tool to expand the practice.
There are several categories of advanced poses, each of which requires particular skill and practice.
Bound poses require a lot of shoulder flexibility
Arm-balancing poses require upper-body and core strength
Inversions require confidence, shoulder flexibility, upper body strength and core strength!
All advanced asana demands a lot physically, so emphasize safety with the following:
- practice all poses with attention to alignment. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Pay attention to your alignment in “easy” poses like virabhdrasana B (warrior II), vrksasana (tree) or ardha matsyandrasana (half lord of the fishes). All poses should feel challenging, slightly uncomfortable but not painful. Noticing and modifying alignment according to that rubric is the safest way to do any asana practice.
- frequently practice asana. There’s no way around this one. If you wish to do advanced yoga practices, your body must be strong and supple. Simply put, the practice of yoga asana is the best way to advance your asana practice.
- eat well and not too much. A body that is struggling to digest will struggle to do yoga. Yoga practice, particularly asana, brings into glaring focus how your body is feeling. An unhealthy or excessive diet becomes particularly obvious in demanding yoga shapes. There are infinite strategies for eating well and through careful personal observation, you know which strategy works best for you. But above all, follow this formula: Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Avoid junk food.
Alignment in poses, frequency of practice and healthy fuel are the three keys to a strong and safe asana practice. Point this out to your students and explain that they are searching for a challenging yet comfortable yoga practice that works for today. Yoga practice can evolve as life changes, but to be worthwhile, the practice must be useful now. Attempting advanced asana with safety as a priority will bring homeostasis to the mind and will keep the physical body strong and supple.