Yoga Musings / Yoga News

Where Are All The Hard Yoga Classes?

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.

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7 thoughts on “Where Are All The Hard Yoga Classes?

  1. I agree with Andrea. While I am able to practice advanced asana myself, my studio caters to students thirsty for more meditation & the spiritual aspects of yoga. I recently commented in a gentle, restorative class that an advanced yogi to me is one who is able to calm the monkey-mind and is secure in the stillness, not one who can practice amazing arm balances or float through the air effortlessly, after all, many of these people have a background in some other physical discipline like gymnastics or dance. I had a student come to me recently after trying other, more rigorous studios in the area and said,”This yoga yout studio teaches is harder, anyone can do that other stuff” meaning Power/Vinyasa) and yet another said after an Mixed Level Eclectic Hatha Yoga class, he felt muscles worked he had never felt before (he too had been practicing Power/Vinyasa yoga). I suppose it depends on what population you wish to reach? For us, it’s those who want the spiritual & meditative side, as well as detailed instruction on form in asana. With this comes students from Beginners to Advanced in Asana. What we do is teach in “stages” in all of our classes and hopefully, as we grow we can offer more advanced asana classes. for now though, I am marveling at the advancement of our students on the spiritual & meditative level.

  2. It’s never a bad thing to get back to the basics. The subtleties of a good triangle pose can be lost when we are distracted by getting into more and more complicated poses. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make sense that you be always stuck in a beginner class. I agree that the majority of the population is at the beginner stage, so we teach to that. Also, what I have found, is that the people in my classes who consider themselves “advanced” often have other work that is getting neglected. Like they can muscle their way through a strenuous Bikram class, but their shoulders are so tight they can’t do eagle arms. (Just a personal note there, it’s not a firm rule.)Also, I wonder about the liability issues. It’s a sad thing that as yoga asana explodes, so do the lawsuits.

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