I started out with online classes: my mat fitting snugly between the sofa and the fireplace in my front room, being careful not to hit any furniture with my limbs as I moved through the sequence. I subscribed to an online site called Ekhart Yoga which opened my eyes to the power of yoga and the sheer vastness of it. I started to learn the names of poses (cat, cow, downward dog) and I really enjoyed learning to sync my movement with breath. It opened my eyes (and lungs) and got me curious about yoga and everything to do with it.
However, it wasn’t until I went to a studio class led by an experienced teacher that I realised what I had been missing by only practising at home.
Here are three of my top reasons why you should give going to a studio a try:
Adjustments – helping you to improve and avoid injury
If you really want to improve your asana technique, have a teacher look at what you are doing. A good teacher can see where you might be going out of alignment and run the risk of a future injury. When I first started online classes, I was putting a lot of pressure through my shoulders in my downward-facing dog, which sometimes left me feeling a bit sore the next day. When I started going to in-person classes, just a couple of physical adjustments from the teacher showed me that I wasn’t putting weight through the whole of my hands or rotating my shoulders quite right – I rarely feel any soreness now! Even in zoom classes it can be difficult for the teacher to see what is truly going on with a student – and we’ve all been there when we can’t quite get the camera angle right!
I like a physical adjustment (believe me when I say that sometimes there is no greater feeling in your calf muscles than when a teacher presses on your hips in downward dog), but I know that being touched by a stranger isn’t for everyone. You can absolutely say to the teacher that you would only like verbal cues in class and they will not be offended.
For those familiar with the Ashtanga primary sequence, a Mysore class is a fabulous opportunity to experience a class that goes at your own pace, similar to a workshop in style, but also feels like a one-to-one session. In Mysore, you move through the Primary sequence at your own pace as the teacher observes; they then come over to adjust or help you breakdown a pose to make it more accessible. From going to Mysore classes, I have realised that my pelvis doesn’t always want to stay level in prasarita padottanasana, which I now know to look out for.
Studios also tend to be well-equipped with props such as blocks, bolsters and straps, all of which can make your practice safer, but can be a little on the pricey-side to buy your own.
Finding your community and teachers
It might sound cheesy to say, but we really do live so much of our lives online these days; sometimes it’s refreshing to take a step away from the screen and be somewhere IRL. Depending on the setting, the teacher, and the other students, each class has it’s own energy.
There are some classes I go to where I know there will be lots of friendly chatting before and after, and people will up for coffee dates or walks, or other social activities outside of the class. But I also know there are classes which are a bit more meditative, and students tend to arrive quietly to their mats to settle in with their breath. So, there really is a class and a teacher for everyone, it is all about trying them out and seeing what fits for you.
Teachers work hard to create a sense of community, whatever the vibe of the class. They will (try) to remember you, to notice injuries, learn what works for you and what doesn’t. They are also fountains of knowledge, and will be encouraging you on from the side-lines as progress in your yoga journey.
And, somehow, they always seem to know just what you need that day…
Confidence outside the studio
When I first started in-person classes I was constantly looking around, trying to see if another student watching me but, whenever I checked, no one was ever looking my way.
I repeat: no one is looking at you in the studio.
No one cares what you look like with your bum stuck up in the air in downward facing dog, everyone is in the same boat. No one is looking at what you’re wearing, or counting how often you need to rest. Yoga, even in a full studio, is an intensely personal thing. It isn’t a competition. Plus, when you’re concentrating on not falling out of crow pose, you really can’t be staring round at anyone else.
I am a big believer that yoga is as much about what you take off the mat as what you do on it. By going to classes, and by realising that no one is judging me, I found a freedom that I have been able to take into other areas of my life. Whereas at one time I might have felt self-conscious even just walking from one end of the office to the other in case someone saw me and thought I was walking weird, I know now that everyone is in their own little bubble with their own lives to deal with. It’s been very liberating and given me a new found confidence.
As a wise person once said, you are only ever one yoga class away from a good mood. If being on your mat in your front room is your happy-place for yoga then keep practising there. But I invite you to start looking into your local yoga studios and gyms and seeing what is out there.
You never know what might be waiting for you.