My first-ever yoga class was during university. My body was stiff and sore from years of playing basketball and spending every moment in the gym or on the track dedicated to being a better basketball player. As the realization set in that I had no idea how to be fit for fit’s sake, I decided to start exploring my options. I wanted something relatively low-key that wouldn’t hurt my basketball training, but would be a nice complement to my practices.
So I took a yoga class. And hated it.
Eight years later, my attitude towards yoga has changed. I still struggle with the spiritual side of the practice and it still functions largely as a counter to my other athletic endeavors, but I am okay with that. It’s the role yoga has in my life. As I get older, that may change. And I’m okay with that too.
What surprises me the most about my practice are the things I’ve come to like in a class. If I had to describe my ideal yoga class eight years ago, it wouldn’t be the same class I would describe today. I used to think that a difficult, demanding class that left me gasping for air was the way to go. My, how that has changed.
Here are five things I look for in every yoga class:
1) The teacher’s personality is evident
I *never* thought I’d be this person. The person who chooses classes based on how much the teacher jokes around or embeds a soothing sense of calm into the class. But with so much the same every time in practice, the right teacher can really change the mood: calm it down, amp it up, make it serious, make it funny. The classes that involve a teacher simply leading you through the sequence does nothing for me. I can do that at home on my own mat. But a teacher I look forward to seeing? That tailors their classes around their strengths? That’ll get me to come back again and again and again…
2) The class is playful
Doing the same sequence of poses over and over again can get boring. While consistency is fine, I like a class that encourages you to try new poses, isn’t deeply embedded in spiritual rigidity, and is, in general, a good time. Working out doesn’t always have to be fun, but if I’m paying for it, I’d like it to be as fun as possible.
3) The class has some challenging elements, but isn’t a struggle from start to finish
I may be more laid back when it comes to my practice, but I’m still competitive. Even in the most beginner of classes, I expect the teacher to introduce at least one challenging moment. Being asked to attempt wheel, a backwards roll or crow for the first time is terrifying. But there’s nothing like the first time you pop up in the air or flip yourself over. That’s what yoga is about to me. Taking your abilities and your body to new places. And my classes need to encourage that.
4) The class is hot, but not too hot
I want to earn my sweat. I’m not the best with temperature changes in general. Plus, any room that’s designed to make me sweat simply by being in it freaks me out. This is why Bikram terrifies me. But a little heat to warm the body up is good.
5) The class isn’t too big
Before, the thought of teacher attention freaked me out. It meant I was doing something wrong. (Blame years of team sports.) I now realize, that the teacher is there to guide you to a better practice. I have the tendency to push myself beyond where my body wants to go. Teachers correct this. They can ground me and bring me back to the present.
I also find that with smaller classes, the above elements come into play more frequently. There’s more freedom to personalize the classes and play within the structure of a flow sequence.
That’s it. If I have these things (or even 3 or 4 of these things) I am a happy yogi.
What about you? What do you look for in a great yoga class?