Finding The Right Class Can Be A Challenge!
WHAT STYLE? WHICH LEVEL? SPIRITUAL ELEMENTS? SECULAR? I have on occasions witnessed yoga participants struggling in a level not suitable for them. Desperately trying to keep up and so pre-occupied with reaching the next level of the posture, that they compromise alignment altogether, and their safety! I can usually sum up within a few classes ( of those I participate in) which students will drop the class because they are either uneasy (partially due to spiritual nuances) not properly matched to the class level, or be forced to abandon due of injury.
It’s peculiar that Hatha Yoga has this “zen” reputation when the word ‘’ Hatha’’ actually means, ‘’forceful’’. Yoga has a slow, relaxing, mellow, stereotype image. (must be all the advertisements) Yes, these are definite components of a typical class, however, yoga can also be dynamic, fast passed, flowing, and if you’re not careful, you can get injured! So, you need to be smart about it!
Hatha is a broad term referring to any of the physical practices of yoga.
There are so many different styles of Yoga out there today. It has been 25 years since I completed my yoga teacher’s training, over 40 years since I was first introduced to yoga, and since that time all kinds of ”yoga stuff” has sprung up. For a beginner, it can be overwhelming, to say the least! Some of these new styles are simply reincarnations (pun intended) of the old classics with spunky, fashionable names. Others, quirky combinations or ‘’blends’’ of yoga styles & gymnastics, or yoga & Pilates, or simply yoga with movements that are very effective. Other specialty practices such as Christian Yoga, Jewish Yoga, and yoga for Catholics, are replacing classical yoga which is a spiritual practice that includes Hindu rituals & philosophies. All to say, these hybrids and variations can be rather fun and creative way of ‘’changing it up’’ just so long as they are safe for mind, body, and soul!
This said, there appears to be less of a spiritual air about the contemporary, postural types of yoga classes that have sprung up in fitness centers across the globe. Generally, (not always) there’s less eastern nuances, chanting, and meditation in gym based classes as compared yoga studios, ashrams, or retreats. I believe this is understandable considering how big the “physical culture” has become, how big yoga is, and how far science has evolved in the field of fitness and sports education. For instance, I was a group fitness instructor and Fitness and Lifestyle consultant when I took my Sivananda yoga teacher’s training in 1992. Going into the program, I already had a discerning eye and the knowledge base to identify counter indicated postures which were at that time (25 yrs ago) considered safe and effective. There are to this day postures that I omit in my classes because the risk of injury out ways the benefits, or the posture simply does not engage the muscle group effectively. Education, I believe, is the beauty of the science of exercise and how it applies to fitness today. As this field evolves, so do we as more knowledgeable, competent teachers.
Of course, not everyone is partial to the diluted “knock-offs” of the original classical yoga practice that arrived in the west during the mid-50’s and 60’s. According to die-hard yogis & yoginis, the new brands of yoga, westernized yoga, void of Hindu terminologies & spiritualism, is secular and far removed from its original intention. Although yoga is not a religion in its self, it is part of the Hindu spiritual practice. You cannot get around this. Its goal is to unite the practitioner with the almighty, Brahman. Thus void of its spiritual components it’s not technically yoga! I agree 100%. Therefore, for those who are purposefully seeking out a more spiritual or devotional type of yoga class, one which includes; Hindu chants, meditation, and prayers, contemporary or postural classes ( like mine) won’t meet their needs.
“As a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I can identify counter indicated exercises, gage myself and modify accordingly. But how does a beginner navigate himself around in all this?”
First, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions;
What am I hoping to achieve from a yoga class? Stress relief & relaxation? Get toned?
What season of my life am I in? Pregnant -prenatal, recuperating from illness or injury, restorative, premenopausal or thérapeutique classes? Classical or contemporary yoga?
Do you want postural class without spiritualism, nuances, and phraséologies?
Perhaps an alternative to classical yoga?
Are online classes or home practice an option?
It is important to determine what your needs are in advance then begin your research from there. For example, in my 20`s I gravitated towards very fast-paced fitness classes. Sivananda style yoga classes appealed to me as a balanced complement to my pre-existing training program.
“I looked forward to the moments of reflection between postures where I could be in my space and also in my class. I enjoyed the pauses between asanas when I could be still, focus on my breath, scan my body for any discomfort or tightness, bask in the sensations, tingling, and warmth of the previous posture, or simply visualize the following posture in the series.”
This style of hatha yoga, Sivananda, which focusses on one pose at a time with rests in between each movement, met my needs. It was a welcomed change from the fast-paced aerobic classes I was doing then and a sheer blessing to participate in. Today, at 53 years of age, I sincerely appreciate this mindful style of yoga. I am kinder to my body now, listen to it more and hope to maintain my present state of well-being into my 90`s! The Sivananda approach works for me!
Do your homework!
Research what yoga classes are available to you & what your options are. Communicate your needs and limitations (if you have injuries or illness for example) to the receptionist or instructor of the facility you are interested in. Most facilities offer a free sample class. Try on some classes at the beginning of a session not mid or ending of one! Do inquire about their qualifications. Don’t be shy to ask about their philosophies. Are the classes postural or do they incorporate eastern (Hindu) spiritualism, devotions, chanting, or prayer (Bhakti Yoga). I believe this is a very important question to pose. I am a monotheist, I believe in one God, bowing, prostrating, chanting & praying to Hindu deities is somewhat unsettling for me. You don’t have to be a Christian to feel uncomfortable about Hindu gestures and rituals. I have had yoga practitioners mention feeling quite awkward in this environment too. Just remember, you are not obliged to do these practices in any class. I don’t.
I have found my fit, a quirky combination of Sivananda and my own blend of flows. I hope you find yours too! Take the time to inquire and inform yourself. I assure you, it will be well worth your time and efforts!
I look forward to sharing future blogs and videos with you in 2018!