December 13, 2014

How to Find the Perfect Yoga Class.


While on my morning commute, I often take notice of the new yoga studios that almost seem to spring up overnight.

It’s a great benefit to have so many options for access to yoga. However, of the seven studios within a 15 minute driving radius, I find only two of them to be worthy of my time.

The common complaint about the hundreds of yoga classes offered in my city is that many of them are being taught by inexperienced people or people that teach with an intention that is not in alignment with yoga.

I will spare the word teacher or instructor here.

The result of an influx of such inexperienced people taking the seat of a teacher unfolds into a plethora of classes that offer no real benefit and rob the practitioners of the experiences and benefits of yoga.

This is not to say that there aren’t any great yoga instructors out there.

I know several who are steeped in the practice of yoga. Their alignment with yoga shows not only in their teaching, but in their practice and methods of application on and off the mat.

It’s also not to say that those teaching with less experience are inherently “bad” teachers, or will never improve.

For many, if not all, teaching yoga is a process of unfolding that never ends.

The passionate teacher will continue to strive to meet the needs of a student’s practice and accelerate this evolution. The dispassionate teacher may be content with his or her current methods and unfold at a slower rate or may even become contemptuous in teaching.

I consider myself to be passionate about sharing the path, and in an attempt to not get lost in my own love of teaching, I continuously re-evaluate my methods and my intention so they remain harmonious with the intention of yoga.

In addition to reflecting upon one’s own intention and method for teaching, I find it important to be aware of the intentions of students while also being cognizant of their needs.

Being hyper-vigilant in noticing potentiality in students and teachers, I feel I can share my insight on how to avoid surrendering excess time, money and effort on classes and teachers that may not serve the best interests of the student.

Here are some of those insights.

1. Tossing out Sanskrit words or ideals without developing the context with the student.

We often hear words such as: Prana, Apana, Sankalpa, Spandha, Bahndhas, to name a few.

Unless the teacher is certain that everyone in the class is privy to these concepts, these words should not be tossed out aimlessly without context or explanation.

2. Child’s pose is perfectly acceptable.

In my classes, I state on occasion, (and always in every beginner’s class) that students may take child’s pose if they need a break, a rest or to regain composure over the body, breath or emotions.

I then go on to say that in any yoga class, no matter the teacher, studio or style, a child’s pose at the student’s discretion is perfectly acceptable. And further drive the point home by saying, if you find this to be the contrary, please let me know.

This is the reciprocal approach to finding so many teachers that want to “push” their students.

I get that some people may “need” some encouragement or even enjoy the rigorous demands of a militant teaching style, but the option to take child’s pose, bow in-ward and receive nurturing energy as a means to rise up again and give, should always be offered if not emphasized.

3. A yoga studio (or class space) exists for the purpose of providing a communal space of safety and support, from students and teachers, to exercise the methods of a specific discipline.

A yoga setting is not the place for a person (the teacher) to “perform” or “entertain.”

I find that many teachers take advantage of the opportunity of being in front of a crowd to talk incessantly. Not every moment must be filled with words, axioms or quotes from Rumi.

4. Barring an instructional beginner type class, or a workshop, I cannot place enough emphasis on a class’ s need and ability to flow.

Each pose offered should serve as a pre-requisite for the next pose offered and the sequence of asana should be logical.

I attended one class where after centering, our very first pose was full wheel.

I never went back to that studio.

In addition to the sequencing of poses, allow the predictability of the poses to contain continuity in the duration of each pose. When a teacher moves at a certain pace, then suddenly the pace changes, the students must also adapt to reserve/exert the energy to continue moving through the poses.

Through all the styles, techniques and methods of asana, the structure of a class usually remains the same.

5. A class can be broken down into three to five parts depending on the style.

The first part is centering, where people are encouraged to settle into the moment and begin turning their attention inward.

Usually thereafter, a few subtle movements are offered for warm up to articulate light movements in the joints.

After that, the core poses of the class are offered followed by a cool-down and savasana.

Many teachers incorporate a pinnacle pose as the climax of class, then a cool down afterwards with less strenuous asana.

Classes are structured this way to not only prevent injury but also to utilize the most momentum so students can experience their own expressive energy.

