There's certainly something about going to a yoga class. You come out feeling so much better than when you walked in. You stretch, you move, you breathe; it all feels amazing. But what makes going to a yoga class so special besides feeling great afterward? To help answer that, let's look at some of the ways that people are getting their yoga fix these days.
Not Just A Fad
It's probably safe to say that yoga is not just fad. As it has made it's way into the mainstream, more and more people have jumped on the bandwagon and they're still riding the yoga trail! Yoga is here to stay, folks! More studios are popping up around town these days. You can take anything from hot yoga, to core strengthening, to group chanting classes. Yoga has become so much a part of the normal culture that it's quite easy to access. Not only are people hitting the new studios, but they are satisfying their yoga-need with other means.
The Self-Help Aisle
There was a time that the self-help aisle at your local book store was lined with books to assist you through challenging relationships, emotional distress, dieting techniques, and astrological guidance. Alongside these PhD-written helping aids are books to teach you how to practice yoga in your own home. You can find everything from mindful meditation to weight loss using the art of yoga. As fast as these books are appearing on the top shelves, they are just as quickly flying off of them. Beginners, or those that are intrigued by this yoga thing, are picking up these guides, thumbing through the pages, and wondering if this stuff really works. They are not quite ready to step into an actual studio, but they are buying one of these books to give it a try.
It's Not IKEA
There are some pretty good books for the home-yogi out there. They provide accurate, precise, and definitive direction accompanied by colorful pictures of skillful yogis demonstrating each pose. Now, if you're good at following written instructions, then these books can be a great help to you as you step into the yoga world. However, practicing yoga from a book can also be a challenge, especially for the new yogi. It's like reading a set of instructions to build a piece of furniture, but you're not exactly sure what the final product is supposed to look like. Yes, you have a photo reference, but what if you're body doesn't exactly match that very flexible yogi in the picture? “How the heck did they do that?” You might ask yourself. How can you be sure you're even doing the pose correctly? Does your body look like theirs? What does the posture supposed to feel like? You might find yourself constantly asking "am I doing this right?” And if the answer is “no,” you might feel discouraged, toss the book aside, and decide maybe this yoga craze isn’t for you.
And now with the social media hype, everyone (and their dog) are posting yoga pictures of themselves (and their dog) online. Today, there’s a plethora of websites, videos, and now an array of mobile apps that feature yoga; you can take our practice just about anywhere. You can prop up your tablet on the backyard deck and do Sun Salutations with famous yoga gurus from around the globe. You can fire up that app on your mobile device on the subway train and listen to a soothing voice guide you through a meditation practice. Or subscribe to an online yoga class and be led through a series of yoga sequences all at the tap of a few buttons while you're in your pajamas in the living room.
All of these are wonderful ways to keep yoga alive and present in your daily lives. But let's go back to that original question: what is it about going to an actual yoga class that is extra special?
I Need Some Help Over Here
Something you get in a yoga class, and not really from a book, video, or app, is individual attention from the teacher. That is, if you're struggling with a pose or need some simple guidance and assistance, a yoga teacher is right there to give you one-on-one assistance and feedback. An instructor can provide hands-on adjustments when your hips aren't square in a particular pose. Your teacher is there to provide personal verbal cues, too, to help modify transitions from pose to pose. They can even hold you up while you're trying to balance your body in a Half Moon Pose.
In a yoga class, the instructor is another set of eyes for you. They see YOU! And because they can see you, they can help you. That's something NO book or video can provide. With a yoga instructor there, you'll also see fast improvements to your practice. A mobile app obviously cannot see you, so a missing link to the practice is the personal instruction to help move you forward on your yoga journey. Yes, these apps and videos do have an encouraging component ('That's right! You can do it! Keep going!'). But you don't know if you're actually doing the poses right. And if you can't do the pose, you're less likely to try it. For all the video knows, you may be stuck in a binding yoga posture, or just sitting on the sofa watching the video trying to absorb the practice through osmosis! In a class, you have to put in some effort; you have to work. And when you devote the time and effort to the practice with the encouragement and personal assistance from your instructor, you're more likely to reach your personal goals.
Three’s A Crowd
Although yoga is considered a practice to "tune-in" and be "one" with yourself, yoga can be a communal experience. Entering into a yoga studio is like entering a village where everyone speaks the same language. This is your tribe. You are all there for the same reason. You gather together in the space with your yoga mats all lined up and you delve into your individual practice - together. It is said that the energy generated in the room creates a powerful resonance within you; it raises the energy of empowerment and enlightenment simply because you're all practicing together. There is a true sense of "belonging" when you're in the class. You come together as a community to do something that can be difficult and hard. You look to your left and see Nancy struggling with her balancing pose. You look to your right and see Charles sweating profusely. Seeing these things can actually encourage you and remind you that we're all human: we make mistakes, we struggle, we have hard times, and we sweat. It's hard out there, but with a little support from your neighbors, it can make getting through those challenges a little easier.
Now, this doesn't mean you have to throw away those yoga books or delete those apps from your mobile device. You can still use them as supplements to your regular yoga practice among teachers and other yogis. They are very handy and useful, and it's great that we have them at our disposal. Use them when you're on vacation and want to continue your daily practice. Learn more about some yoga history or different styles of yoga. Refer to them for help while engaging in a mindful meditation practice when you're at the office. But just remember, it's that special "je ne sais quoi" that you receive and embody when you roll out that yoga mat in your neighborhood yoga studio.