What to Look For in a Yoga Class

Yoga classes can be fun, relaxing, invigorating, intimidating, relieving, mind and body-bending, and forever onward. The experience depends on a number of factors, namely your approach and the setting. I’ve been doing yoga pretty regularly since I was 12, and became a trained instructor in Vinyasa flow at 16. I’ve tried a variety of styles in a variety of settings. With that said, I should clarify the title of this post. What follows is what I look for in a yoga class, and what you might like to consider!

(I do not advise practicing with a lit candle on your mat)

Despite its aesthetic, yogic principles (perhaps unsurprisingly) have little to with flattering pants and what you can do in them. The progress of it seems to focus on getting your body to be or move a certain way. Yoga involves progress, but much of it is often missed and unclear. 

In my humble knowledge of yogic philosophy, much of its original purpose (since thousands of years ago I might add) involved transcending the ego and attaining a higher spiritual state of consciousness. In Western adaptation of yoga, there is an attempt to hold on to some of its original intentions while the rest has been modernized and adheres to the Western cultural paradigm. I am reminded of the times where teachers have said “leave your stresses at the door!” so the mat space could essentially become a temporary escape. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a break for the hour or so you allot yourself away from chaotic reality. However, to stay true to yoga and truly benefit from it requires some homework. In the times I catch myself thinking “yoga isn’t working for me” I check in, “Have I been reflecting why I feel the need to have an escape?” “What must I confront before or while I’m on the mat?” Often, bringing something to the mat doesn’t mean you are not present and thinking about it the whole time. Set an intention, avoid attaching to it or an outcome (harboring on it or regretting you forgot it after class), and see what happens. What does it feel like to be simultaneously confronting something and freeing yourself of it?

Yoga is embodied spirituality. Among the body benefits are strength, balance, and flexibility. When the postures are synced to your breath, the mind may calm. The body, mind, and spirit are in unison. The biggest mistake I see in yoga, aside from using it as a mode of escape from the mind, is focusing too deeply on the body. A major component to being in the present moment is becoming attuned to your body, BUT many of us unknowingly leave the present moment when we become too centered around the body. Alignment is important to an extent. The extent is pain. Are you in a position that hurts or could harm you? If not, you probably look great. As long as you are in a safe position, that is proper alignment; all the extra adjustments are aesthetic. Problems arise with the obsessiveness with appearance and comparisons, which are all ego(coming soon!), and it’s killing the purpose of yoga. Don’t get me wrong, if you have bodily related goals to reach through yoga, go for it! Yoga has helped me with my posture and body awareness. Touching your toes is a beautiful thing. Achieving an aerial posture your mind would otherwise object to is admirable. Remember why you have the goal. Are you increasing your awesome for personal growth or for results? One of them is longer lasting.

This frog likes heart-openers!

Now that I’ve had a sufficient rant, I’ll get to technicalities, tips, and total “bests of.” First, no two yoga classes are alike. This means don’t get discouraged when you don’t like a class; try another! Teachers, studios, classmates, mindset, moods—they all make different experiences. Next, yoga is FULL of life lessons and self-discovery. Every feel-good moment and frustration is all a glorious part of the process. The rest is here for you in a list:

  1. The Teacher, whether they admit it or not is your guide. They keep you safe, keep time, and keep you going. There is a certain amount of discipline in yoga, but you are never to feel shame nor pain. Instructors, like any other teacher or anyone who’s job deals with people, have off-days, but if I sense a hint of condescending tone or power dynamic, I’m all set. With that, respect the teacher! It’s not easy leading a class, especially with people who call out criticisms in class (vibe-killer!). What’s great about the uniqueness of teachers and experiences is that each one may have a specialty. Some may have an empowering playlist, incorporate incense or aroma therapy, an effective quote or applicable theme, chimes and vibrations, chanting, or longer meditations. I like extra elements! 
  2. Questioning your alignment? Check your feet. They are foundational to just about every pose standing or on the ground. When standing, they’re your root; on the ground, flex for engagement and blood flow. When your feet are in good form, the rest of your body will be safe with maybe minor adjustments. In tree pose, I see SO many people with their foot resting on their knee. Don’t! You could really hurt yourself by putting pressure on your joints. If you can’t place your foot on your thigh, go to the calf or gently alongside the ankle like a kickstand. Extra great teachers give modifications or options for you to choose from that may resemble the “target” pose or a version of it by engaging the same muscles to a degree that works for you. Use the modifications and given options! Be aware of what your body needs at that moment in time. 
  3. Pace and Vibe are a determinants of whether or not I liked the class. Did I have enough time to breathe? The way I see it, breathing is the most important part of yoga. Breath synced to movement is…it. Some teachers cue breathing faster than movement while others don’t cue it at all. For me, this is a major disappointment. This is what connects your “whole” being and is the gateway to optimal well-being and yoga’s original, ultimate goal, ego transcendence or experience of non duality. I can’t emphasize it enough—value your life breath! Continuing, Was the teacher “in tune” to the flow and vibes of the class? Did their eagle eye give verbal, inviting corrections for me to notice in my own body? Could they read the energy of the room through the students? Every word and cue matters coming from the teacher paired with their attitude. Also, finding your own pace to your breath is one thing, but rushing through is another. Part of respect to the teacher is honoring their set flow. The pace has a purpose. Moving too fast reflects the restlessness of an “escaper.” Literally, go with the flow.
  4. Your Type. Do you like rapid body movements and testing your limit? Try Kundalini yoga! It also has more mantra chanting incorporated than most other styles which has its own benefits. Prefer flow and movement variety? Try Vinyasa and Hatha classes! Looking for a restorative, slow experience? Yoga Nidra and Yin suit this need! Want to take the heat? Bikram (which has some controversy) operates at high room temperatures for releasing toxins through sweat and with demanding direction from teachers (they call you out by name!). All have worked for my needs at one point or another. Have an idea of what to expect, and let the experience speak for itself. There’s even a way to do yoga in your dreams (coming soon!)!
  5. Savasana is a practitioners’ favorite because you “simply” lay flat on your back at the end of a sequence, but it is also one of the most challenging poses. The key is to not fall asleep (many do, it’s okay) because this moment of complete stillness is highly important in symbolism and process. Many of us do not have the opportunity or have trouble being completely still and in our own company for consecutive moments (hence the snoring). Stay with it, resist your urges to fidget, and enjoy the moment where all you have to do is breathe. It is highly disrespectful to the teacher, your fellow students, and yourself to leave early by cutting this pose short. It is NOT the end of the class in most cases. Unless the teacher says it is the formal closure, there is a formal closure after this pose. Savasana translates to “corpse pose.” The whole sequence leads up to this pose that is a symbolic death. The cues to come out of it by rolling to your side in fetal position is your rebirth. The idea is that you leave the mat transformed from how you began. I return to classes that honor this pose. It’s a chance to start anew!  

The light in me sees, honors, and with gratitude bows to the light you. If you like this page, please share it!

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