Taken from my years of experience as a student, here we explore ways we can gain the most out of the yoga class and our personal practice.
ABILITIES: PROGRESS & NO COMPETITION
Something a little more positive to be reminded of is that everyone who is keen to practice yoga is welcome to class. Many classes are open level, so they really will be filled with mixed abilities, but even the specific level classes fill up with a range of students who have different amounts of experience. Therefore, never concern yourself with how you compare to others in class… there is no comparison! We are all on this wonderful yogic journey together and what’s most important is that we show up when we can, we try our best, and support others in the process.
Your own progress is primarily for your own benefit, so, I hate to knock your ego, but no-body really cares if it takes you 1 year or 10 years to learn how to balance in a headstand with no support. Take comfort from this fact, hopefully it eases any self-imposed pressure you may have put upon yourself. Yes, your improvement is an encouragement to you and your regular teacher, and it’s likely to boost your self-esteem, but remember no-one is judging you if your progress is slow or if it plateaus every now and again. Benefits will still be happening even if they aren’t obvious physical ones. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself if you are going through a tough time and are not practising as much as you would like. Yoga will always be there for you to return to.
HONOUR YOURSELF: BODY & MIND
Following on from earlier points… an important lesson in yoga is to practice in a way that feels good for you. Every time you show up for a yoga class there will be slight (or big) changes to how you feel mentally, emotionally and physically. There will be times when you want to be in 5th gear mode and other times you want to cruise through class in 1st gear. Teachers are there to hold the space and offer a sequence of postures but it’s your job to respect your body and mind and join in the postures that work for you, modify as needed or skip the pose entirely. Be discerning and take yourself only to your personal ‘edge’.
Also, if you find yourself in a class in which the pace is too fast for you, maybe you’re injured, tired or feeling emotionally fragile. Please don’t worry or panic, this is a good lesson for you to practice remaining calm in situations that overwhelm you. Use this experience to your advantage, take your time and honour your own pace, and join in the best you can. Sometimes when I’m in a class that is too fast paced for my liking (and the teachers’ breath cues would lead me to be hyper ventilating) I consciously (to the best of my ability) pay attention to my own breath and thoughts, and flow/move in a rhythm that keeps them steady. Which is what I would encourage you to do also. After all, yoga without conscious breath and a focussed mind is like a mindless gym class, and that’s not what you are there for.
OPENESS: EMOTIONS & ATTITUDE
The times when we feel sad, anxious or stressed are often the best times for us to be practising yoga. As a yoga student, in class, tears have arisen and I’ve welcomed every drop, because I know how healing and cleansing crying can be. Physical tension in our bodies is associated with emotional tension so it is normal, healthy and therapeutic to release any pent-up emotions when you start to move your body and work with your breath in a yoga class. Also, when practising with honesty and an open heart, we are more able to process, let out, and let go of any sadness or stress. Another beneficial reason for wearing your heart on your sleeve in class, is that by openly expressing yourself, whether that be happy or sad (or anything in between), it gives the teacher the relevant feedback of how best to work with you in class that day.
On another note… If you show up to class and find it boring, not challenging enough or you are disgruntled that your favourite teacher is being covered by someone new and they’re not to your liking, it’s your role as the practitioner (yoga student) to drop your ego and expectations and remain open to what is being offered to you, you may learn something new.
The irony is that some teachers’ classes I go to are really stripped back and slowed down, and we are encouraged to explore the ‘subtleties’. The challenge lies in remaining focussed and interested in the simpler, yet finer details of our mind, body and energy. Plus, don’t forget that fast doesn’t always mean hard, working slowly, strongly and steadily can be challenging too, but in a more controlled way.
So, next time you are not really ‘vibing’ the class, try and stick with it and see what you can learn, give the teacher your full attention and rise above any annoyance. I know some other people may say just walk out of the class if you’re not enjoying it but I guess that’s not my style. Even in the most uninspiring classes that I attended I have always stayed till the end. It’s in those classes that I have had to dig a little deeper to stay curious, drop my judgement, and be more open too… and there are always benefits in practising those actions.
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I hope these pointers have been insightful for you and serve to enhance your yoga practise in some way. Remember, not to take yourself and yoga too seriously, be open to whatever arises and be particularly kind to yourself on those ‘off’ days.