Ever wondered about the difference between a moderate-level and an intermediate-level yoga class? How about the difference between intermediate and advanced? Or moderate vs. beginner?
This article spells out what you can expect from each of the different difficulty levels in a yoga class.
Of course, every teacher and every platform will have their own nuances. Even so, there are a few characteristics and features you are likely to find in each level of difficulty no matter who is teaching.
With that in mind, let’s shed some light!
What's the difference between difficulty levels for a yoga class?
This article will explain the difference between:
- Beginner-level Yoga
- Moderate-Level Yoga
- Intermediate-Level Yoga
- Advanced-Level Yoga
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What Is Beginner-Level Yoga?
Who attends a beginners class?
In a beginner-level class, your instructor will assume they are teaching to some combination of:
- Total newbies (AKA absolute beginners)
- People who have less than a year of experience with the yoga practice
- Students who prefer for some reason to attend beginner-level classes (perhaps because they tend to be easier and gentler on the body)
- Students who are nursing injuries and want to take it easy
Postures in a beginner level class:
- You will find many INTRODUCTORY YOGA POSES that will give you a solid foundation for the yoga practice
- You are NOT likely to find many ARM BALANCES, though crow pose may be considered a beginner-level arm balance and therefore the teacher might break this one down (for a class of strong beginners)
- You are NOT likely to find many INVERSIONS, though your teacher is likely to teach shoulder stand and even headstand when he or she believe the class is ready
- You are NOT likely to find CONTORTION or extremely deep stretches in a beginner-level class, though your teacher will certainly offer you some excellent (accessible) stretches
- You are NOT likely to find a lot of poses that require WEIGHT BEARING IN THE SHOULDERS (like side plank, for instance), though downward dog is often taught as one of the first ways to build strength in the shoulder girdle
Cuing in a beginner class:
You can expect:
- LOTS of words and explanation from the instructor
- Lots of guidance through transitions
- A lot of cuing about where body parts should be and what they should be doing
- Reminders about breathing
- Explanations for using props
Pacing in a beginner yoga class:
Beginner level classes will TEND to be relatively slow, simply so that the teacher has time to clearly explain each pose and transition — and so that absolute newcomers have time to process and execute the instructions.
However, do not mistake “slow” for “easy.” Sometimes, a slow class (think about holding postures for a long time) will actually be more demanding than a class that moves quickly from pose to pose.
Try This Strong Beginners Yoga Class:
What Is Moderate-Level Yoga?
Who attends a moderate difficulty class?
Moderate-level classes — not too unlike “open-level” — are approachable for a variety of experience levels.
You’ll find advanced veterans dipping in to enjoy moderate classes alongside newcomers who feel ready for the next challenge level.
As the name suggests, a moderate class is going to be a little harder than a beginner class and not quite as challenging as an intermediate class — so you are likely to see a large range of strength, flexibility, and experience in the room.
Postures in a moderate level yoga class:
- You’ll see many of the same foundational postures that you would see in a beginner level class, PLUS some added difficulty
- Transitions might break with tradition and become creative
- You may get the INVITATION to try some intermediate and advanced postures, but there will certainly be no expectation that you can execute them perfectly
- You may start to see a few introductory arm balances, like crow pose and maybe a few more — but there will be time for guidance, break down, and explanation
- You might see a few more inversions like headstand and perhaps forearm stand with the help of a wall — with guidance and explanation
Cuing in a moderate yoga class:
You can expect:
- Clear and direct cuing with just enough detail
- Less cuing than in a beginner-level class
- Moments of silence so that students can turn their focus inward
- Lots of cuing during more difficult postures and transitions
- Cuing for breathing practices and gaze points
Pacing in a moderate difficulty yoga class:
Moderate-level classes proceed at a “Goldilocks” pace — not too fast and not too slow.
This will of course depend on your instructor and the style of yoga you are practicing.
I, for one, am a firm believer that pace does not actually tell you much about the difficulty level of a yoga class. You could have a fast and easy class, or a fast and really tough class, for instance.
You’re better off judging difficulty by postures and cuing. Still, it can be comforting to understand the pacing you are likely to see for the different difficulty levels, which is why I include the pacing sections here.
Try This Moderate Level Yoga Class:
What Is Intermediate-Level Yoga?
Who attends intermediate difficulty classes?
In an intermediate-level class, you can expect to practice alongside moderately experienced yogis, very experienced yogis, AND brave beginners.
I know for myself — as someone who can execute many of the advanced postures of yoga — intermediate-level is still what I prefer on a daily basis. That’s because it is relatively kind on the body and yet also offers many of the fun and “adventurous” poses I have fallen in love with.
Postures in an intermediate yoga class:
- You can still expect to see the foundational postures of yoga
- You will likely be invited to try challenging asanas and their variations, like:
- arm balances
- arm balance sequences and transitions
- inversions (like headstand, forearm stand, and handstand w/ help)
- core-supported poses
- weight bearing in the shoulders
Cuing in an intermediate class:
You can expect:
- Clear and direct cuing that is more spare than in a beginner- or moderate-level class
- Many opportunities for silence during held postures
- Less explanation when it comes to transitioning and alignment. Your teacher may assume that you know your body and the movements of yoga very well
- Breath and gaze point reminders
- Energetic cues that may reference concepts from the Yoga Sutras and other canonical yoga texts
- The teacher might assume you already know how to use your props for support
Pacing in an intermediate difficulty yoga class:
You are likely to see variety in the cadence of an intermediate-level yoga class.
