EireannElisabet

Moving between levels: Beginner to Intermediate

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I have been doing yoga regularly for about a year now. I practice mainly at home with a few studio classes sprinkled in. Throughout the course of the last year, I have continually come across new asanas and added them to my repertoire. Typically asanas are associated with a certain level student. My question is how do you know when you move from one level to another? Is there some sort of guideline? Should you have mastered all the asanas associated with a certain level before attempting those in the next level? Or can your practice be more a mélange of poses? Advice is greatly appreciated! 

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If you are practicing Ashtanga, then yes, there are prescribed levels. However most schools of yoga thought are not so distinctive in the level assignment. Really, the best indicator is you! One thing to keep in mind is that there really is no mastery in yoga - we're all forever-students. So it's up to you to decide when you're ready to try more advanced postures. You are free to practice any poses in any level you like - just be very mindful of the body as you advance. Never get so caught up in achieving the next great posture, that you sacrifice safety or comfort. For example, if you can't hold downward dog for 5-10 breaths comfortably, I wouldn't attempt handstand. Just take it easy and focus on that fun feeling of exploration in the journey.

yogafire, Missyjean and Hildegard like this

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Yes! Second everything @brenskip55 mentioned.  You can always go to beginner OR intermediate classes at your studio or in your home practice and modify wherever you need to.  I too was in the awkward spot and I specifically remember one time the teacher cued Pincha Mayurasana which was so NOT in my practice at that point so I did a headstand instead! Your practice is YOUR time so do what you need to do.  It sounds like you are already very in-tune with knowing when you are ready to add new postures to your handbook so keep on keepin on! :)

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As @brenskip55 said, most styles of yoga don't have a defined list of which poses you must master before moving to the next level. For better or worse, it's a very nebulous zone and what one person might consider an advanced pose another can think of as intermediate. It can be very frustrating to be in that in-between zone, but at the same time it allows you to find your own pace and discover what you feel comfortable doing. It can be quite exhilarating to realise what you're capable of when you try a new class at a new level.

Having said that, when you try an intermediate class I'd advice watching the entire video beforehand, especially if it's from an instructor you're not familiar with. I remember this online class marked as intermediate that included handstands during sun salutations and something of a supported headstand with one's legs in lotus position O_o, which I'm not ready for at all. 

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@Hildegard I love that idea of watching a video before you try it. I also find it hilarious that someone out there thinks handstand, at all, are intermediate. To me that's a very advanced posture. I suppose I have a more conservative view though - I won't even teach supported headstand or crow to beginners. lol

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Thank you @brenskip55, @AnandaYoga, and @Hildegard!! I greatly appreciate all your advice and encouragement. Truthfully, I am glad to hear that others have experienced this same dilemma regarding levels and it is great to hear that I really just need to move at my own pace and listen to my body. Also, I love the idea of watching a new video before trying it!  That is something that I will definitely do in the future.  

Are there any resources that you might recommend for knowing which poses correspond to which levels? I often feel like I am continually discovering new beginner poses that I didn't know about. I suppose this hampers my feeling ready to move to the next level.  

Thank you all again! I appreciate it more than you know!

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It's a constant learning process, so don't feel intimidated by being exposed to new things. I don't think you are learning all new beginner poses, just different ones. It keeps yoga interesting - I like trying out new things all the time, and they are not necessarily advanced poses at all but subtle stretches.

Usually teacher will give multiple options to do something and call it an "uplevel" when it requires more strength or flexibity. For instance, before doing a full bind, the teacher should show how to use a strap if the hands can't reach or where the hand should "grab clothing" if it's close to a bInd.

Everyone's body is different, so there isn't always a direct mapping for pose to level because there are always modifications.  Some people consider "crow" as a beginner arm balance, but I still can't do it after 5 years because I know I haven't been focusing on my core and upper body strength.  But I could do eagle arms, cow face arms, and binds from the very beginning - that doesn't make me "advanced", just someone who has more shoulder flexibility than others.

You will learn natural progressions and stop when you don't feel comfortable. For instance, if you don't feel comfortable holding full wheel yet, then repeat bridge.  There is always a benefit to every pose, even the " beginner" ones. If you don't know what to do, ask the teacher for another option or modification. That's what they're there for! :)

Oh. And to toot my own horn... I personally felt I was most advanced in my practice (relative to myself) when I got back into yoga after some injuries, and I kept modifying as I needed.  For instance, I still choose to hold bridge instead of full  wheel if I don't feel like my body has warmed up enough that day. Or I try, and then back off and go to the modification. I honestly think learning to listen to your body is the most advanced practice anyone can do for him or herself, so please don't think you can't try other levels if you already practice self-awareness. 

kayla, Hildegard and brenskip55 like this

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Everyone's body is different, so there isn't always a direct mapping for pose to level because there are always modifications.  Some people consider "crow" as a beginner arm balance, but I still can't do it after 5 years because I know I haven't been focusing on my core and upper body strength.  But I could do eagle arms, cow face arms, and binds from the very beginning - that doesn't make me "advanced", just someone who has more shoulder flexibility than others.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Everybody's body is truly different and it would be pointless to do a hard and fast rule as to which poses are beginner, intermediate or advanced without taking into consideration the huge range of personal experiences. We all have strong points and weak points and past injuries or health (physical or mental) issues that affect how we approach any pose. Like yogafire, I'm still struggling with crow pose because upper body strength doesn't come naturally to me. I am fairly flexible, so binds, folds and twists are easier, but that doesn't make a more advanced/beginner practitioner - it's just where I'm at.

