I regularly come across blog posts and articles on the importance of a home practice. I can wholeheartedly say that my home practice is the only thing allowing me to live a sane life right now. However, I think the other side, the group class side, is less discussed. In this two-part post I'm going to discuss the importance of the group practice and the home practice and how they can serve two, sometimes very different, purposes.
I teach a lot of yoga and I teach primarily group yoga classes. My classes vary in size from two to fifty students. No matter the size of the class, every one of my group classes have one thing in common: It's a group of people who all chose to come to their yoga mat at that particular time. Everyone has different reasons to come to their mat and that's what is truly beautiful about a group practice. No matter what you look like, no matter your job title or marital status, whether you plan to nail Handstand or just breathe fully for sixty minutes, even if you had a shitty day, none of that matters when you step onto your mat. The group practice allows for a bunch of humans to be in their practice together.
I often reflect upon my favorite aspects of my job. It always comes down to the people. The notion that I wouldn't know the people who walk into my classes if I didn't teach yoga swirls around in my brain often. I know that sounds incredibly obvious and is true for any occupation, but I'm an introverted 30 year old female living in Minneapolis. My bubble is quite small. Teaching yoga to groups of people has allowed me to create meaningful connections with devoted mothers and fathers, restauranteurs, professional athletes, musicians, driven entrepreneurs, artists, and the list could go on and on. These people come from all walks of life to join in the practice of yoga. The community that is formed through a group class is often unspoken and unrealized in the moment. A student might not know the name of the person next to them and they probably won't even look at the other student after class, but the space they share during their practice is incredibly powerful.
Let's not forget about the role of the teacher. In a group class the teacher creates a safe space for the students to move, breathe, and explore. The space is there, the time is carved out, and the distractions are (hopefully) minimized in a group setting. In the group practice the teacher allows for the student to turn off their busy mind and just focus on what's happening on their yoga mat. As I greet students when they walk into the studio I regularly hear "I really need this today." Students play so many roles outside of their yoga practice (parent, employee, sibling, therapist, etc.) and in those roles they have to make a lot of decisions. To have a committed amount of time where someone else just tells them what to do can be priceless.
Of course the teacher is also there to provide instruction throughout class. Without an outside eye it's challenging to know if your front knee is in an optimal alignment in Warrior II. Even the most "advanced" yogis can use the helpful reminder of "straighten your back leg" in Side Angle Pose. Although my teaching style is very much my own, I take my role as a teacher very seriously. As a teacher I want to teach my students something. Typically I'm harping on alignment and teaching my students about a very specific posture, but the lessons learned in a yoga class can vary greatly. I'm not great with the feel-good dharma talk, but I've learned so many beautiful and inspiring things from teachers who have the ability to weave a poignant story or theme into their classes.
When left to my own devices I'll just chill in Child's Pose and Savasana for a good portion of my practice. Those postures are useful and have their purpose, but sometimes I need a little kick in the ass to move into postures I don't necessarily love. That's when the group class can be extremely helpful. Just the other day I took a group class. I felt tired and sluggish as I rolled out my yoga mat. However, as we were further into practice, the teacher gave the option for Eka Pada Galavasana (aka my least favorite arm balance ever) and I actually gave it a shot. A little nudge from a teacher can be exactly what we need to progress in our practice.
Lastly, I can't leave out the lessons students can learn from other students in a group setting. If you're a regular practitioner you might notice the progression of those around you. Although yoga is a personal practice you might notice the girl on the blue mat got her full bind in Triangle Pose this week, or dude with the man-bun is taking good care of himself today and hanging in Child's Pose for most of the class. Without attaching judgement or comparisons, simply observing another person's practice can be a beautiful part of your own practice. Earlier this summer I took a class in LA. I didn't know the teacher and I didn't know any of my fellow students, however, I was still apart of the community even if it was for that one class. The teacher that day was guiding us toward Pincha Mayurasana--Feather Peacock and because of his skillful instructions a student was able to get into the posture. She got up, eventually came down, and then instantly started to cry. Out loud she said, "I've never been able to get up into that posture before!" Her energy and passion was contagious. I felt myself starting to tear up. I was so honored to be able to witness a moment that meant so much to that student.
Of course we can't forget that the group practice allows for you to witness situations similar to this: