I read this interesting article today about the lack of difficult/challenging yoga classes out there for advanced practitioners. (Thanks, Eric, for sending it to me.) This was a particularly interesting read for me because I have been frequently frustrated by how hard it is to find a strong and challenging yoga class these days, even in large cities where yoga is very popular. What’s going on? You’d think with the growing popularity of yoga, there would be more, not fewer, advanced yoga classes around.
Basically, what this article points out is that with the recent yoga boom over the past, say, three to four years, yoga studios are finding that they have to cater to newer, less-experienced students. This is the best way for them to keep their classes as full as possible. Advanced students make up a minority of yoga students out there, and, given this reality, it would just be bad business for a studio to only (or mostly) offer advanced classes.
But there are some serious downsides to this.
At my local studio, I find that they are having a difficult time striking a balance between keeping the seasoned practitioners happy and making sure the waves of new students have plenty of classes to attend. The result, unfortunately, it oftentimes a lot of watered down (i.e. easy) classes which are advertised as Level 2/3 or Level 2 when, in fact, they are really just Level 1 or Level 1/2 classes consisting of fewer poses than the Ashtanga primary series. This false advertisement (and the attendant disappointment) really aggravates advanced students, and lately I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling about this in the locker room at my studio.
Another downside to this mixing of advanced students and newer students is that a lot of the newer students get the wrong idea in their heads about what it is to be “advanced”. Many of the more experienced students who attend easier classes (because that’s mostly what’s offered these days) just learn to do their own thing; when the newer students see this, they sometimes try to imitate the more advanced students. This frequently results in a very unsafe environment where, say, newer students start trying to kick up into handstand in the middle of Sun Salutations because they see someone else doing that.
So what can be done about this lack of advanced classes? Well, there are a number of funny things happening in LA to fill the void of (truly) advanced classes. One interesting thing is a kind of “underground” yoga movement, catering to advanced students. I know of at least two situations like this here in LA where, for a small fee, advanced students can go and practice in a semi-private environment with a very good, dedicated, advanced teacher. These classes are frequently not advertised, and are run out of places like people’s apartments, or at studios during their downtimes (i.e. the middle of the day or mid-morning). Of course, this is not the ideal situation for advanced students, but it’s something.
So should studios get their act together and start offering more advanced classes? Well, maybe yes, and maybe no. Hopefully all these millions of people who are coming to yoga are getting better over time, and, although they might not yet be advanced enough to do a “real” Level 2/3 class, presumably some of them will be soon enough. I am hopeful that yoga is just going through an awkward phase now, a period of “growing pains”, where the older yogis are finding themselves neglected as yoga goes more and more mainstream. But eventually this should come full circle. If what’s happened with skateboarding, snowboarding, etc. is any indication, there’s hope that yoga will become so popular that there will soon be a sizable demand for very advanced classes, enough of a demand to justify more (truly) advanced classes at mainstream studios.