Did I just take a good yoga class? The three things to consider...
There are so many yoga classes available today for every type of yoga athlete. Fast paced classes, slow classes, classes set to music and classes that offer only the music of the breath. In this last month alone I have visited three cities in two countries and have taken over 15 yoga classes. As a teacher trainer, I had my own critique of each and every class and wondered, do people know when they have taken a good yoga class? I have boiled the essence of a good class down into three concepts: consistency, content, and connection.
The first line of defense in choosing a class that you will consider worthwhile is the website description of the class AND the teacher's biography and qualifications. If you take a few extra minutes to read the class description, you should gain some insight into the pace and focus of the class. This is the first step in knowing if you took a good yoga class: is the class consistent with its description? This is where many studios find themselves in trouble. This past week I took a level 3 class focused on inversions and arm balances. The instructor could not properly execute nor explain a forearm stand, handstand, or single leg crow pose. The class was indeed fast paced and I was indeed sweating, but the main idea of the one inversion/arm balance class on the schedule was not accomplished. This was not a good yoga class. In a different city, I took a level 2/3 vinyasa flow class. An instructor was subbing the class and it was really a pick and choose ashtanga sequence; not a good class. In fact, after the class I heard her ask the front desk to give her an idea of what a flow class should be like. (No bueno, and not professional) If you took the time to read the description, the teacher (even a sub!) should teach to the level of the class. There is a word to describe people when they try and do something that they don't know how to do: unqualified. If you are charging someone $25.00 for a class and don't deliver you should refund their money. It's like ordering vegan lasagna and getting a steak instead.
The second thing to consider is this: what did you learn in this class? Did you know that as a public school teacher I must document a learning objective for each class I teach. I apply this concept to my yoga classes so that every class I write contains two types of learning objectives that I wish my students to grasp. The first is an idea that is not physical. These include the philosophy of yoga, personal development, and mindfulness. The second type of objective centers around a series of poses I wish them to become familiar with. This is where 99% of yoga teachers go wrong. To teach, you must plan. You must have a road map to somewhere. This is hard work. It takes hours and even years to deftly create relevant classes that actually teach skills and concepts. The worst thing I have ever heard before a class is "I have no idea what to teach today" and after that "what do you all want to work on today". Granted, it's one thing to add to an existing class plan, but my plans are so complete that I have no room to accommodate 25 separate suggestions. Planning is important! It helps a teacher avoid redundancy and helps students progress. If you leave a yoga class without learning something (and this should be a thing the teacher has purposefully crafted) then you did not take a good yoga class. Like the saying goes: if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
Finally there comes connection. How did the teacher make you feel? Was the teacher kind? Did they connect with you? Did they seem to enjoy what they were doing? Yoga classes range from 5-25 people generally. A good teacher has great classroom management skills and can make you feel their love of yoga with the energy they put into the room. If a teacher was condescending, dismissive, egotistical, or angry during class, then you did not take a good yoga class. This is even true if the first two criteria are met. Being a teacher is not a license to be a bully! If anything, the first rule of yoga is do no harm. If your teacher cannot convey that, they should probably look for another line of work.
So now that you know, you cannot un-know. If a class at your studio is missing these three basic concepts then speak up! Management needs to listen to you, the consumer, because without you there is no yoga class. That being said, if all of these criteria are met and you still aren't thrilled with the class then the studio culture may not be for you. Luckily in many areas there are a variety of styles. Do a little research and be open minded! Talk to the studio managers and tell them what you are looking for. They usually will have a great class recommendation for you. Community is a two way street, the more you participate, the stronger the community gets and the "good" classes will grow. Finally, if you take a class that has been planned, where you learned something, and where the teacher was present and engaged thank them for being the rare unicorn that they are! Good teachers often work hard and get paid similar rates to poorer teachers. Your thanks for their hard work will make their day, trust me.