Where are you on your yoga journey?
Yoga is an art that requires a lot of patience. Your level of yoga is an internal reflection of your practice, not an external one. Doing hard yoga poses doesn’t make you a master, just as having to modify your poses doesn’t make you a beginner.
Of course, it’s good to know where you stand in your practice so you know when to take a step back and revisit the fundamentals or challenge yourself and commit to the next level.
In this post, we’re going to discuss how to figure out what your yoga level is, and how to know when you’re ready to level up with the other students. Keep reading to learn more.
No one (except maybe gymnasts and ballerinas) walk into a yoga studio for the first time and are able to master those advanced yoga poses. Of course, things like flexibility, balance, and strength are not a prerequisite to the practice. Those are the things that you achieve as a student with consistent yoga practice.
Trying to figure out which level of yoga you fit into will depend mainly on your knowledge and experience with the practice. (If you’ve only taken one yoga class in your life, then it’s safe to say that you’re definitely a beginner). Of course, even if you are at a more advanced level in your yoga practice, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a beginner’s class won’t be beneficial to you. In fact, you’ll find many yoga classes that house practitioners of multiple levels.
This should tell you that the fundamentals of the poses are much more significant than whether you’re a beginner, a level one, level two, level three, or master yogi. Another thing to consider is the various styles of yoga: Iyengar, Ashtanga, Anusara, Mysore, Vinyasa flow, Bikram, Kundalini, Hatha, Yin, Jivamukti, Restorative, and so on.
The style of yoga you choose bears some importance in relation to your level because each style takes on a different approach to the practice. For example, you may feel more comfortable and successful practicing Hatha over Vinyasa flow if you like to take your time in each pose. Or, maybe you do well in Vinyasa flow but have a hard time maintaining your posture—and your cool—with Bikram.
Having said that, all styles are meant to create lightness, relaxation, and ease—regardless of your level. So, how and where do you fit in? That can be determined by the break down of each level.
Level One: Beginner
A level one yoga class will be your essential introduction to the world of yoga practice.
The instructor will explain thoroughly the fundamentals of beginner poses. You’ll learn how to get in and out of each pose, and the proper alignment. The pace will also be very slow because the focus is on good form and safety. There will also be a lot of modifications shown for each pose to supplement all fitness levels.
Furthermore, your instructor will teach you the yoga asanas in both their Sanskrit name as well as their English equivalent (“asana” is Sanskrit for “poses”).
In a level one class, you can expect a lot of gentle bending, guided manipulation of your breath (Pranayama), seated meditation, and props such as blocks to aid in your flexibility level. There may also be strengthening poses meant to prepare you for a level two or three class that involve headstands and the like.
Some common beginner yoga poses include Downward Dog, Warrior one, Sphinx pose, Bridge pose, Cat pose, Chair pose, Cobra pose, Tree pose, and (everyone’s favorite) child’s pose.
Level Two: Intermediate
A level two class will be a bit more aerobic, especially if you’re practicing Vinyasa flow.
By now, you should have a working knowledge of yoga—and a little more confidence. If you’re new to the level two practice, you can fall back on the modifications you learned in your beginner’s class. Your instructor will remind you of this as well as guide you if you’re having trouble.
You can expect to learn more advanced poses and to start using Downward dog as a transitional pose. You can also expect to learn Kumbhaka (which is Sanskrit for “breath retention”). During Kumbhaka you bring awareness to your breath, pausing between inhaling and exhaling while in a seated position.
Another thing to expect is for the poses to be instructed in Sanskrit. Depending on the instructor, you may not always get the English equivalent. The teacher will also spend less time demonstrating the poses, and more time walking around for more one-on-one guidance.
A level two class will definitely test your stamina and flexibility as you will begin to practice inversions (upside-down poses). You should also have patience as you will be working with Mudras (hand gestures) and Bandhas (internal energy seals known as Uddiyana, Mula, and Jalandhara). Your intermediate yoga flow will begin to come together at this level.
Some common intermediate poses include Big Toe pose, Boat pose, Bow pose, Camel pose, Crane (or Crow) pose, Dolphin Plank pose, Eagle pose, Extended Hand to Big Toe pose, and Feathered Peacock pose.
Level Three: Advanced
A level three class will be just that — advanced. This is more or less the pinnacle of your practice given that by now you will know how to listen to your body. You’ll know that each day on the mat will be different, and you’ll understand how to respond and adapt to your body’s limitations.
The teacjer will assume that you have knowledge and experience of each pose and how to execute them properly. Therefore, they will be giving little to no instruction on alignment or the English equivalents to the poses.
The aerobic component of a level three class will be similar to a two-mile jog, and it will be practiced at a quicker pace. There will also be a good amount of strength required since you will be expected to hold those handstands (away from the wall), as well as other difficult poses.
You can expect to be doing a lot of full-arm balancing poses and deep backbends, with transitions from level one and two classes. This level requires a total focus on body and mind. Although you’re always allowed to modify your poses as needed, it’s not the type of class you can let your mind drift off into another direction.
Some of the more advanced poses include Tittibhasana, Kapotasana, Natarajasana, Padmasana, Mayurasana, Eka Pada Koundinyasana, and Bhujapidasana.
Pro tip: If you don’t already know what the advanced poses listed above are without the English equivalent, you’re not ready for a level three class!
How Do You Know When it’s Time to Level Up?
Your journey to Samadhi (enlightenment) will be long and full of setbacks as well as great moments. It’s called a journey for a reason. But you can’t judge your level by time spent on the mat.
Sure, strength, flexibility, and stamina take time—but time isn’t always a relevant indicator. You can spend an entire year at the intermediate phase and still not be ready for more advanced yoga postures.
Here are a few indicators that you’re ready to take on the next challenge:
You’re Stronger — Mentally and Physically
You are able to breathe and transition into the different poses with ease. You also no longer need the Sanskrit translated or to look around at what others are doing. But beyond that, you’ve become more in tune with your body and capabilities.
You trust yourself and understand your limitations as well as when to push yourself safely.
You’re More Flexible
Physically, you no longer need to bend your knees in Downward dog or modify basic poses. But mentally, you’re open to the many possibilities in your practice. When the instructor wants you to try something new, rather than flinch, you welcome the challenge.
You’re truly learning to go with the flow.
You Take Your Practice Off the Mat
We’re not talking about instagrammable nature poses here. You’re beginning to see that yoga isn’t just about the poses, but how you can set your intentions and harness your energy throughout your daily life.
You take your Pranayama and Kumbhaka everywhere with you.
Yoga is Life
No matter what level you’re on, make sure you’re getting the most out of each class. Every class should place an emphasis on mindfulness and breathing. The purpose is to tap into a mind-body connection, whether it be through the movements, the Mudras, or bandhas.
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