Saturday, June 28, 2008

What Should You Look for in a Yoga Class?

Cairo Connie asked me to post about the above topic and answer the following questions:

* What should I look for in a yoga class?
* Questions I should ask an instructor before signing up?
* What do the different styles incorporate in regards to aerobic, muscle training, flexibility, etc.
* Are there differences in styles with regards to goals - ie. I'm not interested in weight loss as the primary goal.. yes, it would be nice.. but I would prefer the focus be on whole body health.

While I am not an expert in yoga, I have dabbled in many classes (due to frequent moves) and have formed some opinions that might be helpful.

Yoga in India involves much more than exercise and in fact, the asanas (poses) are preparation for meditation. In the west, yoga focus on the physical in its many variations of Hatha Yoga. Goals can range from purely physical weight loss to more spiritual meditation and study. Most classes fall somewhere in between. "Hatha" is a very generic term that could mean anything in that range. It is probably the most common name for a class. If the class has a very specific name you can be more certain of what to expect.

Most class work on strength and flexibility, but some classes are more aerobic and some have more focus on meditation, balance and pranayama (breathwork).

Ideally, you can do a little reading and choose a class that theoretically fits your goals and start your yoga exploration there. However, in some places, like Cairo where Connie lives, there isn't much selection, so you may just have to try what is available and see if you like it.

1. What should you look for in a yoga class?

*Choose a class that matches you goals, if you have the luxury. If you don't, keep an open mind, "go with the flow", "commit to the process" and give it a chance. You may be surprised.

*Choose a teacher that you feel comfortable with. Yoga should be non-competitive, meaning that they don't compare you to other students, they work with you where you are. Yoga should be a positive experience, if you don't feel comfortable with the teacher for whatever reason, you won't get the full experience.

*Choose a teacher with training. A teacher does not need to have studied in India for 10 years to be a good teacher, but to ensure proper alignment, prevent injury and give modifications to postures to deal with your fitness level, existing injuries, pregnancy, etc., you need a teacher that has been trained.

2. Questions to ask an instructor before signing up:

*What style do you teach?
*What is the focus/goals of the class?
*Where did you train?
*Can you make adjustments for ___________ (whatever issue you have)?
*Sometimes, you can do a drop-in class or free trial class before making a commitment to a package. Ask about this.

3. What do the different styles incorporate in regards to aerobic, muscle training, flexibility, etc.?
See this Yoga Journal article for a listing of styles.

4.Are there differences in styles with regards to goals?
Yes. I enjoy a variety of styles, some are more athletic than others. Some are designed for fitness, yet still have pranayama and relaxation incorporated. I do not like classes that you don't feel a burn. In a good class, you will know that you have been there, no matter what the style.

A few other random pieces of advice:

1. Surrender to savasana(corpse pose). It is a relaxation/meditation pose. It is amazing how well it works. When I first started doing Bikram, I thought savasana was a waste of time, because how could you recover yourself in such a short period of time (between difficult poses), but then I started to give into it and it was truly amazing. It made my final savasana (10-15 minutes) much better as well. I also appreciate classes for a stronger emphasis on meditation after learning this lesson in Bikram (a very athletic style).

2. Chant. If they chant in the class, do it. Don't be afraid to use your voice. You will be helping others by committing to it and chanting loudly.

3. Try a class at least three times before making a decision. If you are very reluctant, you can drop in once, but I really recommend trying at least three classes. The first time I did Bikram, I thought I was going to die. The second time was better. I didn't go back for a third time because I got busy. So I tried again and went three days in a row. I loved it.

4. Go (or practice) at least 3 times a week to see a real benefit. You will see/feel a difference even if you only go once a week, but to get physical results (weight loss, increased strength, increased flexibility, improved meditation), I think you need to do it three times a week. that said, you don't need to start three times a week.

5. Develop a personal practice. Do sun salutions or pranayama every day at home. I don't do this, but wish I did.

For Connie, they had classes at CSA, though the teacher I had is now gone. There is also an Indian Cultural Institute in Cairo that offers classes and there was an instructor that I found online but didn't try who taught out of her home. Some classes are offered at gyms and the popular dance studio in Maadi, but again, I didn't try those.

As a mom, one of the most important factors is finding something that fits your schedule and you can get to on a regular basis, that is why I went to CSA (I could walk).


Connie said...

Thank you! I will print this out and refer to it when we get back from R&R. We're leaving the 1st week of July. Yep.. any classes will probably be hugely dependent on my schedule, but Honor will be doing a full day of school next year, so I should have a little bit more time during the day. I've been hesitant to start anything new for worrying about doing what I've done before - get myself damaged and end up on a cane for awhile. Yoga seems kinder, but still very healthy. I'll keep you informed!

Cairo Mama said...

Hope you find a good class!