Nowadays you can’t throw a stone without hitting a yoga teacher. The growth of yoga is only matched by the growth in general bewilderment over what yoga is. There’s a vague concept in the air of yoga being something about stretching, something about looking good in tights, something that’s for women (who look good in tights) and something about foreign spirituality that possibly involves praising elephants. But apart from that, many people couldn’t tell you what seperates yoga from pilates, or aerobics, or body movement in general for that matter.
Whilst on the one hand it’s great that we have all this choice in yoga classes, on the other hand it means you really need to know how to look. As a yoga teacher I come across people all the time who don’t know what they’re looking nor where to even start looking and their search is misdirected and misguided. So here’s four points to help you on your journey of finding a yoga class for yourself.
One – How To Look
We tend to start by asking other people for recommendations when we’re looking for something, and yoga is no exception to this. And there’s nothing like a friend who goes regularly to a yoga class somewhere that’s a pretty good chance that it is good. Also because you know the person, you’ll get more context for why they’re doing that class (your motivations might be completely different to theirs) and whether they’ve tried other classes around, or just gone to that one.
I see people asking on social media. I would take this with a grain of salt. There’s a good chance that the people responding to you on social media have a vested interest in you going to that class (e.g. they’re the teacher or the teacher is their best mate). I’d say, stick to asking people you know; family, friends, workmates, your hairdresser.
If you get nothing back through word of mouth that you like, then as the next step (and I think this is much much better than using social media or even doing a Google search) is by going to yoga membership organisations websites and clicking on their Find Teacher search tool.
Yoga membership organisations such as Yoga Australia (YA), The International Yoga Teachers’ Association (IYTA) and The South Australian Yoga Teachers’ Association (SAYTA) are run by people who know yoga, for people who follow yoga. Also for teachers to maintain a teaching membership with the organisation, they have to show a continued commitment to their own personal development. If a person running a yoga class is a member of one of these organisations, this gives you some assurance that this teacher has a reasonable amount of formal training, a reasonable amount of experience and a continued practice.
Some of the most experienced and knowledgeable yoga teachers I know don’t even advertise BUT they can be found by going to a yoga membership organisation website and clicking on a Find Teacher link.
I’ve put the links here for the organisations named.
Two – Ask Meaningful Questions
Sometimes the only question a person will ask me about my classes is; How much do they cost cost? And then, based on my answer to that one single question, make a decision on whether or not they’ll even try it out. This is frustrating. Especially because a single yoga class, in relation to how much we pay for a beer at the pub ($10), or one single cappuccino ($5), or that physio when your back or neck starts to flair up ($100) (which a good yoga class can help with so that you don’t even need to go to in the first place) is not that much.
The other reason it’s sad when people only consider money in their choice of yoga teachers is the fact that there are yoga teachers, and then there are YOGA TEACHERS. And you know when you’ve found yourself a YOGA TEACHER, because whatever you pay them you get back in benefits, ten fold. It’s the same with anything; doctors, hairdressers, massage therapists, dentists, barristas – when you find someone who really knows their stuff, they are worth the money. It’s a waste of your money (and your time) to go to somebody just because their price is low.
Better questions to ask are;
What training have you done?
Why did you choose this style of yoga?
How long have you been practising yoga?
What training have you done?
The shortest formal minimal training possible to teach yoga in Australia is four weeks (I’ve even heard of people skipping off to Bali and doing it in two!). The longest formal minimal training periods are two-year diplomas. There is a massive, wait, excuse me, MASSIVE difference between someone with a four-week certificate and someone with a two-year diploma.
Why did you choose this style of yoga? How long have you been practising yoga?
Not everything can be reduced down to formal training. Maybe a teacher has very little formal training, but they have heaps of experience and personal practice and yoga is their entire way of living.
