Tips and insights to help you to get more enjoyment and more benefits from your yoga class - especially if you are just beginning to practice
Yoga classes are excellent places to begin a yoga practice. And if you practice regularly, they are places to expand your experience and learn something new.
If a yoga class is your first encounter with the practice, you will likely fall in love with the shapes of the poses, the sensations you discover, the melodic sound of the Sanskrit names, the gentle peace and harmony you begin to feel in your life.
But if you start out with classes that leave you feeling disenchanted with the practice, you may have been practicing a style of yoga that isn't a good fit for you. Finding the right class can seem a bit intimidating and leave you bewildered at first. Particularly if you live in a city or town that has a broad range of yoga studios. That is a perfectly logical way to feel when you look at the modern day offering of yoga.
You probably know this already … yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that has its roots in India with the aim of stilling the mind in order to experience your true self, to be able to gain a clearer perspective on what’s happening and to be able to respond appropriately.
Today, yoga is part of the cultural mainstream. The world of modern yoga has become very vast and multi-faceted. There are many, MANY different styles of yoga now, although they all have their roots in ancient Hatha yoga. As yoga’s popularity grows, so do the number of styles being taught. And then each teacher adds their own touch and twist to the style they teach, sometimes labeling it as their own, and thus adding to the variety and the confusion. Some styles, sequences and postures have even been trade marked by individuals and corporations.
It can be very confusing. And yet it's so important to find the right class and the right style for you. Finding the right class can make all the difference to your enjoyment of yoga (or not).
5 TIPS TO FIND THE RIGHT YOGA CLASS
While it may be confusing, part of the fun and beauty of yoga IS this great variety of different experiences you can have. Generally, when you consult the schedule of a yoga studio, you will see that each class teaches a specific style such as Ashtanga, Iyengar, Yin, Restorative... Some styles of yoga are more active to enhance muscular strength and flexibility, and some are more passive and restful to target the deeper tissues of our body. We need a balance of both types of work to achieve a complete practice. Here are a few tips as you explore different styles through different classes.
Try as many styles as you can, to find the ones that feel right for you. Reading books and watching videos can help to explore and understand, but nothing can beat the experience of trying each style in a class setting. No matter what your level of experience with yoga, there is always something new to explore and learn as your practice evolves and deepens. So switch it up regularly, build a portfolio of styles you can choose from to meet how you are feeling on a particular day, and to find the balance between active and passive practices. For example, boost your energy mid-week with a vinyasa flow class, rest and recover on the weekend with a restorative yoga class.
Be cautious, listen to your body. You can try any style of yoga, even if you are a beginner. Some studios offer different levels for each style they teach (i.e. beginner or advanced). Lots of classes are open to all levels of experience, and good teachers will offer several variations for each pose, thus making it accessible to everyone. So try it, and just listen to your body and do as much as it allows you to do comfortably. Challenging yourself is a good thing. A little discomfort is OK. But never push yourself to the point of pain or exhaustion. Yoga is not without risks.
The teacher can make all the difference in the world. Each teacher has a different teaching style, a different personality, different things that inspire their own practice. Even after one class you can tell if a particular teacher will be inspiring and motivating for you. So as you explore classes, pay attention to each teacher’s attitude and how they show up for their class, how they give the instructions, whether they include things like meditation, chanting, readings, and how you feel at the end of their class. Feel free to ask them questions after the class, even ask about their experience with yoga. By exploring various styles, studios and teachers, you will soon come to know which teachers you will want to come back to.
Don’t give up! If you try a class and you don’t like it, it might be that the style isn’t right for you at that time, or that the teacher just wasn’t the one for you. Please just try again, and you will find what's right for you.
Learn more about the different styles in this post, EXPLORING YOGA STYLES: 15 Different Yoga Styles Explained. And as yoga is so much more than stretching and strengthening, follow your heart.
YOGA CLASS ETIQUETTE (...AND QUIRKY PRACTICES)
Do you wonder why you have to remove your shoes outside the yoga studio? What's with the chanting? Why the weird names for the poses? Should I bring my own yoga mat or use the studio mats?
If you are new to yoga classes, you may be asking yourself these questions. Don’t worry, you are not alone! Yoga classes often include some quirky practices and strange rules of etiquette. Some of the things that are part of yoga classes may seem a little odd, but there are reasons.
