What should you look for in a yoga class or teacher?



In my experience, yoga classes vary greatly in terms of physical exertion.  Popularized yoga in the U.S. tends to lean toward the more vigorous end of the spectrum with "power yoga", various types of vinyasa, and the more codified form of ashtanga created by Pattabhi Jois.  Although their ultimate goal may be of a spiritual nature, these styles of yoga tend to appeal to the younger population and those who are interested mainly in a physical workout.


Traditional yoga, on the other hand has always been more about spiritual awareness, controlling the mind to reduce self-imposed suffering, and creating adaptability toward life.  As such, yoga becomes an "inner" practice and asanas (physical poses) are used more as a way to prepare the body for seated meditation. Similarly, pranayama (control of the "life force", often associated with breath) is used to quite the mind in preparation for meditation.  Forms of yoga that incorporate these techniques and promote self awareness tend to be more mindful yoga styles including classical or raja yoga (the original ashtanga) and any form of hatha that encourages one to slow down and pay attention to physical movement, sensations and alignment; the breath; the quality of the mind (calmness, thoughts, emotions, distractions, focus, presence etc.); and the interplay between these elements.


So, finding the right yoga style(s) and instructor(s) is an exploration that requires spending time on the mat, understanding your goals or reasons for wanting to practice yoga in the first place, and recognizing your limitations in terms of time, physical movement, conditioning, and willingness to expend mental energy. I would encourage anyone who wants to try yoga for the first time to start out slowly with a gentle yoga, yoga basics, or restorative yoga class before attempting more vigorous classes.  Take the time to read the descriptions of the yoga classes on the studio websites or hard copy literature and talk to the instructors who teach the classes that you feel drawn to. As you sample different styles of hatha yoga (which emphasizes physical movement) you may find that you are more interested in sweating and physical exertion, developing inner awareness, or just checking out for a much needed mental vacation. I would venture to say that you can find a yoga style that is well suited to any of these goals.  In time, this exploration may lead to developing your own, regular yoga practice at home.


Yoga studios may seem intimidating at first, but yoga teachers are generally open, accommodating and easy to talk to.  They are nice people; they will help you to make informed choices. Experienced yoga instructors who have been teaching for many years and are certified by recognized teacher training organizations should be sought when first starting out - they are best equipped to guide you. Community fitness and recreation centers, local colleges, and universities increasingly offer good yoga instruction and provide effective alternatives to commercial yoga studios.


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