How to Go from Beginner to Intermediate Yoga

If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, it might be time to transition your practice to an intermediate level. It can be hard to figure out where to start as you advance on your yoga journey, so we’ve got some suggestions that may help.

To go from beginner to intermediate yoga, start working towards more advanced poses by modifying easy ones to make them more advanced and modifying difficult ones to make them more accessible. Practice consistently, and focus on mindfulness, breath, and core engagement throughout.

Advancing to the next level in your yoga practice can be exciting, but it can also be challenging. Below are some suggestions for making the transition from beginner to intermediate, as well as advice on how to tell if you’re ready to make the change.

Signs That It’s Time to Go from Beginner to Intermediate

A big factor in whether a move from beginner to intermediate in yoga or any other practice is timing. If you make the leap before you’re ready, no number of tips or techniques will make you successful. But at the same time, clinging on to the safety of beginner classes is a sure way to stay stuck.

For this reason, the first step in going from beginner to intermediate yoga is to ask yourself the following questions so you can gauge where you are.

What are Your Reasons for Wanting to Move to Intermediate?

Before investing the time and energy required to go from a beginning yoga practice into an intermediate one, ask yourself why you’re interested in doing so.

If you feel like your current level isn’t challenging you as much as you’d like, and you’re ready for more advanced poses and vinyasas, then you’re probably ready to move to the next level.

Likewise, it’s probably time to move further down the path if you find yourself endlessly curious about the practice and taking every opportunity to learn more.

On the other hand, if you want to move to a higher level because you see others in class who can do more advanced poses than you and you feel that you should be able to keep up with them, you might want to rethink your motivation. Your yoga practice is meant to be about you and your mind-body-breath connection, not about comparison to others.

A little healthy competition is just the push some people need to stick to or intensify a practice, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just be sure that the desire to improve comes from a true curiosity about and love for the practice.

Do You Currently Have a Consistent Practice Established?

A huge difference between beginners and intermediate yoga practitioners is consistency. Showing up to your mat regularly is key to establishing a yoga practice that continues to improve over time.

One of the most important factors in whether someone improves in anything, yoga or otherwise, is consistently turning up to do the practice, whether you’re in the mood to or not.

Don’t assume that if you start taking intermediate classes that you’ll automatically start practicing more often. Set yourself up for success by establishing a regular routine now, wherever you’re at in your yoga journey.

Are You Ready to Be Your Own Teacher?

When you’re new to a subject, it’s normal to hang on the teacher’s every word, and take everything they say at face value.

But over time, especially when you start to take classes from more than one teacher, you’ll start to realize that everyone has their own way of looking at things, yoga included. It’s up to you to take the instructions that you find useful, and let go of the ones that don’t serve you.

Moving from beginner to intermediate means taking more control of your practice.

As you learn more about what does and does not work for your particular body and goals, you will be better able to adjust your practice accordingly.

If you generally practice in a class setting, for example, this may mean also taking time throughout your day to practice certain poses that you’re trying to master, or maybe doing an impromptu vinyasa based on what your body needs that day.

How Connected Are You to Your Breath?

A fundamental component of yoga is connecting movement with the breath and maintaining awareness of the breath for an extended period of time.

Although it’s at the heart of yogic teachings, it’s very easy for beginner yoga practitioners to forget this and just focus on the poses. It’s natural to need reminding as we retrain the mind to refocus, but until the breath is connected to the movements, it’s hard to get the full benefit from a yoga practice.

Yogis allow their breath to guide their movements and to help them deepen into poses. If you often find yourself holding your breath during a difficult pose, or are completely unaware of breath altogether, you’ve got some work to do.

You’ll know your practice is developing when you consistently become more connected to your breath, both on and off the mat.

Is Your Core Engaged?

Core engagement is something that many beginning yogis struggle with, and they’re often surprised by how vital a strong core is to every movement.

The core is more than just your abs, contrary to what many people assume. It’s the entire network of muscles at the core of your trunk, front, sides, and back, that provide stability and support for your spine.

