Is yoga on your New Year's Resolutions list?

Wednesday, 08 January 2014 10:14


If practicing yoga is on your New Year's Resolutions List, be sure to choose a yoga class that’s right for you.  Here’s how to sort the wheat from the chaff and find the class that's right for you...


4 Steps to finding the yoga class that's right for you: 


1. Identify what it is you seek in yoga


People initially come to yoga seeking something. Sometimes that something is very specific.  It might be a particular lineage of yoga, such as Hatha yoga, Iyengar Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga.  It might be what they think of as a more meditative practice, easy on the body gentle on the mind.  Or it could be a yoga practice that is challenging, both physically and mentally. Sometimes people are not quite sure what that ‘something’ is exactly, but they’ve heard enough about yoga to know yoga offers stress relief and are ready to give it try.  Are you ready to try yoga or looking for a yoga class that’s right for you?  


To begin, consider what it is you think you are looking for in yoga.  Is it physical fitness, injury management/rehabilitation, stress relief, meditation, or spiritual awareness?  It may be just one or even all of these things.  Once you have identified what it is you seek you will know what to look for when researching descriptions of yoga classes in your area and be in a good position to make an informed start.  The next step is to find a yoga class that will address your initial search most directly.


2. Choose a yoga class that’s right for you 


Yoga can mean different things to different people.  The beauty of yoga is that its true meaning is captured within the word itself.  The root of yoga, ‘yog’, means to unify and that overused catchphrase ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’ really is the essence of yoga.  Yoga offers a practice that brings together the Intellectual Self with the Physical Self as the key to finding the quietness of the True Self within. Think for a moment about the implication of unifying mind, body and spirit in relation to your outlook on life.  


How ever a yoga class is branded, be it Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, Hot Yoga or Hatha, it might come as a surprise to learn all traditionally based yoga systems that embrace asana (the physical postures of yoga) are in essence Hatha Yoga. This is acknowledged by all the great yoga Gurus of our time including BKS Iyengar, Sri K Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar.  Every legitimate lineage of modern day yoga traces back to these three Hatha Gurus and their teacher Krishnamacharya. From Krishnamacharya the yoga path traces back much further to the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, teachings many thousands of years old as relevant today as ever before.  


There seem to be so many styles of yoga now, old and new.  Why is this so?  Perhaps the answer to that question has more to do with commercialism than yoga.  Regardless, the path to finding what you seek on the yoga path is to know what you are looking for and then simply to try a variety of yoga classes until you find a yoga ‘style’ that resonates with you initially.  Whether it is a quiet meditative yoga class, a dynamic vinyasa yoga class, a hot yoga class or a yoga class with a deeply contemplative postural alignment focus, try different yoga classes that offer variation on what you have decided to look for in yoga and get a feel for each.  Find a class that resonates with you and remember you can always refine that choice later.


3. Choose a ‘style’ of yoga that works for you now


The following is offered as a guideline rather than absolute definitions of the major yoga styles:


Ashtanga Yoga – Hatha Yoga that focuses heavily on the physical practice of yoga postures as a discipline to prepare the student for the spiritual journey of the yoga path. Seek Ashtanga classes that have an established teaching lineage to Mysore with certified teachers.


Bikram Yoga – a physical based yoga practice performed in a heated room following a set sequence of yoga postures.  Seek a registered Bikram studio and take a towel.


Hatha Yoga – classes generally presented as Hatha Yoga in Australia tend to favour a gentle approach to the physical practice of postures (asana) and often combine yoga with New Age spiritual concepts. Seek Hatha classes that balance the yoga asana with the essential components of breath awareness and focused quietening of mind.  It is a good idea to try more than one yoga centre or yoga studio to find a class that is right for you. Hatha yoga classes can vary greatly given the plethora of low entry barrier yoga teacher training courses now available, some offering certified training in as little as four weeks.  Look for a certified and experienced teacher. 


