A Typical Class And The Potential
Unless you have the time to study Yoga including the sutras and all eight limbs the best way to be introduced to Yoga or get a routine dose of the stuff is through a Yoga class where you will primarily be exposed to or experience the physical practice which includes poses and postures known as “Asanas” in Sanskrit (Asanas are the third limb of Yoga).
The reason Yoga classes focus on these physical postures is because it is the easiest and most approachable way for Yoga to be shared. As someone guides you through the practice it allows you to have a unique experience and draw out from the practice exactly what you want from the both the mental and physical aspects. This is why each person has a different experience or relationship to the to the practice depending on what you seek or are open to exploring.
If you are lucky (or do your homework) you will end up in a class where you have the opportunity to also do breathwork or Pranayama in Sanskrit (this is the fourth limb). If you are even luckier still your instructor will introduce you to some of the other limbs by guiding you to bring your awareness within by letting go of anything external to you (Pratyahara in Sanskrit and the fifth limb) or have you focus intently on one thing which can be an intention or a focus on the poses directly (Dharana in Sanskrit or the sixth limb) or provide time in the practice for meditation (Dhyana in Sanskrit or the seventh limb).
Without you even being aware often times your Yogic guide will even sprinkle in a couple of the other limbs as well (such as the Yamas and Niyamas) through a theme for the class or an invitation to accept a particular intention they introduce.
For me the classes most inclusive of the various limbs of Yoga are the ones that make a lasting impression and allow me to take the teaching outside of the studio and into my everyday life by giving me tools that are approachable and can be used in everyday life situations (both personal and professional).
If your life is as busy as mine then your time spent on a Yoga mat is limited and you’ll want to absorb everything you can when you get the chance. In this case I recommend you find an instructor or studio where the classes incorporate all of these aspects and where the mood or vibe is lighthearted and welcoming.
The things to look out for as you seek out a class that gives you the rich Yoga experience you deserve.
- The class should have a clear beginning where you close your eyes and are guided to become present and focused.
- I wouldn’t expect it in every class but on occasion (because it is a time suck and there is so much other good stuff to offer) the opportunity to practice breathwork such as Ujjayi breath or breath of fire. What I would expect at the minimum for every class, during the beginning (alongside what is listed in #1) is that you are invited to take deep breaths or slow the breath in an effort to calm the body and prepare it for the physical component to come.
- The instructor at a minimum asks you to set an intention for the class with MAJOR BONUS POINTS (hard to find but keep looking if you have not found it) if the instructor goes beyond a simple “come into the space, focus and set an intention” and rather introduces a specific intention and asks you apply it throughout the practice either to the physical or mental practice or both. This is special because it means you can take the lesson with you and into the real world once you leave the mat. The real gems are the ones who do this on occasion by sharing a personal experience that relates to the intention or lesson they are presenting and allow you to consider something similar in your own life (this means they care about constructing a highly meaningful, relatable and safe space for you by giving you really good stuff to take away and themselves vulnerable in a personal light in an effort to directly connect with you). I have only been fortunate to find this in a couple of instructors. Additionally, the intention can be amplified if it is brought up throughout the class either through poses or during moments of pause and reiterated at the end in an effort to remind you to take it with you if it worked for you during the class.
- There is time to warm up before you jump into difficult poses, this warm up may also include breathwork and can be gentle or include a simple sequence.
- The physical practice can be whatever you prefer in terms of style or rigor. Many of the lineages tend to be specific in the format of the entire class so be mindful of this as you manage your expectations and explore the options out there. A vinyasa class will be most likely to incorporate all of these elements as there is not a set sequence or lineage of the physical practice that is being followed (sorry… there is no denying I am partial to a good Vinyassa).
- The class concludes with the opportunity to let go of everything and relax through a Shavasana (also known as corpse pose where you lie on your back preferably with your eyes closed).
- You are not rushed to leave rather are guided slowly to the very end of class with an opportunity to reflect back on the class before the instructor makes a closing remark such as namaste or Om.
There you have it, my dream class and what I try to give to those that attend my class whenever I can. Here is the deal, Yoga has so much to offer and it is a fine balance between presenting all that you can without it becoming overwhelming. Although the easiest way to share the benefits of Yoga is through the physical practice if you find a class where the other aspects are offered it has the potential to enrich your life and if you want more you will know where to go to get it. It is these types of classes that serve me the best as they provide reminders and shortcuts and each class gives me something new to discover.
Now you know where all that other stuff in your Yoga class is derived from and why each class is so unique as it pulled methods and lessons from the many limbs that exist in an effort to subconsciously allow you to become more in tune with yourself. Next time you are in a class and the instructor has you inhale “love” and “let go of what does not serve you” on the exhale or starts the practice with a few words with your eyes closed about grounding yourself you will know where it came from and you will be thankful you were granted the opportunity to take away more than just the workout.
Please share in the comments what your favorite aspects of a Yoga class are or any tools or special learnings you have taken away from a class. If you enjoy the content and want to learn more please subscribe to get updates when new posts are made available.