Some moments will be slow and long-held. Other moments will be fluid and fast-paced.
Alternatively, you could find intermediate classes that proceed at a slow, moderate, or fast pace. Much of it boils down to your teacher.
Note that many students ASSUME that to be hard, a class has to be fast. In my experience, the opposite is often true.
A fast class is not as taxing on the muscles as a slow class that makes you really dig in to each posture.
Try This Intermediate Yoga Class:
What Is Advanced-Level Yoga?
Let me share a quick story:
Pretty early on in my yoga practice, I attended a Saturday morning advanced class with my favorite teacher.
I loved the acrobatic and Ashtanga-derived poses, and I loved to push my limits physically. As we sat down to begin the opening sequence, my teacher said this:
“If this were truly an advanced class, I might have you sit for the full 90 minutes in meditation. But since I know that’s not what you expected today, we are going to do our asana as usual. Just keep in mind that it is often harder to sit still than it is to challenge yourself with postures.”
The sentiment has stuck with me ever since, and I believe he was absolutely right.
The true mountain to climb in the practice of yoga is understanding of the Self. We don’t need inversions or contortions to engage in this sacred project!
Nonetheless, postural yoga is still part of the landscape. So here’s what you can likely expect from a class labeled “Advanced.”
Cuing in an advanced class:
- Advanced classes are likely to offer the MOST POCKETS OF SILENCE AND SPACE that you’ll find among all the difficulty levels.
- However, your instructor is likely to offer at least some detailed explanation of very challenging postures
- Your instructor is likely to respect your yoga practice as YOURS. Therefore, he or she may (hopefully) give you the time and space to keep your attention inward — only giving more detailed guidance when needed
- In some classes, you’ll get time for meditation
- In many cases, advanced classes will allow time for breathing practices and scripture readings.
Postures in an advanced yoga class:
- You will STILL SEE foundational postures. It’s not like we leave them behind!
- You will be invited to execute more challenging asanas and transitions, like:
- arm balances + arm balancing sequences
- inversions and their many variations
- sweat-inducing and core-centric yoga poses, like side planks
- contortion training and very deep stretches, like splits and deep backbends
And let’s be real. Depending on the studio, the teacher, and the community, you’re going to find a big range in what is considered “advanced” (or its synonyms, like “challenging” or “strong”).
For example, some advanced classes might approach forearm stand as though it were an advanced posture. Other advanced classes would instead start with forearm stand as a basis and explore postures like karandavasana where you take lotus leg position in forearm stand, lower the lotus on your arms, and then lift back up.
Still other advanced classes might focus on breath retention as an advanced technique.
Where there are humans, there is variety and range. The same can be expected of advanced-level yoga classes.
Pacing in an advanced-level class
One last time… Don’t mistake fast for advanced!
It is often the long-held postures (imagine side plank for 2 minutes) that will make you sweat and tremble! Just because a class is moving at a steady and not particularly high-intensity pace does not mean it can’t kick your butt.
Some styles of challenging yoga, like Power and Rocket yoga, do tend to move faster than other styles. If it’s a continuously flowing, sweaty workout you’re after, then you’d do well to look into these styles.
If it’s progress in yoga asana that you’re after, keep in mind that some slow flow Vinyasa classes are among the toughest classes out there.
To put this in perspective, Ashtanga Yoga — arguably the most demanding style of yoga on the planet — moves at a steady and predictable five-breath cadence.
Try This Advanced Slow Flow Yoga Class:
The online yoga portal
These yoga classes are for anyone who wants to take it easy and bathe themselves in a yoga practice that is especially kind on the body. Gentle classes at LBY range from Yin Yoga to Restorative Yoga to Slow Flows taught in the Vinyasa style.
Coming back to the practice after a break? Not sure if you want to push your body too hard today? This is your “Goldilocks” level class. The Moderate classes on LBY offer a comfortable way to maintain your yoga practice without hurting yourself. Expect equal parts sweat and enjoyment.
Expect a moderate pace and occasional adventure! The Intermediate classes at LBY are sure to get you upside down and bending over backward. They’ll offer a challenge without abandoning the sweet, fun, and playful side of the yoga practice as you know it.
Picture Intermediate with some added spice — and some LBY-member favorite pose sequences. The Challenging classes at LBY are likely have you in handstands, deep backbends, binds, twists, plank variations, and possibly postures you’ve never thought to approach. Just don’t expect these classes to rush! We move at a body-kind pace — even when we’re building a deeper inner heat and asking the most from ourselves.
Hope that clarifies things!
It can be tough to know JUST HOW HARD (OR EASY) a class is going to be.
Here’s my final piece of advice →
If you’re not sure you are up for the challenge…
TRY THE CLASS ANYWAY!!
You never know what you’re made of until you test your mettle. Get in there and give it your best. You’ll probably surprise yourself.
(And if it’s too easy, you can always do your own thang.)
Let me know if you’ve got any questions! I’d be happy to answer or to update this resource as needed.