Checking Out Various Yoga Class Options

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So, you're sure that you want to take the Yoga plunge. What's your safest bet? To put it plainly, set your sights on a suitable Yoga class or teacher instead of sailing away as a strict do-it-yourselfer. Although you can explore some basic practices by reading about them (this book makes sure of that!), a full-fledged, safe Yoga routine really requires proper instruction from a qualified teacher. The following sections help you determine what kind of class to seek out.

Many Yoga schools offer introductory courses (four to six weeks), so you don't have to jump into the deep end. After a few classes and the benefit of an instructor's expert advice, you can certainly continue practicing and exploring Yoga on your own (see the section "Skipping Class" later in this chapter). In that case, you may still want to check in with a teacher every so often, just to make sure that you haven't acquired any bad habits in executing the various postures and other practices.

Finding a class that's right for you

If you live in a big city, you're bound to have several choices for group classes, but if you live in a small town you may have to be more resourceful. Here are some suggestions for finding the Yoga class that's right for you:

✓ Tell your friends that you want to join a Yoga class; some of them may start raving about their classes or teachers.

✓ Consult the resources we list in the appendix.

✓ Look at bulletin boards in health food stores and adult education centers.

✓ Check online resources (see the appendix).

✓ Look into possibilities at your local health club, but before joining a Yoga session, make sure that the teacher is really qualified: How much training has he or she had? Is proper certification hanging on his or her office wall?

✓ Ask your local librarian.

✓ Head toward the back of the local phone book to check out listings under Yoga Instruction.

Checking out classes and teachers

We think that visiting a few places and teachers is important before committing to a course or a series of classes. Some Yoga schools give out the telephone numbers of their teachers, and you may want to have a phone conversation before making a special trip to the school. When you visit a Yoga center or classroom, pay attention to your intuitive feelings about the place. Consider how the staff treats you and how you respond to the people attending class. Stroll around the facility and feel its overall energy. First impressions are often (although not always) accurate. Some teachers even let you quietly look in on a class; others find this practice too distracting for their students.

Bring a written checklist to your class visit. Don't feel embarrassed about being thorough. If you don't want to be so obvious, memorize the points that you want to check out. Here are some ideas for your list:

✓ How do I feel about the building or classroom's atmosphere?

✓ What's my gut response to the teacher?

✓ What are the teacher's credentials?

✓ Does the teacher or school have a good reputation?

✓ How do I respond to other students?

✓ Do the programs suit my needs?

✓ How big are the classes, and can I still get proper, individual attention from the teacher?

✓ Would I be happy coming here regularly?

When checking out a Yoga center, don't hesitate to quiz the instructor or other staff members about any concerns. In particular, find out what style of Hatha Yoga they offer. Some styles — notably Ashtanga or Power Yoga — demand athletic fitness. Others embody a more relaxed approach. In this book, we favor the latter. However, we can readily appreciate that some vigorous people may feel attracted to and benefit from yogic routines that are the equivalent of a workout and that call for strength, endurance, high flexibility, and a drench of perspiration.

If you're not familiar with the style of a particular school, don't hesitate to ask for an explanation (check out our explanation of styles in Chapter 1). Yoga practitioners are usually pretty friendly folk, eager to answer your questions and put your mind at ease. If they aren't, put a mark in the appropriate box in your mental checklist. Remember that even nice people, including Yoga practitioners, can have occasional off-days. But if you don't feel welcome and comfortable on your first visit, you probably won't receive better treatment later on.

What makes a

A good Yoga teacher should be an example of what Yoga is all about: a balanced person who isn't only skillful in the postures but also courteous and thoughtful toward others and adaptive and attentive to everyone's individual needs in class. Check out the teacher's credentials to be sure that he or she has been properly trained or is certified in one of the established traditions. Consult Chapter 23 and the appendix for our recommendations on some of the well-established larger Yoga organizations.

good teacher?

