Us humans appear to be somewhat obsessed with the notion of progression. Well I certainly am! I love to think that I’m progressing and achieving goals, and I think I’m not alone in this.
But the idea of goals is a tad troublesome when it comes to yoga. As you know, yoga is, in it’s nature non-competitive. We’re not meant to compete with each other, or ourselves. But humans being humans love to compete with ourselves and we love to ‘progress’ our practice. And usually, that progression is taken to be the ability to perform ever more tricky poses.
You’ll have seen we have Beginners, Improvers and Advanced classes on the site. And it’d be logical to think that we ‘progress’ through these phases. But it ain’t necessarily so! Some bodies will never be destined for some poses. And other bodies manage to slip, fairly easily into the knots required for Intermediate/Advanced, but these folks are fairly new to yoga. These bodies might be more fit and limber, with proportions that help yoga poses, or maybe the practitioner has a gymnastics or dancing background so can more easily find the poses. But we must remember that, wonderful that these poses are to look at, and tempting as it is to imitate these bodies, that isn’t yoga!
So what is yoga, then, if it’s not the ability to bend, stretch and flex?
Well, yoga is a little different to gymnastics or cirque de soleil. Yoga is a search for unity. It’s when on a physical level, the body, breath and mind quiet and work as one, and on a spiritual level, when you realise the existential truth that we are all one and that separation doesn’t exist. That is yoga. And advancement is really, purely on the basis of your spiritual practice towards that goal. If advancement in yoga were in the attainment of poses, we would just be collecting gymnastics awards.
So here’s my conundrum which I’d like to share with you:
How to guide people through the site, making it clear that beginners to yoga would be unsafe to try trickier poses if their bodies aren’t used to moving with the breath, whilst enabling those who are fitter and stronger to be able to challenge their physicality.
But I’ve been pondering these categories of ‘Beginner/Improvers/Advanced’ for a while and the more I ponder, the more I dislike them. After all, when I was new to yoga as an 18 year old, I could do many ‘advanced’ poses – my body was naturally bendy, long limbed and willowy, of course an ashtanga practice called, and almost seemed easy.
Now that the decades have rolled on, I appreciate a ‘beginners’ class!
I love to move with a much more refined breath and slower pace. I feel that with a slower yoga class, I am able to achieve my ‘yoga’ much more easily than a faster paced vinyasa flow. But yes, some days I find something feisty is called for, that my body is just longing to stretch. But I wouldn’t call my shapes advanced, it’s just that the pace and shapes are what’s needed when I’m feeling more feisty. I don’t know about you, but I tend to recoil at teachers who say ‘if you practice you’ll achieve x pose’. Well, why is it always a good idea for my body to achieve x pose? Not all poses are suitable for my body. My body holds past injuries and has a history and I just don’t want to push into certain poses. But that’s just me, my body, today.
And in any event, the teacher may be wrong that your body may not ‘advance’ in the way that they think, simply because this flesh and blood is very fragile and anything can happen along the way! Whereas the spirit the mind – well that really can progress, no matter if we are caught in a car crash tomorrow, that yoga practice can continue.
And that’s the point of it all. All of our bodies are quite different and have very different needs. If you practice more gentle yoga, it may be a sign of an advanced, not a beginner practice. And those who need to practice yoga as a workout have more of a beginner’s mind. It’s all a bit topsy turvey. It has to be said, I think that practicing Yin Yoga is a sign of a very advanced practice!
>>Check out our Yin and Restorative Yoga Classess>>
What I’d love to do would be to re-define our categories in a way that folks can understand that beginners classes aren’t for beginners and advanced classes aren’t for the advanced.
But the question is – would a complete beginner understand beginners by any other name?
Intermediate is good for those who want to up the ante a little. And I think that Level 3 or Advanced classes are for those who are looking for something feisty on that day and whose bodies are injury free, strong, healthy and are used to practicing yoga for a few years or more. But the conundrum of the human need for classification continues. Just remember not to take them too seriously.
We’d love to know your thoughts!
What should we call our categories? Share your ideas and suggestions in the comments box below…
This post was written by our fabulous founder, Kat Farrants.
I get distracted by the labels myself and not just in my yoga practice. I was a complete novice when I started using MFML and I found the beginners challenge very useful from the point of view of learning the basics. I was particularly worried about correct placement and alignment to avoid injury. As an alternative to the ‘beginners, intermediates, advanced’ labels maybe it would be useful to collate all the basic/introductory videos (Beginners 1,2,3 etc) into a section labelled ‘Introduction to yoga’ or something similar. Then the rest of the videos could be labelled according to depth of practice, if that makes sense. I think if the peak poses are mentioned in the description for each video along with a modification recommendation for less experienced practitioners there would be a reduced need for levels in the traditional sense. I think the danger with removing the labels is that some people (like me haha) get frustrated when they suddenly come up against something overly challenging that was unexpected. But I do often flick through the video anyway before practice to check that out.
Sorry if this is a bit rambling, just my two cents.
