Why I’m Not Teaching Advanced Yoga Anymore

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Sri K. Pattabhi Jois once said, “The first series (of Ashtanga yoga) is very important. The second series is only a little important. And the third through fifth series are just for show.”

In my own yoga journey I realized early on I was chasing the advanced poses so hard and fast that I was addicted to Advil and I could barely walk. I wanted my foot behind my head, and by God I was going to get it there if it took a crane.

There are three things that will happen to you if you relentlessly chase the hard poses: 

                • You hit a plateau.
                • You become injured.
                • You get older and the body will fail you. 


If you are lucky, the third option is going to get you in the end. And I guess I am very lucky, because now I am old(er) and my strength and flexibility is not what it once was. However, I am better in my temperament, wiser in my approach and stronger in my heart.

I am a broad who was built for the long run. I am going to practice yoga until they carry me out toes up. I want my practice to know this for sure: I am not going anywhere. Like Vanda Scaravelli, Beryl Bender Birch and many other remarkable older women, I am in it forever.

But having said that (with a touch of bad ass-ness I might add), the reality is I go a little slower these days. I practice the advanced poses, but I do so with props and skill. If a teacher says “Jump the feet apart,” I step my way there because I have broken the bones of my feet four times – all in yoga! Jumping is to signify fire in your practice, but now the fire lives in my soul.

For many years what I have done with this lifetime of experience and amassed education is teach an advanced class in my local studio. I loved this class. I lived for this class. I brought the best of everything I know to bear in this class.

It was good, until the day it was not.

I’m afraid that day has come sooner rather than later. I was not prepared for this moment. I know my students are not happy about this. But the truth is, I have been unhappy for a while.

I am in a place now where I’d rather teach the foundational poses well, than go after the advanced poses in a careless manner. I believe with all my heart that if you can do Eka Pada Rajakapotasana in the four variations, perfectly, well then there’s nothing you can’t do. Inside of Dhanurasana beats the heart of every backbend. Bhujangasana will always be my teacher.

For I believe this with all my heart: If you do the level 1 or first series of poses perfectly, then you can do any pose. As Pema Chodron says, the beginning is a good place to start.

I hope the Universe is wise as it guides me back to my roots. I hope this is not career suicide. But I am going to specialize in what my teachers call, making the easy poses hard. I am going to make the easy poses hard, so the hard poses become easy.

I hope I share my new path with good company as we walk each other home.

Originally published 8/2013.


Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga, and Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. She is a Columnist for Elephant Journal and a Contributing Editor for Mantra and Origin Magazines. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches Hatha Yoga in Denver, Co. You can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com or www. Yogasteya.com.