how to rapidly improve your hatha yoga practice in Group Classes
Have you ever felt lost in a large group hatha yoga class? Have you been practicing for a while and feel like you’ve hit a bit of a wall in terms of your progress? Have you ever walked out of class saying “that’s gonna hurt tomorrow” (and not in a good way)?
Well you are certainly not alone! In fact, group classes have gotten a bit of slack in the media lately for all of those very reasons. If you do any vigorous activity incorrectly you can get hurt and hatha yoga is no exception. With up to 60 students (or more!) and one teacher in a room we need to be present to our inner teacher to keep us safe.
Get to know your inner teacher on the mat with the following 3 offerings and If you listen closely enough, you are getting private instruction ALL THE TIME!
Rule #1- SLOW DOWN!
In my classes you will often hear me ask my students to repeat an activity at half their normal speed, and then again at half that speed. So much nuance and learning is lost when we move at hyper speed, unaware of what we are doing. That leads to injury. A great example of this is how people lift a leg from downward facing dog into three-legged dog. We perform this activity upwards of 20 times in a flow class with little awareness of how the leg and foot are tracking. Not paying attention to this can aggravate low back issues, cause low back issues, and reinforce muscle imbalances, to name a few.
Try this as a home experiment: Begin in downward facing dog. From there lift one leg up and back behind you. Observe. Is the leg straight? Are you reaching through the heel and flexing the foot? Are all five toes facing down toward the floor? Is the low belly hugging up and in to support the low back?
All of the answers to the above should be YES. Try it again, on your own, with all of those things. Observe. Repeat on the other side.
The next time you are in a group class see if you can notice some other places where you move very quickly. Slow down and observe.
Rule #2- STAY ON YOUR MAT
This one can be particularly tricky since some times in large classes mats are so jammed together that you are literally on someone else’s mat! That issue aside, forget hatha yoga class as an imitation model, (one where you see the teacher or a student next to you do something then you try and make your body look like that) but instead go within. I cannot stress this one enough- it does not matter at all what anyone else is doing or what they look like. If your thoughts or eyes begin to wander- return to your mat and simply, observe.
Try this for a practice: If there is a pose you really want to do, that you have seen someone else in class doing- think of an adjective that describes how it looks- and try and express that adjective. For example, I could say that forearm stand looks: majestic. When it comes time for me to practice my forearm stand- instead of trying to look like So-and-so I simply try and look majestic.
Rule #3- THE 100% RULE
The Yoga Sutras tell us that the asanas should be preformed with a balance of effort and ease. The place where you feel a balance of both is your 100%. Often I look at a group of students and they are muscling their way into a pose. Faces are strained, winces can be heard, the bodies all seem locked up and there is barely any breath. They’ve gone past their 100%. Other times I can see students resting in a pose- seeming bored even- they are operating below their 100%. Both of these students will find it hard to progress and open themselves up to injury. By identifying your 100% you can then move forward! From a safe and knowledge based place you advance your yoga!
Try this for a practice: The next time you are in class-Keep a soft focus or even close your eyes (where it is appropriate) and go inside. Observe. In the action you are performing do you feel effort AND ease? Do you feel more effort and need more ease? Do you feel too much ease and need more effort? Seek balance.
All of the offerings above boil down to tuning authentically into your body, your practice and greatest of all- your inner teacher! Namaste!
Nicole Katz, is the co-founder of Yoga 216