by Juliana Olmstead
Guest blogger Juliana Olmstead joins us from the blogs “Lock the Knee” and “Bikram 101” to demystify the advanced series. A Bikram student since 2004, Juliana dispatches to us from California where she will attend teacher training this April. She first learned the advanced series in 2007, attended the advanced seminar in Palm Springs last summer, and practices advanced in LA with Emmy as often as she can. Here she addresses the most common asked questions about advanced class…
“There’s an advanced Bikram yoga class??”
I hear this question a lot.
There are plenty of students who have no idea that such a thing exists, and there seem to be even more who have heard of it but don’t know a thing about it, except for whispers and rumors. As a student who has practiced the advanced series for years, sometimes I find myself thinking, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Mystery does add spice to life, but I think that the advanced class just gets more interesting as you learn more about it.
So without further ado, here is my humble attempt to answer some of the most common questions based on the information and experience that I have.
Q: What’s the advanced class LIKE?
Instead of 26 postures in 90 minutes, it’s 84 postures in about 90-120 minutes.
Right away you’ll notice, holy shit, that’s a lot more postures! Yup!
Advanced practice is very different from beginners class, and one of the biggest differences is the pace. The pace is fast. It’s not like beginner’s class, where you get to try each pose twice and hold it for up to a minute. For most of the poses in advanced, you get one good try and then you move on. And you don’t get to take savasana after every pose, only after mini-series of poses.
For example, instead of “cobra-savasana-cobra-savasana-locust-savasana-locust-savasana…” the spine strengthening series is “cobra-locust-full-locust-bow-LONG savasana while your heart stops beating out of your chest.”
That means it’s not as much of a healing practice as the beginner’s class; it’s a practice for uninjured yogis who are interested in opening and strengthening their bodies in new ways.
It’s also a led class; the teacher does the postures instead of teaching by dialogue.
Q: What postures do you do?
A: All 26 postures from the beginning series are in the advanced series.
More accurately, all the postures in the beginning series come from the advanced series, which is the original set of postures that Bikram studied and practiced in India with Bishnu Ghosh.
So, it’s the 26 postures you know, plus the 58 that Bikram didn’t think you (Westerners) would need in your daily practice.
- sun salutations (yep!)
- a bunch of postures in lotus position
- arm balances (like crow)
- shoulder stand,
- really deep backbends (like full camel, full bow, and wheel),
- forearm stands
Q: Can I read about it anywhere?
A: There’s a book on the 84 traditional asanas listed on Tony Sanchez’s website, and Bikram says that he’s working on a book too. (This is a pretty new development, apparently. He used to say that he would never write a book, probably because he thought people would end up trying stuff they weren’t ready for and injuring themselves at home…)
Q: How do you get into an advanced class?
A: Advanced classes are typically for teachers, plus any experienced students who are training for the yoga asana championships. (That is how I got into the series, by the way. I was invited to my first advanced class in September 2007 when I was training for the New England regional championships, and I’ve practiced it off and on ever since.)
If you decided to participate in your local championships (which is a great thing to do), you can probably expect to be introduced part or all of the advanced series.
Bikram also holds Advanced Seminars which are open to everyone, no experience necessary. The last one was last July in Palm Springs, CA, and there’s another one coming up in Barcelona in about a month.
A seminar with Bikram is a great introduction to the series. Don’t quote me on this, but it’s been my experience that once you’ve practiced the series with a senior teacher such as Bikram or Emmy and built a strong foundation, many teachers will be happy to include you in practice at your home studio. Just ask!
Q: Why don’t we have advanced at my studio?
A: The 84 postures are not a part of the teacher training curriculum. There are a number of teachers who do have enough experience and ability to lead the series, but there just aren’t enough of them to go around yet!!
Q: I bet I could do all that stuff. Will my teachers let me practice advanced with them?
A: The situation totally varies from studio to studio, and it’s always at the discretion of the instructor. Some places are cool with inviting students into class, and sometimes they prefer keep it closed to teachers.
There are plenty of good reasons for the latter.
Number one: Advanced isn’t “safe” the way beginner’s class is; you can definitely hurt yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing! And that is the last thing that any yoga studio wants.
Number two: Some people might be comfortable “leading” the series with people who already know it, but aren’t ready to “teach” it. (Those are two completely different things.)
Number three: Sometimes they just want space to talk about “teacher stuff” without their students listening in! (One of the advanced classes I used to go to went “teachers only” for a while because, according to my teacher, “we have to hold ourselves back when you students are around!” My response was, “This is you when you’re holding back?!” Those guys were hilarious… )
If you’re interested in learning more about the series, I don’t think it ever hurts to ask your teacher a couple questions or express interest in trying it someday!! Just, you know, don’t be whiney about it!
Q: How do you know when you’re ready to try it?
A: You don’t. Your teacher does. (You can only guess.)
Q: Do you have to take beginner’s class on the same day?
A: At the studios where I first practiced advanced class, there was a pretty firm policy that all students had to take the beginner’s class as a warm-up before advanced. (Teachers can do whatever they want.) This makes sense, because the beginning of advanced class is kind of intense and it’s a lot to dive into with cold muscles. (Safety first!) And since there are postures where you really go for maximum depth, it makes sense to give yourself a little head start.
Except for one time two years ago when I slept through my alarm, I personally have always practiced beginner’s class before advanced, even out here in LA where they leave it totally up to you. I consider it part of my discipline.
It also goes along with my idea that advanced class is a supplement to beginner’s class, not a replacement.
But depending on schedule and stamina, your mileage may vary. I’m pretty young and I have stamina to spare. Some people say that they don’t get as much out of advanced when they do beginner’s first, because they “run out of steam” before the end!
Q: What’s your first class like?
A: It’s pretty much like taking your first Bikram class all over again, but in a fun way.
The worst thing you can do is going into your first advanced class thinking, “I hope I’m really good at this!” That was my attitude the first time I did advanced (maybe partly because my teachers bribed me into it by telling me, “You will be really good at this!”) and I was NOT a happy camper.
Because I SUCKED at it!
I could not do any of the postures at all. But… now I can. It really just gives you the opportunity to be a total beginner again. “I felt like a beginner again!!!” is an almost universal response. It teaches you humility and it opens up your world. It’s probably a good thing to do right out of teacher training, because it will help you really identify with your beginning students!
Also, you might not be able to walk for a few days afterwards.
Q: Well, that sounds great. Now I’m bummed that I don’t get to do advanced. Am I missing out??
A: Not really!!
The series of 26 and 2 is really all your body needs. I can’t emphasize this enough. For example, you do NOT(!!!!) need to practice full camel to get deeper into your backbends. I develop my backbend by doing regular camel, in class, two sets, every day.
I still think that the regular camel is more challenging, because it requires more technique and finesse. Full camel is less technique, more flexibility – you just go as far as you can. Doing full camel is diagnostic for me – if I can get farther into the posture than I did last month, then I know I’ve been doing something right in my regular classes.
I’m not gonna lie… the advanced class is really a lot of fun… but it’s a bonus. Icing on the cake.
And that’s all she wrote, folks. Did I miss anything? Did I get anything wrong? Are there any more questions that are burning…?