They are not "rules" as such, but following the etiquette is a way of respecting the other practitioners and the teacher. And it all contributes to creating a peaceful, positive, harmonious vibe in the class.
Shoes are a no-no. We remove our shoes outside of the yoga practice room, out of respect for others. Shoes track in dirt and debris from the streets. We practice on the floor so, of course, we all prefer to practice on a clean floor. It’s also out of respect for the space. Many teachers consider the yoga studio (the practice room) to be a sacred space and removing your shoes before entering is a sign of respect. Yoga is, after all, a spiritual discipline for many.
Practice bare-foot. We also remove our socks. This is for practical reasons, so that you can stay solid on your mat, so you won’t slip through the practice. And also your bare feet will help you feel more connected to the floor, and hence to the earth.
Turn off your phone - really off, not just on silent. Obviously, a ringing phone in a yoga class can be disruptive.The buzzing and beeping of phones on silence can be just as distracting. And it’s nice for all of us to have a little break from the electromagnetic frequencies, especially in a wellness environment such as yoga.
Arrive gracefully. Once you arrive and have laid out your mat, just sit quietly on your mat waiting for the class to begin. Perhaps sit with your eyes closed focusing on your breath for just a few minutes of meditation while you wait.
Practice in silence. It may seem obvious, but yoga classes are not places to carry out conversations with your neighbours. Practicing in silence helps everyone to hear the cues the teacher gives, and to stay focused on their own practice, their alignment, and their inner experience.
If you don’t want the teacher to adjust your pose, just quietly say so. Many teachers like to go around the class and help students get the most benefit and to practice safely by manually adjusting their pose. This adjustment is only meant to help you to find the right alignment for a pose. Some studios have little cards to leave on your mat that indicate whether or not you would like adjustments. If not, it’s perfectly acceptable to quietly mention to the teacher that you prefer no adjustments.
It doesn’t matter what you wear! You don’t need fancy yoga clothes, you just need something comfortable to wear that will allow you to stretch in all different directions.
A note about the chanting... in some classes you will hear the teacher and students chanting. Some teachers will open or close a class chanting the mantra OM three times, others will chant a more complex Sanskrit mantra or verse. It depends on the style of yoga and the teacher's interests. Don't worry, you absolutely do not have to join in if you don't want to. If you don't feel comfortable with it, just listen and enjoy the powerful vibrations of the group chanting together. You can learn more about The Secret Power of Mantra HERE.
And a note about the Sanskrit names... all yoga poses (the asanas) have their original Sanskrit names as well as their more recognizable English names (or whatever is your local language). Many teachers like to use the Sanskrit names, but usually they will also say the English name. Sanskrit is the ancient classical language of the Indian sages who first began to write about the yoga philosophy. The Sanskrit names help to connect with the ancient roots of the poses. And just hearing the high-vibration Sanskrit spoken can be a powerful thing in itself. I found it useful to get a list of the Sanskrit names alongside the English names, and then I could follow more easily. And just remember that you can always just watch the teacher demonstrate if you don't understand what pose they are referring to.
Do I need to bring my own yoga mat? Very good question! Most studios provide yoga mats for you to use during a class. However, they may not be the best quality, and they get used hundreds of times by others. I highly recommend bringing your own mat. Think about it: you will be lying down on the mat, sometimes face down. And your yoga mat is kind of like your own personal sacred space. Wouldn’t you like to make sure it’s really clean? And that it offers you the best grip so you can focus on your practice and not on your hands and feet slipping? So choose your own yoga experience, get the type of mat that’s right for you, and I guarantee you will not regret it.
Learn more about how to find the right yoga mat - HERE.
REMEMBER, yoga is so much more than the poses.
Yoga is so much more than the posture practice we know today. Yoga is a sophisticated system based on ancient writings that extends far beyond doing yoga poses - it’s a way of living. There is a foundation of ethical disciplines, the eight “limbs” of this philosophy, each with specific practices associated with it. The practice that we associate yoga with today, the poses (in Sanskrit they are called asanas), are only one limb. Just something to keep in mind, and explore further if you get interested.
Enjoy yourself! All different types of people and body shapes practice yoga. It’s about you and your body, and the place you are at on your journey on a particular day. You don’t have to get anywhere, you just do what you can, and there’s no need to compare yourself to anyone. You are beautiful, just as you are.