The things I wish everyone knew about yoga.
As a teacher of all different types of yoga classes with over ten years of experience I have seen many trends in yoga come and go. Through it all, I have found that the questions and misconceptions about a yoga asana (posture) class have been fairly consistent. So here it goes! The things I would like people to know about a yoga posture class.
First an operational definition for the purpose of this article. A yoga class is defined as a set period of time where people practice various types of exercises meant to enhance strength, flexibility, and agility. Popular types of yoga that would fall under this category include: ashtanga, vinyasa, hatha, Iyengar, power yoga, yin yoga, and our style High Energy Fusion Yoga. I am completely aware that there are many aspects of yoga that do not involve physical exercise, but this article deals with the vast majority of exercise classes offered to people worldwide under the title of "yoga".
1. A yoga asana (posture) class is hard work. It is exercise and was always meant to be. I don't think this type of class was thought about 3000 years ago, but the moment yogis started to incorporate this type of physical discipline into their lives, it became exercise. The broader philosophy and science of yoga has many facets from meditation, to serving the community, to introspection and modest living. However, make no mistake, the type of yoga class that you take in a studio is an exercise class. You will sweat, you will be sore and you might even pull or tweak something occasionally. The reason for including this type of class into the fabric of yoga science as a whole is that the mind rests more easily when the body is healthy. Additionally, a person may be of service to one's community when they are stronger and more able physically. Some people may not want to face it, but a yoga posture class is taxing on the body. But guess what? The body adapts. In a few weeks you will start feeling stronger and more agile as you move through the posture sequence(s) of the style you have chosen. I would say that eight to twelve weeks of attending class at least once a week will have you feeling stronger and more fit. Don't let the physicality of yoga intimidate you, but don't let it surprise you either.
2. A yoga posture class may not be appropriate for you if you are injured, recovering from surgery, ill, or pregnant. I know that this is not the wisest thing for me to say as a studio owner, but its true! People often tell me that a doctor has recommended yoga for them as a therapeutic exercise routine. The assumption that yoga is gentle and easily accessible for people with injuries is erroneous. Physical therapy is appropriate therapeutic exercise for people with injuries or conditions. Yoga should be added cautiously for people with special needs. If you wonder if yoga is right for you, ask your doctor if you can take a gymnastics class. If they balk at that idea then the majority of yoga classes offered in your community are probably not right for you. Work on your strengthening routine with a certified and licensed physical therapist and build the strength you need to join a group yoga class. If you are pregnant and have never done yoga or any other form of exercise, you should go to a pre-natal class. Leave the regular classes for after you deliver. There is no need to pick up a rigorous yoga routine for the first time in your life 6 months into being pregnant!
3. You do not have to be flexible to practice yoga. That is a huge misconception. As with learning any new pattern of movements, your body needs time to adjust neurologically and physiologically to your routine. Most of what you will gain in the beginning is strength. Many people do not realize how weak their muscles are in certain directions. This leads them to believe that they are "just" inflexible. That misconception holds them back from trying a yoga class, but they are more willing to try a weight training class. The goals and outcomes are similar. You build strength side by side with mobility in a yoga class. BUILD is a key word. If you are not willing to build, then no fitness class is right for you.
4. Not all yoga classes are equal when it comes to intensity. Some styles hold poses for long periods of time, some use the same sequence over and over again, and some are very movement intense. Do your research and try a variety of styles. If you have recently had knee reconstruction, stay away from a movement intense class and opt for a slower one.. As you get stronger, you may want to give other styles a chance. One major complaint from people who try a slower style is "it was too slow for me". At that point you have to decide if you want to build your practice in a faster paced class where you might feel challenged and have to sit out part of the time, or build strength in a slower paced class where you can complete all the exercises but have to deal with potential boredom. Both are strategies that require patience and humility. The deciding factor is you.
5. A yoga posture class is not a solitary practice. Meditation, reflection, and working on your relationship to the world around you are all solitary practices. Yoga studios should build community! Expect to interact with people, assist them, and learn their names. Expect to smile at people and become invested in growing the circle of yogis you practice with. If you love your yoga studio or teacher, help make their classes a warm and welcoming environment. Leave anger and negativity at the door and participate in making your yoga class a safe space. You are all in the struggle together! Impressed by the yogi in the front of the room holding a solid handstand? Go up and tell him or her that their practice is amazing and ask for some tips. Are you an advanced practitioner who remembers the struggles of being a beginner in a new studio? Offer to help someone in your class. Do something nice and put your neighbor's blocks away for them, or grab them a set at the beginning of class. It might be the nicest gesture they experience all day. I am not sure when a yoga posture class became such a solitary and unfriendly environment. Lets change that perception. After all, If you really wanted to be surly and unfriendly you could do postures by yourself at home.
6. Advanced postures are not the goal. Feeling alive and enjoying the journey is the point of every style of yoga. Long holds, short holds, classes done to hip hop, and classes done with only the music of the breath all have this in common. Each yoga class is a celebration of life and our abilities as human beings with immense potential. Enjoy the bounty that the numerous styles of yoga available today can offer. See you on your mat!