Once your practice develops, you’ll notice more core engagement in every pose, not only in the ab-centric ones like plank and boat pose. Even standing and balance poses work the core as the muscles make constant tiny adjustments to keep you upright.

How to Advance to Intermediate from Beginner

If you’ve looked at the above questions and feel like you’re ready to make the move from beginner to intermediate, here are some guidelines for taking your yoga practice to the next level.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

In order to improve in anything, you have to get out of your comfort zone. Yoga is no exception.

Doing the same poses with the same intensity is great for relaxation or maintaining strength and flexibility. But if you want to get better, you have to challenge yourself.

The process of learning is one of accepting the fact that you’re going to do badly sometimes, and if you’re learning in a class setting, that means doing badly in front of others.

Don’t let that scare you away. It’s only through working your way through the uncomfortable new stage that you’ll ever get to the other side.

And remember, people in class settings are usually too focused on themselves and their own practice to worry about what you’re doing. Plus, they were all beginners at one point too, so they’re not going to hold it against you.

Now is the time to be brave and push yourself – you’ll be glad you did.

Be Patient

Life is all about balance and moving to the next level in a physical practice like yoga means finding a balance between persistence and patience.

Try new poses or more advanced variations as you’re ready. Your muscles will let you know they’re working, and it’s normal to feel some soreness.

However, if you feel any sharp pains or pain in your joints, back off the pose right away.

Discomfort means it’s working. Intense pain means you’re in danger of injury. Listen to your body and stay safe.

Patience is important while you let your body physically catch up to the new, more intense practice. But patience is equally important when it comes to your mind and emotional states.

It’s great to be motivated and excited to dive into a new level, but it can be exhausting too. Make sure you’re practicing self-care as you take on this challenge, and rest if you need to.

Work Your Way Up

Don’t feel like your transition from beginner to intermediate needs to be all-or-nothing.

Almost every yoga pose comes with a way to modify it so it’s easier or more advanced. If you’re just starting to deepen your practice, a great place to start is by modifying the poses you’re already doing to make them more challenging.

This goes the other way too. If you take a class that’s above your current ability, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with modifying the poses to make them easier until you’re able to do them.

One of the easiest ways to modify a post is by not going as deeply into it. For other poses, the use of tools is often helpful. The most common yoga tools are:

  • Blocks: help to lengthen your reach, mostly in standing poses like side angle. Also good for support in floor poses like pigeon pose.
  • Straps: also help to lengthen your reach, mostly used for stretching and floor poses, especially tight shoulders and hamstrings.
  • Blankets: used for support, cushioning, and alignment, mostly on floor and knee poses.
  • Wall: useful for stability in balance poses.

If the poses themselves aren’t the problem as much as the speed of the class, it’s completely acceptable to skip a pose here and there so you can keep up.

And if you’re to the point where you’re overwhelmed, take a break in child’s pose until you’re ready to rejoin.

Dip Your Toe In

On a similar note to the advice in the ‘Work Your Way Up’ section, don’t feel like once you make the transition from beginner classes to intermediate ones that you’re stuck there.

It might be beneficial to take an intermediate class once or twice a week to start, and continue with beginner classes the rest of the time. Then build your way up to more intermediate classes as you feel ready.

Alternately, you can always go back and forth between beginning and intermediate depending on how you’re feeling on any given day.

Introduce Yourself to the Teacher

If you’re taking an in-person class, it’s always a good idea to introduce yourself to the teacher before class begins, especially your first intermediate one.

Let them know that you are in the process of transitioning from beginner to intermediate, so they’ll be aware.

If a class is full of repeat students, sometimes instructions are shortened because everyone’s heard them before. If your teacher knows that you’re new, they’ll be able to keep an eye out to make sure you understand everything and offer adjustments as needed.

Set Up Your Mat at Least One Row Back

Another way to make the most of an in-person class is to set up your mat near the middle of the room, at least one row back.

This way, you’ll always have a neighbor to peek at if you’re unsure what a post should look like, no matter what way you’re facing in a pose. Sometimes it can be hard to figure out a pose based on the teacher’s verbal instructions alone, so having someone to physically model new poses can be a lifesaver when you’re new to a class.