My advice would be to note what comes easiest and what takes more effort from you in your practice. Be aware of where your limits currently lie and explore them gently. See which poses appeal to you, analyse them (do they require upper body strength? open hips?, etc) and give them a go - carefully. Maybe you'll be ready, maybe you won't, but you're still learning to listen to your body while you build strength and/or flexibility.

Also, don't get too hung up if you can't do a certain asana just yet. Sometimes it's best to accept it's not going to be a part of your practice at this moment and rather than work on it obsessively,  try to work on building the foundations for that asana. Look up that pose's alignment, just to make sure you're safe. The full expression will most likely come in time.

ETA: yogajournal is a good reference when it comes to poses. The section for beginners is here, but I'd not go into it thinking that you have to do every pose in that section in order to move onto intermediate practice. For example, at this moment they have an article on eight poses for hanumanasana (splits pose), which is definitely a fairly advanced pose. Sure, you can learn from the preparatory poses, but you shouldn't worry about doing the end pose (hanumanasana). Read carefully, use your judgment and if in doubt, ask around! That's what we're here for :D

Edited by Hildegard
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On 2/29/2016 at 3:30 PM, brenskip55 said:

 Never get so caught up in achieving the next great posture, that you sacrifice safety or comfort. For example, if you can't hold downward dog for 5-10 breaths comfortably, I wouldn't attempt handstand. Just take it easy and focus on that fun feeling of exploration in the journey.

This is great advice. I too struggle sometimes thinking about "where am I at" "what classes can I drop in on and not be completely out of place?" I am very fortunate that my Saturday class usually only consists of 3-5 people so we get a lot of one on one time and she really knows us. She might push one of us a little further than the rest if she thinks we are ready to advance. But she only has class on Saturday :(. 

I've come to learn that I am very open in my hips and my back.... those poses come easily. However - I struggle with a forward full bend (my hamstrings are so tight!). And I would consider that a very basic pose. I also know that if I want to even consider inversions... I need to work on upper body and core strength. I've noticed these things and am actively trying to improve them. 

I did just go into a down dog to see if I had any discomfort during 10 breaths - no discomfort - it was a nice escape from the day. And speaking of discomfort, that is the other thing I'm paying close attention to when I try a new pose or a deeper stretch. Discomfort and pain are 2 very different things. 

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Per haps the western mind set seems to view progression in yoga from begginer to intermediate to advanced.  If so, then yes you might associate this progression with the type of asana you can perform.  When I first started yoga, I considered arm balances to be advanced poses.  However, now I would consider crow to be a beginning level arm balance and grasshopper to be an advanced one.  However, having this mentality of viewing the asanas you can perform as defining what level you may not be completely relevant when anatomy is taken into consideration.  The head teacher at my yoga studio put it this way: beginners rest in child's pose, after that you rest in down dog, and then finally you rest in handstand.  However, just because you can rest in handstand does not mean that you should not rest in child's pose.  This mentality can also be applied to when you begin and end your practice in meditation: beginners sit in a comfortable seat such as sukhasana, intermediates would perhaps sit in virasana, and then padmasana is the supreme pose.  However, you may come to class and feel that you have to sit in sukhasana, but by the end of the practice you may be able to sit in padmasana comfortably.  

    Perhaps a better way to view progression is from the beginning stage(arambha avastha) to the vessel stage(ghata avastha) to increase stage(parichaya avastha) and then to the consummation stage(nispattia avastha).  In the beginning stage one is first becoming familiar with ones body and asanas.  In the vessel stage one explores how qualities of the mind are affected by changes in the body, refining the vessel that contains the body through awareness of breathe, sound, sensations, etc.  In the increase stage we find more integtegration between the body and mind and explore the embodiment of conciousness.  Finally in the consummation stage we enter a state of bliss where the distinction of body and conciousness dissipates as we begin to experience life as a sort of moving meditation with the body, breath, and mind being fully integrated in order to become one with our soul!

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I'm glad we are all not alone in our struggles with figuring out where we are at as yogis. For the longest time I was so confused that I could do grasshopper pose, but I can't get into supported or tripod headstand. It still makes very little sense to me, but now I'm just enjoying my journey getting into headstand, and continuing to practice grasshopper and other arm balances.

Thanks for sharing all your insights, everyone. We are all at our own places in yoga and that is a beautiful thing.

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