In the hot yoga world there are two traditional sequences that have been practiced for nearly 50 years. Having been involved in their practice for more than half of that time, 25 years now, both sequences have become an integral part of my lifestyle and livelihood. In recent years I have been more focused on the less popular of the two, and I’m convinced that it’s a diamond in the rough. I believe that the 84 posture sequence, popularly known as the “advanced class,” is a lot more accessible, therapeutic, and useful than people think.
There is no doubt that the 84 class is a more complex sequence than the popular 26&2 “beginner’s class.” While the postures you find in the 84 class require skills and self-awareness that we develop in the 26&2 class, I would not recommend the 84 for an absolute beginner. However, many of the postures within the 84 sequence are given to beginners in other yoga traditions. Take the Sun Salute for example; it’s placed at the beginning of our advanced class, but for millions of yogis this is the first thing they ever learn about Hatha Yoga. I actually think that most of the 84 sequence is accessible to beginners and that people should not be afraid to try it after a few months of practice.
Here are a couple of things that I would deem necessary before attempting the 84. First, you should have a regular yoga practice. This is a class for people who are looking for expansion, rather than an introduction. Once you know that yoga practice is beneficial, you have some experience with it, and you are choosing it as a part of your lifestyle, you can start to play with the 84. Many people practice the 26&2 for years without trying anything else. For some, this is satisfying; others may feel that their practice stagnates. Those who stop growing with one repeated sequence eventually need new information. Practitioners of the 26&2 who don’t find the 84 may leave their hot yoga practice behind in order to continue their growth.
A yogi needs to stay inspired and engaged with the practice. Living things are either growing or dying, and yoga practice should be treated like a living thing. Challenges and new information are food for growth, and the 84 sequence provides plenty of these to hot yogis. Many people who come to hot yoga move on after a couple seasons. Perhaps they feel they have experienced everything that hot yoga has to offer; they are ready for more. Unfortunately, many people don’t get to experience the full spectrum of the 84 tradition. If the 84 class was more available, perhaps hot yoga would make itself more relevant in the larger yoga world. The 84 has never been properly introduced and developed with the same attention as the 26&2, although it is a sophisticated and thorough sequence that can inform a complete yoga practice.
Exploring new postures often entails inviting yourself to the edges of your comfort zone: to do this you need to know you are safe. Technique and a good teacher provide this reassurance, and they are necessary for practicing the 84. But don’t forget, these two required Ts (Technique and Teacher) are equally mandatory for beginners and skilled practitioners alike. We never want to be cavalier or haphazard with yoga practice — that’s how yoga injuries happen. Whether we are doing a very basic, beginner’s Cobra pose or a more advanced backbend, like the Full Wheel, we need a roadmap to follow to keep the practice safe and effective.
We can approach all postures in terms of “body parts.” What body parts are we using, where should we feel the posture, and where do we concentrate our effort? These questions are paramount. We will use each body part to the extent to which we are willing and able on any given day. It’s important never to be forceful. Being forceful is always dangerous in yoga, whereas stretching and contracting can be done safely. Let’s consider Lotus posture for example. Many people don’t have the flexibility to sit in Lotus pose, the iconic seated meditation position, but anyone who has a leg can create pressure in the front side of of the hip joint while depressurizing the back side and simultaneously creating an external rotation of the femur bone. These are basic functions of the hip that are exercised in Lotus pose, and anyone can do them, even if they never achieve the posture itself.
When approached in terms of body parts, the 84 asana sequence is therapeutic hatha yoga, and it is accessible. We can use any pose to increase the circulation of blood flow and to stretch and strengthen the muscles of a targeted body part. The most intimidating postures of the 84 sequence are probably Handstands, Leg-over-the-head, Lotus and deep Backbends. But even these postures can be approached in terms of body parts: do as much as you can that day while concentrating on contractions and stretches. Learn where to focus. The postures that are the easiest to approach in the 84 are probably Plow, the Sun Salute, and Archer. Regardless of how much skill the pose requires, each one has therapeutic benefits when you focus on technique and body parts.
Millions of people practice hot yoga today. While not as trendy as it was a decade ago, it will never die out completely because thousands of people are using the practice to eliminate pain and empower themselves. This fact won’t change with exercise trends. With the changing landscape of the yoga world, however, many hot yogis and hot yoga studios are interested in expanding beyond their foundation of 26&2. The hot yoga community is evolving, and we can now build on the foundation that we have established over decades. The 84 asana sequence provides enough material for diverse and intricate yoga exploration, and its expansive spirit will allow the brilliance of hot yoga to continue shining.