Get a Buddy

Doing yoga with someone else can be useful when you’re looking to step up your practice, especially if they’re around the same level as you are.

Being held accountable by someone else can help get you over the hump if your motivation lessens or you aren’t pushing yourself as hard as you could be.

It’s also nice to have someone to talk about the practice with who understands what you’re going through, as you progress through the levels together.

Remember though, good accountability buddies are each other’s cheerleaders. The purpose is to motivate each other to do better, celebrate each other’s wins, and talk them through their rough patches. This is not the time to get competitive with each other.

Yoga Challenge

A larger-scale version of an accountability buddy is signing up for a yoga challenge. There are plenty online, and many yoga studios offer them as well.

There’s nothing like seeing a big calendar just waiting to get filled up to remind you of your goals. As with accountability buddies, the purpose of a yoga challenge is not to compete against other practitioners, but with yourself.

Challenging yourself to practice every day for 30 days, for example, will not only help you make the transition from beginner to intermediate more quickly, but it will increase your discipline overall.

Many find that a challenge is just what they need to build momentum so they can continue deepening their practice lifelong.

Keep a Yoga Journal

Keeping a yoga journal as you progress from beginner to intermediate (and beyond, when the time comes) can be as useful as the yoga practice itself.

A journal provides a place to set and track measurable goals, which can be invaluable if you’re feeling stuck. Reading back through the journal will give you proof that you have, in fact, made progress, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

Journaling can be a useful practice for any life goals, but is especially helpful in yoga, where progress is usually incremental over a long period of time, rather than drastic change overnight.

Journaling also aids in the practice of mindfulness, which is a huge aspect of a well-rounded yoga practice. Writing down your thoughts about the practice can help you see more clearly where you are and what needs improvement.

Set an Intention

When you’re trying to make a change like going from beginner to intermediate yoga, it can sometimes help to remind yourself why you’re doing it. This is especially true if you hit a roadblock or are lacking motivation.

What is the core reason that you want to take your yoga practice from beginner to intermediate, or positive skill that you hope to cultivate from it? 

This can be an intention that you carry with you through life, or it can be one that changes from day to day. You can even set the intention just for the particular practice session and let it go afterwards.

Your intention is personal to you, and there is no wrong answer. It can be a complete sentence, a short phrase, or even just one word. Here are some example intentions to get you started:

  • Kindness and compassion (for self and/or others)
  • Cultivation of gratitude
  • Present moment awareness
  • Acceptance
  • Instilling a sense of peace and security

If one of the example intentions resonates with you, use it. If not, feel free to make up your own, or take a look at more samples online or using whatever yoga resources you favor.

It may take a little trial and error to get one that feels just right. This is completely normal, don’t force it.

Set a Ritual

Although many people in the West practice yoga mainly for physical exercise, it’s actually an ancient spiritual practice. Its benefits are mental, emotional, and spiritual in addition to the physical benefits.

Taking your yoga practice to the next level means embodying it as a lifestyle, rather than something you do for an hour a few times a week in a set place.

This certainly doesn’t mean that you have to change your religious or spiritual beliefs to practice yoga, as it can be incorporated into any existing practice that you have.

However, remembering that it’s more than just a measurement of how strong or flexible you are can be a strong influence in how seriously you take your practice. Treating it as more than a physical workout will have a huge impact on how far your practice progresses.

One key way of doing this is establishing a ritual around your formal yoga practice. This can take the shape of whatever is meaningful to you, from lighting incense or setting an intention to meditating beforehand.

Ways to Practice

Everybody’s practice looks a little different, especially nowadays when there are so many ways to learn. Some people prefer to learn on their own, while others prefer the structure that classes provide.

There is no right way to practice yoga. Each method of learning and practicing has its upsides, it’s just a matter of trying them out and deciding what works for you.

As you focus on taking your yoga practice from beginner to intermediate, it’s a perfect time to evaluate what works for you and what doesn’t.

In-Person Classes

In-person classes are great for beginners and anyone looking to strengthen their practice.

