Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Demystifying Bikram's advanced series

Ballsy title, right?!  I wonder what's gotten into me.  All this yoga must be going to my brain.

I made it down to LA yesterday to take advanced class with Emmy.  It's a couple hours in each direction, so it's a bit of a hike (plus gas = $$), but I'm going to try to make this part of my weekly routine from now until April.

I figured that if I'm going to bring up this class at all, I might as well talk about the advanced series a little bit.  It seems that plenty of students don't even know that it exists, and plenty more have heard of it but don't know anything about it.  And then it becomes this big mystery, which I find slightly silly.  The class is plenty interesting on its own, without an extra aura of mystery around it.  Since I have a decent amount of information, I will try to answer a few of the questions that people always ask me.

- 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 interesting 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.

- What postures do you do?

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.  These include: sun salutations (yep!), a bunch of postures in lotus position, splits, arm balances (like crow), shoulder stand, really deep backbends (like full camel, full bow, and wheel), headstands, forearm stands, and handstands.

- Can I read about it anywhere?

There's a book on the 84 traditional asanas listed on Tony Sanchez's website (84 Asanas ), and Bikram says that he's working on a book too.  (This is a pretty new development, by the way.  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...)

- How do you get into an advanced class?

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.)

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.

- Why don't we have advanced at my studio?

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!!

- I bet I could do all that stuff.  Will my teachers let me practice advanced with them?

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.)  And 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!

- How do you know when you're ready to try it?

You don't.  Your teacher does.  (You can only guess.)

- What's your first class like?

It's pretty much like taking your first Bikram class all over again, but in a fun way.  Don't into your first advanced class thinking, "I hope I'm really good at this!"  That's the worst thing you can do.  That was exactly 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!

- Well, that sounds great.  Now I'm bummed that I don't get to do advanced.  Am I missing out??

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?  Are there any more questions that are burning?  Is anyone going to come to my house and try to hit me with a shovel?  (I hope not.  I've tried to be accurate!)


~m said...

nice work j!!

thedancingj said...

WOW, you read fast! haha. thanks!!

The Missus said...

AMEN! Thanks for posting this! Very good information to have!!!!

Dorothy said...

That's a lot of good information. I have to admit, I've wondered about advanced for a long time, especially when you see the poster with all the postures on it. It looks a little scary.

Yolk E said...

You are fabulous! Thanks for putting the time into breaking this down. I really appreciate it.

Because I'm wicked flexible in my hips, knees, and ankles, I can do some of those flexy-bendy postures. Ashtanga first series gets you into some pretty crazy stuff. But then, standing head-to-knee still kicks my ass each time, and I have issues with stamina.
All in due time! Can't run a marathon before you can walk 10 miles.

catherine said...

I miss being able to do full camel. :/ Hope to get back soon(ish) though. Maybe eventually, in the future. :) Thanks for posting!

Bianca said...

Yay! Advanced is great.

Although, as a non-competing student I do feel that some of the rules about who can and can't practice advanced can be a bit silly! Surely having a certain calibre of practice, knowing and respecting the limits of what your body can do, and, more importantly, a DESIRE to learn more and to grow in your practice should be enough to qualify to try it! Although I totally understand that some teachers might not be ready to actually teach it to the non-initiated (but then surely this should also include other teachers who have not practiced before or aren't really ready to do the advanced series??)

Also, wonder what the deal is for students who go to one of the official advacned seminars? Should they be considered familiar enough with the series to then practice at their home studio? After all, it's the same training that their teachers have recieved!

Mary said...

Yay!! I'm so happy you wrote about the Adv. series. We were chatting about it today, because we haven't done it since before competition and are finally going to do it again on Sat... We were kind of chuckling because our male teammate, who joined us in doing Adv only two-ish times before competition, was describing it to someone and said, "Beware, after your first time, you'll have to sleep for two days!!" I guess he got really wiped out after his first time, which at the time we found quite amusing :-P But really, we were all there too, when we started this summer! What I find amazing is that you can start out not being able to do anything, but you can really make progress quickly after that. I feel like I've made more rapid progress with these postures than in learning beginning, which took me much longer to progress in.

But anyway, overall, I find it just fun being a beginner again, like you said, and experimenting with new postures, and surprising yourself with what you can/cannot do. We end up just laughing and chatting through the postures for a big chunk of time also, which is great!

Lastly, the loopy, yoga-stoned feeling you get for the rest of the day after 4 hours (beginning+adv) is priceless. :-D

vegan salad party said...

