Best In Class:
How To Get The Most Out Of A Yoga Class
Having taken and taught thousands of yoga classes in Toronto, since 2004, Melissa gives thirty ideas of what you can do to help grow your practice. She covers practical tips and advice to maximize constructive learning, as well as how incorporate moral codes of yoga philosophy.
First timers can use this as a preparation checklist. For beginners, start with points that seem easiest and read about how to prolong the benefits of class.
For more experienced practitioners, the guidance on awareness and learning cues will foster independence and can apply to life situations off the mat.
Before We Begin
1. Select a class that fits you in terms of level, style or instructor.
2. Eat and drink to be fueled but not full, especially if you have a sensitive stomach or intend to do a vigorous practice.
3. Wear comfortable clothing. If you expect to move a lot, sweat wicking and tighter fitting items might be more suitable to keep cool and free in movement.
4. Have appropriate gear. Yoga mats are thinner and “stickier” than Pilates and gym mats. The main reason to use a mat, is to reduce slipping, provide padding and a hygienic surface. If you intend to sweat you may want a towel too.
5. If you’re at home, prepare your environment. This could be as simple as clearing a space but consider candles, scents or music to set the tone or make it extra special.
6. Have what you need within reach. Props such as blocks and straps are useful to practitioners of all levels. By supporting the body when needed we can avoid over straining or having to skip an aspect of a pose.
7. Consider bringing a water bottle if you expect a class to be sweaty or more than an hour.
8. Arrive with enough time to sign in and set up without stress.
9. If you have reservations or physical concerns, or need to leave early, let your teacher know so they may assist you.
10. Take your time and listen to your body rather than moving quickly to keep up.
11. Watch the instructor and listen to cues.
12. Look at others in class for guidance if you’re still not sure, but avoid comparing yourself. We are all on our own journey with different histories and bodies.
13. Recall mental pictures, memorable cues or physical sensations that have helped you find alignment in the past.
14. Notice body placements and pose modifications/variations that work for you, so you can repeat them in future. Your special cues become more apparent with you move with intention and increase learning.
15. Check in on what might be improved simply by bringing awareness to that area.
16. Find stillness and ease as much as possible. When holding a pose, stay present with what you feel in the moment.
17. Practice non-judgement; on yourself and others. Judgements breed negative self-talk, competition and create distraction.
18. Feeling fatigue, strain, awkward or even silly is not always bad when in positions or moving if ways you don’t normally find yourself. Sometimes increased comfort and ease will develop from familiarity and practice. Discern what you are experiencing from genuine pain or danger.
19. Be aware of subconscious avoidance, like unnecessary adjusting (of pose, mat, clothing or hair), fidgeting and extra water breaks. Ask yourself what you are avoiding: Do you have fear or dislike for a part of the practice, are you tired, are you allowing yourself to become bored from lack of concentration and awareness?
20. Stay focused. If you feel distracted, come back to your breath or the physical sensations you’re experiencing. When you are more deeply aware, your practice becomes richer with nuance and feeling.
21. Take breaks to regroup/reset as necessary to give your best effort.
22. Avoid anticipation. Jumping ahead in a sequence, or thinking about what’s coming later takes away from the intention of what was planned by the instructor as well steals your mind from being present.
23. Be gentle and light. When practiced physically, it demonstrates skill and control. When found in one’s mood, we can find flow and a smile.
24. Do not use your phone. Not only is it distracting to others in class, it’s disrespectful. If you must, leave the practice space and slip back in when you’re done. If you are at home, still try to refrain from the temptation to check your phone or do other activities at the same time.
Prolong The Benefits
25. If you need to leave early, be discreet and leave before savasana to avoid disturbing others.
26. Take savasana. Practicing rest trains the mind, calms the nervous system, and helps one better understand and transition to meditation practices. Even if you do not practice formal meditation, one can still begin to reap the rewards.
27. Ask the instructor any questions about your practice that may have arisen during class.
28. Offer further feedback. Compliments and constructive criticism help your teacher provide better classes in future. As they get to know you and your body, the teacher will be able to give you more specific guidance.
29. Come again. A practice is just that. Consistency and repetition are key to the highest increases of physical and mental benefits. If you are practicing an on demand video, repeat the class at a later date. See if there was anything you missed the first time or notice self-improvement from the repetition. If there was a segment that you want to better understand, take advantage of the ability to replay.
30. Include other activities that test your fitness in contrasting ways for optimal health and wellness. Depending on the style of yoga, you might have a lot to gain from resistance training or endurance sport. The body works as a whole, so strengthening all aspects can reflect positively in your yoga practice.