Following the structure of a scheduled class can help with accountability, since you have to practice at a set time, rather than at home, where practice can often be pushed back in favor of other things.

It’s also helpful to have a teacher on hand to answer any questions or who can give you suggestions about technique.

For some people, the greatest appeal of practicing in a group setting is the community aspect. Meeting other like-minded yogis and practicing with others who share your goals can be a huge benefit.

At-Home Practice

Establishing an at-home yoga practice is ideal for anyone looking to take ownership of their practice, as well as those who want a less-social setting.

Fortunately, there are a ton of resources available for anyone looking to establish an at-home yoga practice:

  • Books
  • Instructional websites
  • Live online Classes
  • Pre-recorded videos

Guiding your own practice means being able to go at your own pace and gives the added plus of flexibility. If you have a busy schedule, you’ll be able to plan around what time works best for you, rather than when a class is scheduled.

Following a video gives you the option to pause and go back over something if you don’t understand or slow the playback speed if a series is moving too quickly. You can even watch the video before trying it, to make it easier to follow once you’re actually doing it.

Workshops and Retreats

There’s nothing quite like a workshop or retreat to deepen your yoga practice.

From an intense weekend workshop series to a mellow spa-like retreat, there are workshops and retreats to suit all interests and levels:

  • Specialist: focus can be on specific groups of people (such as women or POC), or on specific elements of practice, such as arm balances or back bends
  • Intensive: deep dive into the practice, consisting of multiple sessions per day
  • Spiritual: works on mind-body-emotional balance and incorporates spirituality. Often these retreats are silent
  • Restorative/Spa: physical relaxation and rejuvenation elements such as saunas and massage are incorporated
  • Adventure/Resort: an all-in-one vacation package for those who want to practice regularly while leaving lots of time for adventure and exploration

The above is by no means an all-inclusive list of yoga workshops and retreats available but should give you an idea of the breadth that they cover.

Many are all-level, but there are some that focus on specific levels such as beginner or intermediate.

Take Your Practice Off the Mat

One of the most overlooked ways to deepen our yoga practice is by taking the practice off the mat.

Yoga is not meant to be about physical achievements alone, although it of course does lead to more strength and flexibility and better balance.

A well-rounded practice includes breath awareness as well as general mindfulness. General mindfulness leads to more compassion and less reactivity, both of which are great things to bring with you out of the yoga studio and into the world.

Remember that your practice doesn’t end when you leave the mat. Fortunately, neither do the benefits.

Self-Compassion in Your Practice

Yoga is about connecting the mind, breath and body. Although getting in shape and gaining flexibility are amazing side effects, they are not the primary reason for you to practice.

More important than how quickly you progress through achievement levels in yoga is how you talk to yourself during a practice session. Practice mindfulness and acceptance, and learn to accept where you are in your yoga journey.

Advancing from beginner to intermediate is an admirable goal, but taking longer than you’d like to progress isn’t a sign of failure. Just because your body doesn’t have the strength or flexibility to do a specific pose at the moment, doesn’t mean it never will. The more you keep at it the closer you’ll get.

You’ll make far more progress being kind and patient with yourself than by trying to force your practice quicker than it needs to go, so remember to make self-compassion a cornerstone of your practice.

Labels Aren’t Everything

When you’re working to move from beginner to intermediate yoga, it’s important to keep in mind that the labels “beginner” and “intermediate” are subjective and vary from teacher to teacher. They’re there as general guidelines so that people teaching or practicing in groups have an idea of what to expect, that’s all. It’s best not to get too attached to them.

Everybody’s body is different, too, which means that you may be intermediate or even advanced in some poses, but only beginner in others. This is completely normal, as we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

It’s a mistake to think that you need to completely master every pose before moving on to a higher level.

Progressing on your yoga journey can be a gratifying experience, with countless benefits. This is true regardless of your level.

Sita

Mother of three and Yogi of 20+ years and 200 Hour Certified Yoga Teacher. I am also a Certified Thai massage therapist and I have taught Gymnastics for more than 10 years. In the last couple of years, I've been a big promotor of intermittent fasting.

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