Advanced yoga poses can give anyone just starting to practice the wrong idea. Beginners often think that being naturally flexible or having a certain body shape are qualifications for becoming a serious student of yoga. Luckily, these notions are misconceptions. Yoga is an inclusive practice whose only requisite is to simply show up.
While advanced yoga poses are by no means necessary to your “success” in yoga, if you are intrigued by them, there are ways to prepare so that you can work toward them safely while honoring and listening to your body. Difficult yoga poses do require physical and mental training, so it will take time (and patience!) to achieve them. But with a dedicated, regular practice, and the resources to support you along the way, the journey toward advanced yoga poses can be extremely rewarding.
On the physical level, most advanced yoga poses require balance, flexibility, and strength. By addressing these areas in your regular practice, you’ll help to prepare your body for more challenging asanas.
You can also focus on beginner and intermediate poses that foster growth in the specific area(s) you’re working on. For example, if your goal is a handstand press-up, you’ll need upper-body strength. In that case, you might focus on plank pose glides, “tuck jumps” in downward facing dog, and incorporating simpler handstand preps or transitions into your sun salutes.
Another aspect of physical preparation is cultivating an awareness of your body’s limitations. As much as we’d like to think that any pose is achievable with enough effort, this sadly isn’t true. Differences in body proportions and joint structure (among other things) mean that a pose that comes naturally to one person might be unsafe or simply impossible (without modifications or props) for another. (To further explore this topic, we recommend checking out Jenni Rawlings’ article “How Important Are Body Proportions in Yoga?”) Always listen to your body and acknowledge the difference between a healthy challenge and “bad” pain.
You can almost always find modifications that allow you to approach any difficult yoga pose you’re working on while honoring your body’s limitations. Using straps, chairs, blankets, blocks, and bolsters can help you enter into an advanced yoga pose safely. Silks, used in aerial yoga, can also be a fun way to get extra support when practicing inversions and poses that require a great deal of flexibility.
Mental discipline is what gets you to show up on your mat consistently. The stillness and concentration that naturally arise out of a regular practice allow you to be fully present in the moment despite challenges. The more you show up on your mat, the more you recognize that everything is always in flux, always changing, and learn to accept the state of your body and mind exactly as they are. And thus you will achieve a greater sense of physical and mental stability—essential allies for working on advanced yoga poses.
If you haven’t yet established a consistent practice, try setting short-term goals for yourself. For example, make it a priority to practice yoga X number of times a week for one month and stick to it.
(You might want to try this intermediate yoga challenge, which includes poses for developing strength and balance, while encouraging you to practice for 30 minutes a day for 30 days. Read about some of the benefits of doing a yoga challenge here.)
Notice how you feel during and after your practice, and observe any changes in your life off the mat.
Finding a yoga teacher is a great way to set yourself up for success. A qualified teacher can give you feedback that might clarify a point of alignment you couldn’t quite a point of alignment you couldn’t quite figure out on your your own, and give you suggestions for modifications and using props. Teachers can also help to motivate you, make sure you’re practicing safely, and keep you on track as you work toward advanced yoga poses.
To find a teacher who is right for you, visit a local studio or try using the teacher finder feature on Yoga Alliance’s website. If you’re looking for a teacher in a particular school or style, visit that school’s website and search for a teacher in your area.
The teachers at Yoga International are some of the leading experts in the fields of yoga, meditation, and wellness. With a Yoga International membership, you’ll have access to their yoga classes, tutorials, challenges, articles, and more. Access challenges for all levels to help you stay on track and infuse your practice with focus. (We recommend this yoga challenge for poses that increase core strength, and this advanced yoga challenge, which aims to demystify difficult poses.)