Yoga is more popular than ever, but that doesn't mean the quality of instruction is better than ever. In fact, just the opposite may be true. As ideas spread and are diluted throughout the population, core tenants of a philosophy, idea or lifestyle become blurred and convoluted. Yoga is no exception. While this article is not a condemnation of public yoga classes (I still keep one on my teaching schedule), it is a warning to the wise to educate themselves so they can truly benefit from public yoga classes rather than just following along through a yoga sequence blindly, peppered with some alternatives for the truly dedicated. Here are the top three things to be aware of when it comes to group classes:
There are two trends in yoga that show no signs of stopping: (1) heated rooms and (2) vigorous vinyasa flows. Oftentimes, studios combine these two trends to create a potentially unhealthy situation that also creates an exclusive environment. For example, pregnant women, people with blood pressure problems, those with autoimmune disorders and those with heart conditions are just a handful of the population who face serious health consequences just by walking into what is now a "˜normal' yoga class. As an alternative, look for "˜chill' classes or classes in non-heated rooms, or request small group or private yoga instruction, which is almost never heated and the sequence can be modified just for you and your body's situation.
2. Group class instructors may be hurting your body.
Becoming registered or certified as a yoga instructor is no guarantee that your yoga teacher is going to be a good one. What one instructor thinks is perfectly fine is considered harmful by another. The best judge of what is safe and what is not is you. If you don't have an extensive knowledge of kinesiology or anatomy, it would be a good idea to think about investing in an "˜anatomy for yoga teachers' course, even if you consider yourself a lay practitioner. Many people find attending a yoga teacher training is also useful for this reason. I recommend Annie Carpenter's SmartFLOW training for anyone interested in learning more about what happens in your body as you practice a pose. If taking a partial or full yoga teacher training is not an option or you are not feeling that committed to your yoga practice just yet, the most important thing to do is listen to your body. A third option would be to practice with a yoga instructor who is knowledgeable about anatomy and specializes in teaching private yoga. He or she will be able to tell you what poses you should be avoiding in classes going forward given your health concerns and past or present injuries.
3. Group Classes Drain Your Wallet.
It's no secret that signing up for a gym or yoga studio membership does not guarantee that you'll actually use it each month. In fact, only 18 percent of gym members ever use their membership consistently. Think about your own life- how many times have you signed up and paid for a membership and not used it? Now think about private yoga- how many times do you think you would not show up if you paid for and committed to a time slot with a private teacher? There's no doubt that the increased accountability will offset the cost of that "˜cheaper' monthly studio membership.
4. Group classes can encourage negative body image and make you feel bad.
It's naughty to watch others practicing yoga during our group classes, but sometimes we can't help it. It's easy to get caught up in yoga lust"”wanting his backbends, wanting her flexibility, wanting his strength, wanting her outfit, and so on. With an increasing focus on looking good even while you work out (hello, Lululemon), it's nearly impossible to push the comparisons out of our head ("Am I too fat?" "Should I buy new yoga clothes?" "Am I doing this pose right?" "Why can't my body do that?"). It may be enough for you to know these thoughts are normal and common. If you find yourself feeling more depressed than enlightened, or suddenly start finding excuses to back out of your yoga class, the comparison trap may have caught you. Surrounding yourself with supportive, happy people, keeping a gratitude journal and talking to your yoga teacher about how you're feeling are all great strategies for keeping the comparison in check. Keeping a journal about your yoga classes is also a great tool for those days when you feel kind of crappy because you can go back and read in your own words what you love about yoga and why you practice.
What do you like about group classes? Have you tried private yoga? What are the biggest challenges you face in your group yoga class?