Controversial

The “yoga” class has died out

Imagine you want to start yoga. You’re full of good intentions, but you’re also nervous and you have no clue how to do this. Naturally, you Google search – and you’re horrified and confused.

You realise that “yoga” classes don’t exist. Sure enough, you’re on a “yoga” studio website, but the place offers something called “Power Vinyasa”.  What’s vinyasa? Never mind, you keep looking. But it only gets weirder: There are Kundalini classes. Jivamukti classes. Bikram, Yin, Sivananda, Barkan, Forrest, Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga, Ishta, Vini, and some places offer “Bhakti yoga” (well, at least there’s the word yoga in there), or Kirtan, Satsang, Nidra (who knew there was such a thing as “yogic sleep”? Weren’t we looking at moving our bodies?).

yoga adjustment

One of those “easy” postures that need clear guidance and strong foundations

I get it, I really do. Studios want to be precise, they want to make sure that experienced students find classes that suit them – relaxing, sweaty, powerful, meditative, you name it. But how about people who are new to yoga? And when have the class levels disappeared? Am I the only one remembering yoga schedules indicating: Level 1, Level 2, Level 3? A studio owner recently told me that she decided to remove level indicators from the schedule because “no one wants to come to a level 1 class, no one wants to be a level 1 student”.

Level 1 classes, apparently, aren’t commercially viable and, let’s not forget – a yoga studio is a business. Most people would have some sort of physical or movements background, having gone to the gym or running. They consider themselves to be sporty and therefore not a “level 1 student”. But isn’t that like saying: “Oh I’m an experienced runner, I don’t need to take tennis lessons to learn how the movements work”?

Bottom line: New yogis are being given a hard time – finding the right class, style and appropriate level on a schedule without any levels indicated is a huge challenge, particularly if you have no idea what yoga is “supposed” to be like. Your first class will be your only yoga reference point (maybe apart from Youtube videos…).

Some studios offer “Yoga Beginners Courses” and I think that’s just awesome! There’s no need to label yoga, at least not at this stage. And in a way, in yoga it’s like in music: The underlying theme is the same. Check out this video (it will be the best 5 min of your day, promise!), watched over 30 million times – isn’t it just the same with yoga?

Don’t ALL types of yoga strike the same basic chords?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

~ Andrea

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24 replies »

  1. i agree! these are some great thoughts. it really helps when studios offer an “intro,” “community,” or “bring a friend” class—much more approachable for those wanting to explore yoga.

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  2. I go to a yoga studio that offers ‘essential’ and ‘open’ classes. I prefer these distinctions to the more specific ‘levels’ The ‘essential’ classes are aimed at beginners and are a good introduction into the foundation of vinyasa yoga. They are structured into 5 core themes but it doesn’t really matter when you come to them. The ‘open’ classes are aimed at all levels with instructions given for variations from the basic to the much more advanced. I’ve been doing yoga for 5 years but every now and again I like to do an ‘essentials’ class, to get back to the foundations. These classes are slower and so provide an opportunity to be more mindful. My studio also offers a ‘progressive’ class which it is at pains to distinguish from ‘advanced'; they are an opportunity to extend and play, no matter what your level.

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    • Very good point, you’re absolutely right! Some studios here offer “basics” classes that get great reviews from both beginners and seasoned yogis and one studio has a class called “yoga playground” where a teacher will monitor students who want to experiment with new or tricky postures.
      So there is variety out there, one just needs to start digging :) Sometimes these things can be hard to find which is why I’m doing the “Best of Yoga” guide for Melbourne (other locations will follow!).

      Thanks for your comment,
      Namaste,
      Andrea

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  3. I agree completely, it has become a very dangerous place for students that require special attention whether they are beginners or they have an injury. I love teaching yoga especially Vinyassa Flow but at the same time my mind contradicts the idea of teaching 20+ students the same Flow when everybody has a different Body and requires specific attention. Watching 5 or more students in a class of 20 to chutterunga completely wrong can, in the long run, lead to injured elbows. Therefore, taking the time to break down chutterunga in a Vinyassa class is necessary when that is one of the only classes offered on the schedule. Bah! We can enjoy it as long as everyones safe and remains healthy.
    The song is relevant and completely hilarious by the way!

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  4. Great post – I love the way you use something amusing and surprising to make a very, very good point! Yes, each yoga teacher (never mind each style!) has a different emphasis, but it’s important to stay true to the heart of these practices no matter which ‘type’ of yoga we choose to use. Yoga is a tool, after all. We each have to find a version of the tool that best helps us achieve the same underlying purpose.

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  5. I was thinking about this the other day. About how yoga classifications are beneficial for some (generally the “elite”) while it creates a barrier that must be overcome by others lacking an experience but looking for an “in” with yoga and all it can offer. Never thought to compare it to music. Great post!

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  6. I own a yoga studio and I have found that our students absolutely depend on the class level indications; I, II, III or some combination. “Beginner’s Flow is the most popular class on our schedule. Those classes attract new students and surprisingly have really fantastic retention, to the dismay of our Intermediate/Advanced instructors. Sometimes we have to nudge people out! I think that as more experienced practitioners we are projecting this reticence to attend Level I classes honestly. As for taking the word yoga Yoga out of Yoga classes I think that is an interesting perspective. That’s a pretty cool way to think about how a novice reads a schedule. However, I would prefer to call all of the classes asana classes since they are not really in the most authentic sense “yoga”. Wouldn’t that be confusing!

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    • Seems like you have a great community at your studio! You’re right, it should be called asanas, not just “yoga” as that’s not the same thing… Some studios call it Hatha yoga but even that’s confusing for beginners!

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  7. I just started teaching yoga in a new country and in Portuguese!!!(which is very difficult for me).Yoga is new to the tiny island we live on, and as a teacher -who is used to teaching “experienced practitioners”, I myself am being challenged to teach at a beginner level! I have had to stop assuming that my students would/should know anything about yoga. We go back to the very beginning, a very good place to start. ;)
    Always enjoy your posts.. thanks. ~Tiff

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    • Wow, teaching in a foreign language, what a challenge! I think it’s even harder to teach beginners, you can’t just say: And now flow through your vinyasa and we meet in down dog ;) You have to post an update on how the teaching in Portuguese goes, I’m curious!

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      • I will write about my experience soon. It is very hard!!! Thankfully, i am just teaching a handful of students now, and they are wonderful. But, wow.. learning things all over again. x

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  8. I agree. Here in Geneva, they’ll usually ask you if you’ve done yoga before. If you say yes, they’ll assume you’re fine with everything. If you say no, they’ll give you a bit of guidance. But it all comes down to the instructor. Rare is she who really notices whether the yogis are able to do all the moves properly. I know one who does – she’s gold!

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  9. This is absolutely true and I think it has happened with the fitness industry in general. As popularity has risen, more people assume everyone already has the basic understanding, but that’s not always the case! Very good article.

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    • Great post, thanks for sharing – and good point. We should never feel like we “know” a posture. After well over a decade of yoga I still sometimes get adjusted in a way that is completely new to me and reveals a totally different way of looking at a “familiar” posture. But then that’s what I love about yoga, you never stop learning! :)

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  10. I completely agree with you! Our role as yoga teachers is to share this gift, so keep the marketing clear, simple and inviting. We (hopefully) are all working with the same goal – the same philosophies – in mind, so the labels are not the important part. Students will find their fit, I think, based more on an individual teachers style personality than the particular school of yoga she follows, anyway.

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