We caution you to steer clear of teachers who have taken only a few workshops on Yoga or received their diplomas in a three-day course. They may be excellent aerobics instructors who know nothing about Yoga. Also avoid the drill sergeant type or anyone who makes you feel intimidated about your level of skill in performing the postures. By the way, under no circumstances allow your instructor to push or coerce you into a posture that doesn't feel right or that causes you pain.

Making sure courses fit your experience level

If you're a beginner, look for a beginner's course. You're likely to feel more comfortable in a group that's starting at the same skill level instead of being surrounded by advanced practitioners who can perform difficult postures easily and elegantly. Whatever the skill level of a class, don't feel self-conscious. None of the advanced students will stare at you to see whether the new kid in class is any good. You may get a few encouraging smiles, though.

Beginner classes are sometimes advertised as Easy Does It Yoga or Gentle Yoga.

jUNG/ As a beginner, be leery of overly large classes (more than 20 students) or mixed-level classes that lump together Yoga freshmen with postgraduates. Your teacher can't give you the attention you deserve to ensure your safety. Keep in mind, though, that many of the more experienced teachers are quite popular, and their classes tend to be large; you may have to decide whether personal attention or a higher level of teacher experience is more important to you.

Public or private?

Decide whether you want to learn Hatha Yoga in a group or from a private instructor. In practice, most people start with a group class because of the cost and the boost in motivation that comes from practicing with other people. If you can afford private lessons, however, even a few sessions can be extremely beneficial. Importantly, if you have a serious health challenge, you need to work privately with a Yoga therapist (see the appendix for a list of organizations specializing in Yoga therapy).

Backyard studios and home classes

Throughout the world, many Yoga teachers hold sessions in their homes or in backyard studios. Don't let this practice turn you off — you may find a great opportunity. Some of the most dedicated Yoga teachers work this way because they want to avoid commercialism and the details of administering a full-scale center. Backyard studios often offer a great sense of community, and you can also expect lots of valuable, personal attention from the teacher because the groups tend to be smaller than those in larger centers.

Here's a sampling of the advantages of private lessons:

✓ You get personalized attention.

✓ You have the opportunity to interact more with the teacher during class.

✓ Your routines can vary more, with proper supervision.

✓ You can work more intensively with those exercises that are more challenging for you.

✓ If you're shy or easily distracted, you don't have to worry about the company of other people.

Here are a few advantages of group practice:

✓ You experience the support of the group.

✓ Your motivation is strengthened by seeing others succeed.

✓ You can make good, like-minded friends.

✓ Group sessions are easy on your pocketbook.

Checking the time: How long does a Yoga class last?

The length of a group Yoga class varies from 50 to 90 minutes. Health clubs, fitness spas, and corporate classes are normally 50 to 60 minutes long, but beginning classes at Yoga centers usually last from 75 to 90 minutes long. A private Yoga lesson customarily lasts one hour.

Paying the price: How much should a Yoga class cost?

In general, group Yoga classes are pretty affordable. The cheapest classes are usually available at adult education centers and community and senior centers. YMCA and YWCA classes also tend to be reasonably priced, or your health club may even include free Yoga classes as part of a fitness package. Most regular Yoga centers in metropolitan areas, however, charge on average $10 to $15 per class. A one-time drop-in fee (for those who haven't committed to taking more than one class) is usually a couple of dollars higher. Some schools offer the first class free, and others charge as much as $25.

You can do your own pricing research by phone and computer. More and more Yoga sites advertise on the Internet (see the appendix). They usually don't mention fees, but they do provide you with an e-mail address or a phone number. When you're considering a commitment to a Yoga center, check into the larger packages — they're often a good investment. Obviously, private lessons are quite a bit more expensive than group classes and range from $50 to $150.

Whenever you smell commercialism, you can be fairly sure your nose isn't deceiving you. If you're uncomfortable with the price you're quoted for Yoga classes, just search out a more reasonable offer. Here and there, you can even find free-of-charge classes, notably in Canada. Who said you can't get a free ride?

Going co-ed

Most Yoga classes welcome both genders, with an average ratio of seven women to three men enrolled in any session. Some of the more physically demanding styles of Hatha Yoga, however, attract an equal number of athletic men and women.

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