@bianca- sign up. go! anyone can take adv with bikram at his adv seminar. be prepared to have your ass handed to you on a silver platter. with love. at his seminar he goes pose by pose. first day first 15 ish. then second day you rip through the first ones, and go over the next 20 or so. third day you rip through the beg of the class and take your time next couple postures so by the end of the week you've learnt all 84 and you just do the whole thing.

Bianca said...

Yes! I am saving up to hopefully go to the advanced seminar this year if it's on, and wholeheartedly look forward to having my ass kicked!

I guess what I was getting at is should students who have attended the advanced seminar be allowed to then practice advanced at their home studio, even if they're not competing? (and obviously still at the discretion of whoever's leading the class). It seems kind of odd that we can pay to attend the seminar, but then not actually be 'allowed' to practice the advanced series anywhere else...

thedancingj said...

Bianca - I think YES - it's always at the instructor's discretion, but once you've learned the series from BIKRAM, I don't think any teacher would mind having you join them. It really is an initiation of sorts. In my experience, pretty much anyone will let you practice with them if you've got a good foundation and you have some idea of what you are doing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks heaps for giving us that insider's view on the Advanced Series :-)
Your blog is wonderful!! I've only discovered it recently, thank you for articulating so well what Bikram's yoga means on so many different levels to us, Bikram devotees :-)
(and by devotees, i don't mean fanatics or zealots, but simply dedicated and respectful practitionners)
Virginie from Australia

hannahjustbreathe said...

Great post, lady---really great information to share. My first introduction to the advanced series was via a workshop with Jason Winn, who devoted four hours to breaking down the full 84 postures. Blew me away. It really is a whole other level of the yoga.

Big G said...

So funny you wrote this post. Exactly what my mind was on too. One thing you didn't mention in your posting was about taking the beginning class earlier in the day before advanced. My studio encourages this, although it's not mandatory. How is this treated elsewhere?

Rebecca said...

I don't want to take advance class, but I sure would love to sit in an watch. It's got to be great to see.

lifelonglearner19 said...

J, my friend - look at all of these posts! This demystification is fascinating for me as I do hope to one day be invited to give this a try. This invitation is far off, however, as I've been struggling big time and it's no secret - but, this is incredibly informative and insightful. Mucho thanks!!

Sheri said...

wow... the 90 minute class is a LOT for me... can't imagine doing twice that! maybe one day...

thedancingj said...

Thanks to all for the very positive responses!!

G - I've practiced at a couple places where students were actually required to warm-up with beginner's class first. (Teachers can do whatever they want!) Except for one time two years ago when I slept through my alarm, I've always done beginner's before advanced. Out here in LA, there's no one enforcing it, but it's part of my discipline and it feels right to me. The opening of advanced is pretty hard, and I feel like it's a lot to jump into with NO warm-up! Plus this goes along with my philosophy that advanced is a supplement to beginner's, not a replacement. Good question!

Rebecca - I wanna watch a class too. Heck - I think it'd be fun to watch a REGULAR class! But there are totally times during advanced when I get to peek around and check out other people's postures, and it is very inspiring!

Amber said...

I have wanted to do an advanced series for so long and I finally found out about one studio I can go to! Thank you for demystifying it for me, and for the website to show the 84 asanas, been searching everywhere on the net!!! I am envious of those going to Barcelona in February lol. No shovels here, enjoyed your feedback, so pumped to take an advanced class. Thank you again:)

Mei said...

Don't forget to add that you WILL be very... loopy after all that yoga.


Danielle said...

Nice breakdown! You forgot to add that after your first advanced class, you will not be able to walk for 3 days!!

thedancingj said...

Yay, Amber, that's so exciting!

Oh yes, ladies... I guess I didn't make that part clear. You will be completely stoned afterwards (driving in circles around LA trying to get to a buffet that's already closed) and you will be sore in body parts that you didn't even know about. :-D

Anonymous said...

Hello J,

My name is Barbora and I run Oh My Bikram. I absolutely love this post, and am wondering if you would like to contribute it as a guest blog to Oh My Bikram!

Let me know!

Thanks so much


thedancingj said...

Barbora, that'd be great! I sent an email to OMB earlier this afternoon, so you may already have my personal email address, but you can write to me at lockthekneeblog AT gmail.com. Thanks! :-)

hplankus said...

Hmmmm.... You have all inspired me! Maybe I'll give it a try sometime.