The Benefits of Attending a Public Class or Hiring a Private Instructor
I understand the practicality and time-saving of doing a yoga class with an app, YouTube or Gaia.com, but I do not recommend this as a regular practice especially if you are a beginner or do not practice regularly. I also understand that there are great teachers out there who have classes on their own web sites and I am not knocking this as a business practice. Pre-recorded classes are great if you are using them intermittently because your bike or car is out of commission, your work schedule doesn't permit you to get to many studio classes or you're strapped for cash. What if you are too fat, too tall, too thin, too weak, too inflexible, too old or too just plain scared? (I once knew a guy who was too tall to practice at a studio where I worked, he could only practice in a couple of spots in the room where the ceiling was higher, so if classes were busy, it was a major hassle moving people who were already set up if he arrived late. So guess what? He quit coming.) All of these are legitimate reasons for turning to the tube for yoga. However, let me explain why you should make the effort to get to a few public classes or hire an instructor to come to your home or work with you over video-chat.
1. A LIVE INSTRUCTOR CAN SEE WHAT YOU ARE DOING
Yes, yoga instructors do close their eyes and many spend far too much time "demo-ing", but a good instructor will have such clear and concise cues that you will always know what the intention of the posture is, what you should feel in the posture and how to safely transition from the posture. This frees up the instructor to pay attention to you, so that she can adjust, repeat or reword cues as necessary. Her eyes are looking at your feet, hips, overall shape, spinal alignment or floppy wrists. With great cues, you should be able to self-adjust, but it is difficult to see yourself from behind or have an idea of how the posture looks overall. The instructor's eyes are there to help you create ease or strength, to provide optimal alignment and to prevent injury.
2. MODIFICATIONS ARE FOR YOU PERSONALLY
Modifications are available for all shapes, sizes, abilities, disabilities or levels of experience. Whether it is a breath practice, yoga posture, use of a prop or a more esoteric practice, having an instructor observe how you respond to her cues will affect the flow of the class. For an instructor to cue multiple modifications in a class can be quite wordy and does not make for a best-selling video. With a live instructor present, you will get quick shifts in verbal cues, have a prop placed just where you need it or feel a gentle hand on your back to soften your shoulders. If modifications are not needed, nothing need be done, but how do you know if there is no instructor present?
3. PROP IT UP!
Yoga props can make such a difference to how you experience a posture. There are many different shapes of bolsters, cushions and blocks. Straps come in different lengths. Blankets and extra yoga mats may also be needed. And yes, you can practice without any props at all - a mat is not even required. However, this is a great perk of attending a class where it is an option (to use props) or hiring a private teacher who comes equipped with an assortment of props. Props fill in the gap where a hand or hip may not touch the floor, they assist with balance and they give a sense of freedom and support. There is nothing like a good, solid cork block in triangle pose to lean back a little and feel the expansiveness and unlimited potential lurking within!
4. THE CLASS CAN BE STOPPED, MODIFIED OR ADJUSTED
Most instructors arrive with a plan or a theme. When you select a class on the tube, it will likely have a theme or focus as well. However, what your expectations are may not be what is being delivered. A live instructor will see your frustration, confusion or emotion arising. Even in a busy class, a good instructor will shift the flow of the class to make the class more accessible. She has the option to stop the class and workshop a posture. She can shift her plan, eliminate or add according to what is going on in the room. She can throw in a 5 minute child's pose anywhere and support a student in need. (Kind of important, don't you think?)
5. THE INSTRUCTOR CAN LISTEN TO OR OBSERVE YOUR BREATHING
Ideally, each movement in yoga is initiated with a breath. Breathe in, move, breathe out, move. Some instructors cue breath more than others. If your rate of respiration is fast, if you are holding your breath or you are exhaling frequently from your mouth, again, the instructor can adjust or assist. Your rate of respiration may affect the pace of the instructor's cues, how long a posture is held or where she stops for a longer resting posture. If you have been given a pranayama (breathing) practice, it is important that the instructor observe for anxiety or other physical, mental or emotional distress.
6. HANDS-ON ADJUSTMENTS
The art of hands-on adjustments is a subtle technique employed by many instructors. Students are often not aware of the tension they carry, nor of their physical imbalances. For the most part, hands-on adjustments are light-handed and used to bring awareness. A gentle laying on of hands on the traps (trapezius) can turn a posture from a struggle to one of power or ease. Hips may need the encouragement of the instructor's knee or full body support. You may enjoy a gentle massage in a child's pose or corpse pose. This is definitely a major bonus of working with a live instructor.
7. ASK QUESTIONS
It can be challenging to remain silent in yoga class. Silence, however, is part of the practice of yoga. Learning to still the mind, observe and release thoughts takes time and regular practice. Nevertheless, sometimes it is appropriate to ask a question, signal for help or request that a prop be brought over. As well, instructors are usually available before and after class to answer questions, recommend resources or review something that was covered in class. This can be an important part in advancing your practice - asking for help.
8. BE INSPIRED OR COMFORTED BY OTHER STUDENTS
While rubber-necking is not encouraged in yoga class, having other students present can have positive benefits. If you a beginner and you position yourself behind other students, you will have more role models to guide you. Hopefully, the show-offs and yoga instructors have positioned themselves in the back corners of the class so as to not be a distraction. While they can inspire, they can also be tremendously discouraging to newer students. That being a reality though, perhaps there is a student with similar concerns or abilities; you may feel more comfortable practicing near them or just knowing that you are not alone. If you are one of the "too's" mentioned in the introduction, you may see your counterpart at a slightly more advanced stage in his practice. That could be all you need to commit to a regular yoga practice.
9. FOCUS ON YOGA
Practicing at home comes with many distractions even if you have planned your time accordingly. Phones can make sounds, appliances can make unexpected noises, doorbells can ring or the neighbour can decide to mow his lawn just as you settle into your practice. While learning to disengage the senses is part of the practice of yoga, it is a challenging one for many beginners. So why not go to a class where there is less of a temptation to engage with these distractions? There is also the issue of practicing in front of the television or computer and the amount of electronic bombardment we receive each day.
Yoga is about community. There is so much to be said for connecting with real people who can assist, direct, inspire or educate. Even if you go for the cup of tea after class, you will be reaping many unseen benefits. Perhaps you will make a friend or reconnect with an old one.
If you are interested in connecting with me, leave a comment below. Scroll through the many services I offer and let me know how I can make your day better. Stay well! Sadhana.
Integrative Healing with Sadhana offers instruction and guidance as a full healing package or you can choose individual practices such as Yoga, Meditation, Reiki, Space Clearing or Intuitive Readings in Gibsons BC. Either way, you will be met exactly where you are at and together, we will adapt practices to fit your individual needs improving your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.