Is there any purpose to practicing “advanced” asana?

I would like to propose that when speaking about yoga, the word “advanced” does not describe what one is doing, but the way in which that pose or practice is being performed. It is not the pose that is being practiced that is “advanced”, but rather the attention that is being paid to that pose that can be advanced.

Advanced asana both is and isn’t about fancy poses.

I think most of us can agree that trikonasana can be practiced in an advanced way. This would begin with a clear and careful transition into the pose, and would prioritize creating an architecture with the body that is useful and appropriate for the unique body that is creating this shape. I think most of us could also agree that a challenging pose like astavakrasana can be practiced in a way that isn’t advanced at all. Words like pushing, forcing, gripping and “NAILING IT” all come to mind.

Right off the bat I’d like to flesh out the difference between “advanced” asana and challenging asana. An advanced practice to me, is about subtlety and clarity and it allows for lots of space and time to explore. That can happen just as easily {if not more easily} in a Level 1 class, as it can in a Level 3 class.

Choosing child’s pose over the extra vinyasa is often the advanced practice. Adding more props when they will be helpful is often the advanced practice.

What I actually want to address here is the usefulness, if there is any, to practicing challenging, or even “fancy” asanas.

For our purposes today, let’s assume that a challenging asana is one that is slightly difficult and may require more different kinds of movement than you are used to using. One person’s challenging asana could be moving from standing to sitting on the floor without using any support. For someone else it could be doing a handstand in the middle of the room.

Everyone has a version of what a challenging movement or shape would be for them, and I think what I will say here will apply to us all.

I hope that we are practicing and teaching asana in a way that serves and supports the rest of our lives. More strength and mobility, the kind that can be gained with an asana practice, do little for us unto themselves. But we live in a culture that moves far less than our evolutionary ancestors, as we have outsourced much of our movement to technology. This lack of movement has created many physical ailments in our society, and asana is a great tool to use to teach mindful, therapeutic movement to restore some of what we have lost by sitting down all the time. {Among other cultural non-movement habits}.

Teachers who see asana as a tool for health may feel that its only purpose is to be able to engage in basic movements, like walking, without any pain. Others will say that the only use for asana is to be able to sit in meditation comfortably. I don’t completely disagree with these perspectives at all, but…