Getting the most out of a group yoga class

The teacher demonstrating modified side plank pose

You finally find a yoga class in the right place at the right time with the right yoga teacher, and hurray! You have found the perfect yoga class for you. However, in most group classes there will be a range of people with different needs and different bodies so it’s worth thinking about how to get the most out of your new group yoga class for yourself.

Yoga teachers are trained to teach classes of varying abilities and will usually give options for modifying postures to take account of this. This is particularly true in the Viniyoga approach which emphasises tailoring the yoga practice to the individual. In a group class, you can make the decision yourself which option to take. This might depend on a temporary situation like feeling exhausted after a bad night’s sleep; or a more long lasting one like recovering from an injury or dealing with a bad back, knee(s), shoulder etc. I often think old age can be defined as an ever-increasing collection of niggles, aches and dodgy body parts!

If you’re not sure then the teacher will be happy to help you. If you don’t manage to get his/her attention right away, then ask at the end of class so you know for next time. The same applies if you’re finding a posture ‘too easy’. Many times I’ve found that a small adjustment makes the experience of a posture very different.

You may hear your teacher talk about ‘finding your edge’. This is the point where you are challenged but not overwhelmed and is where we are happily absorbed in something. (This has been described as ‘finding flow‘ in work done by psychologists on how to increase happiness). Feeling distracted or bored means you need to increase the challenge in your practice. As well as taking the more physically demanding option in postures, you could work on lengthening your breath or working with your eyes closed. On the other hand if your breathing is fast and shallow or you’re experiencing considerable discomfort, then it is likely you’ve exceeded your edge and you need to pull back a bit this time. You can always come back to standing pose, child’s pose or lie down in corpse pose if you need a rest at any time.

Finally it’s worth remembering that getting the most out of your group class might mean different things for you at different times. When you’re distracted mentally or emotionally you may need a more physically demanding practice to help you focus. When you’re tired or recovering from illness you may need a gentler practice. During your first few postures in each class, think about how you feel in that moment and adapt your practice accordingly. It’s better not to assume that what you always do is right for you every week. Developing your understanding of your body is part of a well-rounded yoga practice and will pay dividends in many ways.

I hope these few thoughts help you get more out of your group yoga class. Do feel free to post a comment or question, I’d love to hear from you!

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