Yoga isn’t just Hatha Yoga practices, there are six branches of yoga, and like Buddhism, like Hinduism, yoga is an entire system for living. Someone may have minimal formal training (training which is almost entirely if not completely Hatha Yoga) but have heaps of experience and knowledge in the other types of yoga, such as meditation (Raja Yoga) and chanting (Bhakti Yoga). People with little formal training might surprisingly have a wealth of knowledge to share with you. So again, asking a potential teacher about what their style of yoga means to them or about their personal practice will give you a big insight into what they’ve got to offer.
Three – Don’t Get Hung Up On The Style
I think people nowadays are WAY to caught up in all these different styles of yoga, when really it’s all the same thing. It’s all HATHA YOGA.
Yoga has six branches. One of these is Hatha. Hatha Yoga practices are the body and energy cleansing practices. Pretty much every single yoga class out there is predominantly, if not entirely, Hatha Yoga. The difference between all these different styles of yoga can be boiled down to different ways of approaching Hatha Yoga.
Some styles, such as Yin and Vinnyasa, are all about pacing. In Yin postures are held for a long time, moving only every few minutes, in vinnyasa postures flow from one pose to the next. Some styles of yoga have added something in to the way the postures are done. In bikram postures are done in a really really hot room (I’m glad I’m not the one paying those power bills), iyengar places heavy emphasis on props, aerial you do the practices hanging above the floor.
The point I’m making on choosing a style is not to get caught up in choosing a style. I see people try out every form of yoga class there is out there, like in order to “know” yoga you have to have experienced every variation to Hatha Yoga that there is. “Oh, you’ve never done yoga in a room that’s heated to 33 degrees. So you don’t really know much.”
You really don’t need to know much! If one style of yoga is working for you, that’s all you need to know. It’s all Hatha Yoga anyway.
We’re so inundated with choices nowadays you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re choosing between different kinds of yoga and that you need to know them all in order to make the right choice. But in reality all that you’re doing when you choose a yoga style is the equivalent to choosing a flavour of icecream. Sure, it’s nice to try things out and get experimental and know for sure that you’re a chocolate person and not a strawberry one, but when all’s said and done, you still get icecream.
And Four – How Much Is It For Your Mental Health
Meditation is the main practice of yoga. Meditation is within Raja Yoga, the group of practices that we do for the mind. So it goes without saying that meditation helps most with mental health (Hatha yoga practices help with mental health too, but Hatha yoga is affecting the mind through the body, Raja Yoga practices are directly on the mind).
Many yoga teachers are doing some form of meditation in their class. But there’s a whole lot of variance to how they do it and how much emphasis they place on it. It depends on the style of yoga too. My style of yoga, Satyananda, places a strong emphasis on meditation, and it’s a part of our teacher training, other styles, such as Ashtanga and Bikram, are heavily focused on Hatha Yoga practices.
If meditation interests you, and/or if mindfulness and mental health is a factor as to why you’re even looking for a yoga class to begin with (e.g. stress, anxiety, depression, coping skills, brain fog, self-control) then definitely put it into your consideration when looking for a yoga class.
In traditional yoga, the idea is that you do the Hatha Yoga practices to prepare for the meditation. In modern western yoga it’s typical to do Hatha Yoga on its own. Some styles, like Yin, Restorative, or a traditional Hatha Yoga class, might bring a strong meditation element to the Hatha Yoga practices, rather like tai chi they become a “moving meditation”, but there’s nothing that can really take the place of a guided meditation.
Whilst the emphasis in the west is still disproportionately on Hatha Yoga, there is an ever growing number of yoga teachers out there doing more and more meditation as part of their class. So if that’s what you’re after, and that teacher you’ve got ain’t doing it, keep looking.
So, now you have a bit more of an idea of what yoga is all about and how you can be a bit more discerning and get more information that is more meaningful when you try out different classes. For some people their weekly yoga class can be that one quiet space they have for themselves in this noisy world we live in. It can be the one thing holding them together through challenging periods in their life. So take you’re time when looking and be patient, because when you find a yoga class that works for you, it’ll be worth all the time it took to find.