Hot Yoga – similar to Bikram yoga without the Bikram trademark or certification process.  Seek a qualified and experienced teacher.  


Iyengar Yoga – Hatha Yoga that develops self awareness through an ever deepening focus of postural alignment within the asana (physical postures of yoga).  Iyengar yoga is a challenging practice that requires perseverance.  The rewards of Iyengar yoga lie within dedicated practice by the student.  Seek a certified Iyengar yoga teacher.


Vinyasa Yoga – Hatha Yoga that prioritises the dynamic sequencing of yoga postures.  The word vinyasa simply means movement between poses in yoga governed by regulated breathing and is often used more as a descriptive marketing term for yoga classes rather than as a reflection of a specific yoga lineage. Seek a qualified and experienced teacher.  


Xanadu Yoga – a generic term coined by this blog writer for the latest and greatest whizz bang spandex clad yoga style that’s popped up overnight.  These styles of yoga usually offer extremes of either under or over practice hell bent on exploiting current fitness or New Age trends rather than honouring a specific yogic lineage.  Classes are often accompanied by dance music or rainforest soundtracks.  Enter at your own risk.


3. Find a certified yoga teacher


Always ensure your yoga teacher is qualified to teach yoga and is certified by a relevant industry association, namely Yoga Australia (YA), the International Yoga Teachers Association (IYTA), or the BKS Iyengar Yoga Teachers Association of Australia (BKSIYAA).  Yoga Teacher qualifications vary greatly in quality, standard and duration so it is worth the effort to try several teachers until you find a teacher you have confidence in.  Not only does a Yoga Industry Association membership ensure your yoga teacher is qualified and insured to teach yoga, it demonstrates a commitment to ongoing professional training as perpetual learning is a prerequisite of membership.


Certification, insurance and ongoing training are important boxes to tick when looking for a yoga teacher.  Remember though, just like yoga students, yoga teachers are Human Beings.  They come in all shapes and sizes and have their own personality.  Allow for this along side your expectation of professional conduct.  At the start of the yoga path it can be encouraging to find a teacher who resonates with you as this helps to build confidence in your practice.  Ultimately, however, keep in mind it is the practice of yoga itself and not the individual teacher that becomes the true guide on the yoga path.  Without practice, there is no yoga.  


Once you have found what you are looking for, make a commitment to yourself to stick with classes for the next 6 to 12 months with the specific purpose of establishing a sound foundation yoga practice.  If you make this commitment it is fair to expect a reciprocal commitment from your yoga teacher to teach you the foundation practice of yoga within the same timeframe.  Teaching and learning is a two way street. 



4. Evolve your practice with an experienced teacher


Once you have established a sound foundation it is important to evolve your yoga practice. A regular committed practice will help evolve your yoga at a steady rate.  Sometimes moving forward needs to be a conscious choice. A telling sign you are ready to take your practice to the next level is usually when you feel overly comfortable in a particular class. Perhaps the asana at that level have become easy for you or the challenge has gone from the sequences presented.  This is the time to try classes at the next level, move from the Beginners Yoga Class to a Level 1 class, or from a Level 1 class to a Level 2 class, and so on.  


Yoga is a journey rather than a destination, that is why it is called the Yoga Path. Try not to confuse the journey with a race, for ultimately the destination is not as important as the experience reaching it.  Besides, destinations can shift.  We sometimes think we have arrived where we want to be only to discover there is more to learn further down the track.  Enjoy your yoga and the evolution of practice will take care of itself over a whole lifetime.



About the author Tom Schroeter 


Tom Schroeter (YA) is a fulltime Yoga Teacher at Yoga Path in Newport. Yoga Path is principally an Iyengar Yoga Studio guided by the stewardship of Principal Nicole Schroeter (BKSIYAA).  Nicole is a certified Intermediate Junior 1 Iyengar Yoga Teacher.  Both Tom and Nicole have practiced and taught yoga for many years and are committed to helping others explore the yoga path in meaningful and enlightening ways.  Reach Tom here

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