Hey Nicola – loving your two cents. Absolutely agree, we definitely still need a beginners centre. I LOVE that our beginners challenge felt like an accessible way to start your practice. Phew and yippee, it really is wonderful to hear the feedback. I do agree- i worry that folks might get frustrated if you come across something that really isn’t in your range that’ll cause issues. And that’s really my main worry – so that relative beginners know that many of the poses within a certain category are likely to be accessible (although we all have different bodies and find different poses more tricky than others!) – but i’m so grateful for you letting me know, thanks so much Nicola. I’m putting it all in the pondering pot and giving it a good stir ;-). Hugs Kat x
Hey Nicola, I love the idea of “Introduction To Yoga” – that’s a goodie! xx
I so agree with the sentiment that bodies need different styles at different times , and the slower paced practice enables focused breathing and completion of poses. So far I have found the MFML descriptions of the videos to be spot on with regard to the type of practice being demonstrated. Fiesty is a great term for stronger more dynamic practice. people can choose what they feel is their need, progression could be sold as more about developing unity and deeper self awareness, all poses fall into this progressive heading as individuals endeavour to maintain focus in slower paced and challenging classes as well as keep pace and good focus in the dynamic class
Hey Sue – thanks so much for your thoughts! I’m just so glad that you’re enjoying the site and that our categories are making sense for you and helping you choose the right class. Yay, so glad you like the Feisty name, yes, it sounds so much less serious than the alternatives… Feisty coming up!! Agree, it’s about maintaining focus throughout the practice. Great input! Kat x
This is a very interesting question. It made me realise that I never chose a video on MFML based on Level. I tend to focus on emotion or benefit (and favour 30-minute classes!) When I started yoga I did a foundation course to get to grips with the basics and I agree with Nicola above that there should be some clear provision on the website for the complete novice. But I would welcome replacing Levels with Energy levels instead!
Or you can, of course, remove the category altogether! I find too that the more I practise yoga, the more I favour classes with a mental rather than physical focus.
So interesting to hear, Ria! Thanks so much for letting me know… YAY! A vote for energy levels – that’s what works for me too ;-). Kat x
A very useful reminder thanks Kat about how yoga is not about pushing ourselves. Yes despite having practiced yoga for nearly two decades now I have found myself regularly enjoying beginners classes on mfml again as they go back to the beautiful fundamentals of yoga and are not requiring me to think too much about a more unusual asana so I can do the simple ones right. And feel great afterwards of course 😊 I know your web developer would tear his hair out but I would like to have a way of commenting on the videos for myself so that I could remind myself when I found a particular class helpful or if it contains something I’m not so fond of (I have lower back issues which sometimes allow more or less movement – wasn’t always the case as you said in your piece) anyway like the commenter above just my twopence worth! Thanks for all you do with the teachers and mfml xx
Hi Joanne – so super to hear your thoughts! I totally agree! I practice beginners classes a lot, they are perfect for days when you want to be gentle on yourself. Hmmmm, I love your idea for comments. Are you not able to comment via Facebook? Of course, for us it’s a very straightforward platform to use for the comments (your right, our developer might well lose a hair or so if we ask him to create a comments area!!!). But I really appreciate your ideas, and i will in fact see if it’s possible (Maybe after our App is launched as that is causing the strife right now!!). Thanks so very much, I do so appreciate you taking the time to write and for your support for the site. Thank you! xx
I totally LOVE your idea of “fiesty” to describe a more physical practice, as opposed to a more cerebral one. Whilst teaching I constantly feel I need to remind students that just because someone is more flexible or strong, or has a background which means they have a physical advantage in achieving certain poses (or indeed is just more biomechanically lucky), this doesn’t mean they are better at yoga. In fact, maybe those people who struggle a little more with the physical asana are sometimes the ones who really “get” yoga more quickly rather than just using it as another gymnastic tool to beat their body with.
I think the idea of specifying the energetic focus of a class is a fab one (and yes, listing the peak poses and whether there are modifications is a great help on the videos) and would help people to understand its accessibility for them. Accessibility is one thing, appropriateness for the particular moment is something else. It might also encourage people to understand that a more physically challenging practice may sometimes be right but that a truly advanced yogi knows when to change to an “easy” physical practice, whether that is for a day, week, or longer.
By the way, I am a very grateful user of your site – love the videos, the teachers, your blog but I very rarely say thank you other than to my computer at the end of class. So THANK YOU for all your hard work and inspiration, it is very hugely appreciated.
Aw, thanks so much. It really does make my day in every way to hear that you love the site. Thank you so much, it makes all the hard work worthwhile. Truly, thank you so much!
Great! I love that you ‘get’ where i was coming from. And it sounds like we have a resounding vote in favour of Feisty/Gentle. And I’ll have to find a way to let beginners know how to stay safe. Yes yes, yoga truly is so revolutionary that it isn’t yet another tool to beat ourselves up with, but is finally, something that allows us simply to ‘be’, exactly where we are – as you say, be it for a day, week, or for the rest of our lives – only we know the practice that our body craves… Well, I’m so chuffed that you took the time to write. Thank you! All taken on board 😉 Kat x
A friend was talking today about a distinction used at her school for the children in terms of levels. They use a “spiciness index” of mild, moderate, fairly hot. Thought of you when I heard it!
LOVE that!! Extra spicy, hot and korma is a brilliant one, Sabina 😉