Beware of a class structure that does not account for the needs of properly warming up or cooling down.

6. There are teachers who practice and move with the class and teachers that move about the class and adjust and assist. 

Both have their advantages and I find a mix of the balance to serve the most.

One method that I employ is to develop a sequence with the class at an instructional pace, move with them, demonstrate and then assist and cue as I move about the class when the sequence is repeated.

The reason it is important to practice with your students is to alleviate that feeling of isolation where a person is asking you to do something without understanding and empathy regarding the action.

I never ask students to hold difficult poses, for example chair pose or plank, unless I hold it with them.

savasana woman eyes closed lying down face

7. Savasana is an important aspect of yoga asana and perhaps one of the most misunderstood and most overlooked component.

Some of my most respected teachers have conveyed that the desired effects of savasana do not begin until nearly 15 minutes into the practice.

Teachers often misquote the practice of savasana as a “final relaxation.”

Though savasana can promote feelings of bliss and relaxation, the intention of savasana requires a high level of alertness.

As I have been taught, savasana is an opportunity to explore the fine line of separation between the witness consciousness and that which is witnessed. This serves as an opportunity to show one’s self that one is not one’s own thoughts.

In essence, the practitioner separates that which sees the stream of consciousness from the stream of consciousness itself by applying effort to remain outside, alongside or unattached to the thoughts as they form in the mind.

If a teacher gives you two or three minutes of supine rest and calls it savasana, then you will certainly not reap the benefits of a savasana practice.

8. Discernment is a huge component of yoga and you can use it to determine if you’re visiting a worthwhile studio or teacher.

Use your discernment to evaluate how you feel after you leave class.

Ask yourself how your body feels in comparison to the moment you walked into class.

Are you often dealing with nagging injuries from yoga? Do you dread going to class, but only show up out of self-discipline?

A yoga teacher well versed in the science of yoga knows how to ensure you leave class feeling at least better than when you arrived.

An exceptional yoga teacher knows how to structure a class properly so that you are able to experience the reciprocity of an asanas routine and not only experience your own innate creative energy but also revel in the bliss when you walk out the door.

If you leave class feeling defeated or drained of energy, it may be time to shop around for a new class.

There is no single generalization as to why there is now an abundance of inexperienced teachers.

Some point to the lack of regulation in yoga certification while others point to there being no precedence upon which to create a frame of reference.

Yoga is an old tradition that has transformed through the ages, and is still currently undergoing transformation as it is adopted in the west. Though the idea of a constant evolutionary state of yoga can seem exciting, it does not permit new teachers to relinquish the classical methods of teaching.

Yoga marketing is now synonymous with tight fitting clothes, young bodies and youthful practitioners displaying flamboyant poses.

We’ve all witnessed this on social media such as Facebook and Instagram as well as yoga publications such as Yoga Journal. This persona of yoga leads many to seek yoga asana as a path of health fitness, and there is nothing wrong with the desire to be fit.

However, I firmly believe a person’s intention for doing yoga must be in alignment with the aim of yoga in order to have an effective practice. I will quote Alan Watts here and say,

“When the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way.”

This axiom also applies to students using the yoga practice as a wrong reason as well as aspiring teachers getting into teaching for the wrong reasons.

It’s a commonly held stance that one cannot make a career out of being a yoga teacher, but we have seen those who have achieved rockstar status and the accumulated wealth and fame that comes with it.

But, we have also seen many (not all) who have fallen from grace from acting in a manner not parallel to the spirit of yoga. There are numerous teacher training programs in my city alone that lure potential teachers in with the allure of lucrative careers in teaching yoga.

Many find out after putting forth the time and effort that yoga teaching is not a lucrative path for just anyone willing to give it a try.

Teaching yoga is a very rewarding path, and I cannot offer enough words to do it justice.

But, it’s not so much a career as a call to action.

Evaluate your teacher’s reason for teaching. Ask questions. Observe behavior.

A yoga teacher’s job is to serve the students on the path, to be a street lamp upon the dark path of transcendence, dispelling darkness for any seeker.

If you have not yet found your teacher, or your practice, stay the course. Keep walking the path with discernment on your side.

There are great teachers out there.


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Author: Scott Kilpatrick

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: David McSpadden/Flickr, Amy/Flickr

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