HOW TO: Get the Most Out of Your Yoga Class
Ever wonder why some yoga classes feel absolutely perfect while others are a struggle to get through?
Aside from the teacher’s knowledge, the prescribed sequences, and the student’s experience level, there are several other factors that can make all the difference between bliss and blah.
Here are my Top 10 Tips to get the most out of your class:
1.) Arrive early. I know schedules are tight, but if you can arrive just 10-15 minutes before class starts, this will give you ample time to check-in, secure your spot, and set yourself up a in yummy pose for centering…such as supine bound angle or corpse pose. There’s nothing zen about racing through yellow lights, honking your horn at a pedestrian who dared to cross your path, or scurrying into class as your teacher chants Om. Giving yourself ample time allows you to begin disconnecting from your day and preparing for practice.
2.) Fuel your body. Make sure you are hydrated. I remind myself to drink 2 cups of water 1 hour prior to class. As for solids, eat a moderate meal approximately 2 hours before practice. If you practice yoga on a full stomach, you may experience cramps, nausea, or even vomiting, especially in twists, deep forward bends, or inversions. If schedules don’t allow a meal 2 hours before, and you find yourself hungry (or in my case, hangry), fuel up with a sensible, balanced snack or mini-meal.
3.) Let your teacher know of any special conditions or injuries that may affect your practice. Sharing these concerns allows the teachers to offer modifications or adjustments that are appropriate for you. As a yoga teacher, I’m in the business of helping people feel good; help me do my job!
4.) Gather your props. Yoga studios offer a variety of props, including blocks, blankets, bolsters, straps, eye pillows, and so on. Don’t be afraid to use them. And please don’t think you don’t need them. Props are often used to make poses more accessible, such as using a strap to reach the feet in a seated forward bend. But they are also used to make poses more challenging or create more sensation. For example, I always use a block in balancing half moon because I can create more length in the spine and achieve deeper rotation.
5.) Set your intention. Yoga is bigger than a bunch of shapes. When your teacher invites you to set an intention or dedication at the beginning of class, mindfully choose something that will help you stay focused throughout the class. So when the going gets tough, and you’re sweaty and quivering and glancing at the clock, you have this “bigger thing” that brings you back to why you came in the first place.
6.) Breathe. There is nothing like the breath that keeps us present…in the moment. I often remind my students during challenging postures to “Come back to your breath. It will see you through.” Or, “You can do anything for one breath”…….easier said than done when we’re 10 breaths deep into extended side angle….haha! But all kidding aside, the breath is an extremely important guage that helps us determine where we should be in a posture. Sometimes we just forget to breath. Amazing, but we do! We get so overwhelmed with what our bodies are doing that our breathe becomes short, shallow or labored. If you’re not able to come back to the steady ujayi breath we practice in vinyasa yoga, you’ve likely pushed past your edge and should modify the pose.
7.) Listen to your body. Often I invite my students to scan their bodies for areas of tension and stress when we begin class. Sometimes I’ll invite them to revisit those places midway through class or even as we’re winding down, heading toward savasana. Tune in with how you’re feeling so that you can intelligently modify or amplify any posture to fit your needs for today, regardless of what you did yesterday, or what you’ll do next month. Hamstrings snug? Dull ache in the low back? Take inventory.
8.) Honor your own inner teacher. I often remind my students that while I may be leading them through the practice, they “should always listen to the wisest teacher of all…the one who lives inside them.” This can include listening to your body, but also listening to the yogic philosophy that is woven into class. It’s like a yoga buffet: Take what you want, leave the rest behind. In other words, incorporate what resonates with you and let the rest go.
9.) Bring your own mat. While most studios offer complimentary or rental mats, it’s nicer to practice on your own mat. Choose one that’s just right for you in terms of texture, thickness, even color. If you sweat during yoga, bring a towel, either a towel from home or a specially-designed yogi towel. There’s nothing more frustrating that slipping, and a towel can really help here!
10.) Try something new! Sometimes we get into ruts, and we practice the same pose the same way, day after day, for years even! Don’t be afraid to spice it up! Take a different variation, add a special mudra, change your drishti, and see what happens. It’s doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s “yoga practice”, not “yoga perfect.” There are countless lessons on the mat that we can take off the mat into our real lives, and this is one of them: Step out of your comfort zone. This is where change happens!
I hope that incorporating one or more of these practices makes your next class more fulfilling! I can’t wait to see you on the mat!