Recently, I’ve had a number of friends and acquaintances try yoga for the first time.
The inevitable question arises:
“How did you like it?”
“It was fine—I guess.”
The “I guess”/uncertainty puzzled me at first. After all, how can you not know if you liked something or not? However, I reflected on my own first yoga class: I honestly had no idea what to expect. I imagined all yoga classes were similar to what I experienced.
In other words, I simply did not know.
Just like one size doesn’t fit all and people flock to certain yoga classes, styles, and teachers for all sorts of reasons, there are some things that great yoga classes have in common whether it’s a restorative class, a Bikram class, or just “basic” hatha.
Below are four things to look for in a yoga class:
1. The instructor acknowledges your presence and makes you feel welcomed.
As an instructor, I know first hand that it can be impossible to greet every student personally or chat with them before or after class.
Still, s/he should at least give you a quick smile, nod or some indication that they know you are there and more importantly, want you to be there.
It hasn’t happened often, but I’ve been in classes where the instructor was technically good but didn’t acknowledge me from a brick wall. In those cases, I never returned because how you feel in class is just as important if not more so than the actual session.
2. The pacing feels right.
This varies a lot from person to person, but the rate that a class goes can have a huge impact on one’s yoga experience. For example, if the class is moving so fast that you can barely keep up and feel frustrated, that isn’t a good sign. On the other hand, if it’s so slow your screaming in your mind, “When are we getting out of this pose?” that isn’t a good sign either. Granted, some of us really need to slow down and yoga can help with that, but there is a difference being slow and really slow.
If you’re a newbie, then I suggest giving it a few goes before you make up your mind about pace. However, once you have, consider whether or not it works for you.
3. There is always room for modifications or the option to skip a pose if desired.
In every class you take, it’s ultimately up to you whether you take the full pose, modify, or skip, but a great yoga class will make it clear that is always an option even if it’s a set series like the Ashtanga Primary Series or Bikram.
Feeling like you aren’t allowed or worst, must do a pose is the clearest sign that I know of that this isn’t the class or instructor for you.
4. You leave feeling better than when you arrived.
I usually begin my classes by saying that if my students leave feeling better than when they arrived, then I’ve done my job.
Ideally, feeling better should include both the emotional and physical but if I had to pick the one that’s more important I would go with the former. Yoga may not solve all your problems, but there should be a sense of more ease and mindfulness which should last some time after you’ve left class.
A quote I recently saw summed it up well: My yoga: it doesn’t matter if things aren’t perfect. My practice is my time to feel alive, loved, and free.
Trying to determine if a good or great yoga class isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. However, with the above tips do make it a bit easier.
Furthermore, it may take some time and effort to find a great class/instructor, but it is well worth it, and the rewards of doing so may continue well beyond the mat.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise