Here’s something crazy. I’ve officially been teaching yoga for over a year now! A whole fricken YEAR! How is that even possible?
I swear it feels like just yesterday that I was gearing up to start my 200-hour yoga teacher training – and here I am now teaching multiple classes each week and working towards my 500-hour certification.
As a new teacher, I get asked a ton of questions about my classes. Like…
WTF is a “downward dog”? Is there a downward cat?
Do I have to be freakishly nimble and twist myself into a pretzel?
Will I be forced to chant something woo-woo and bizarre?
People ask because they genuinely want to know more…and if you’re new to yoga, you might be wondering the same.
So, today I’m breakin’ down the basics – Yoga 1.0 – if you will, to give you an idea of what you can expect from a typical yoga class.
First it’s important to know that there are many different styles of yoga – Hatha, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Iyengar, Restorative, Yin, Power Flow, Bikram, Viniyoga, Forrest yoga, Kundalini and Anusara, to name a few.
Each style is completely different – in terms of class sequencing and environment – but they share many of the same foundational poses (or asanas) and traditional yogic philosophies.
In a flow class for example, you are constantly moving in and out of poses – linking each movement to an inhale and exhale. This is called Vinyasa.
In other classes – such as Hatha or Restorative – you’ll hold a single pose for several breaths (or minutes) in order to stretch deeper into that pose.
Regardless of the style you choose, a typical yoga class consists of a series (or sequence) of very precise body-weight poses, postures and movements that are designed to work your entire body, helping you build strength, balance and flexibility at the same time.
The Poses (Asanas)
There are over 2,100 (possibly more) variations of poses (Downward Dog being one of them) that generally fall into one of the following categories:
- Forward Folds
- Back Bends
- Side Stretches
- Twisting or Revolved Poses
- Standing, Kneeling, Seated and Reclined Poses
- Balancing Poses
- Core Work
- Arm Balances
- Restorative Poses
Most poses have a beginner, intermediate and advanced version, and classes are generally labeled accordingly. An “all levels” class will cater to beginners and offer specific modifications or options to advance the pose.
Yoga can be practiced by ANYONE (not just by the bendy bodies who can tie themselves into knots), at any age, regardless of ability.
And a good teacher will always meet you exactly where you are in your practice and encourage you to tune in, listen to and trust your body above all else.
Nothing in yoga is forced (that includes chanting 😉 ), you simply take what you need and let go of the rest.
The nice thing about yoga is that it’s extremely personal – you can dig deep and explore the spiritual aspects of yoga or you can simply use it as a way to relax your mind and tone your body.
Practicing either – or both – will help you discover more about yourself and it’ll keep you strong, limber, balanced, healthy and happy for the rest of your life.
Who doesn’t want that?
The Class Experience
No two yoga classes are ever the same. Each teacher offers something uniquely different – from their sequence and style to their playlist (if they use music in class) and personality.
If you’re just starting out, I recommend trying as many foundational/beginner classes as possible – so that you can get a good feel for the class vibe(s) and teaching style(s) you like best.
And since I get asked so much about my format and style, here’s a look at how I structure my yoga classes.
STYLE: I teach a blend of Hatha Vinyasa yoga. Hatha meaning we hold poses and work on alignment. Vinyasa meaning we flow, linking movement to breath.
THEMES: I love working themes into my classes. It could be a physical theme (like balance or strength) or a quality (like awareness or kindness) that we practice on the mat and then try to incorporate into life off the mat.
I also like designing my classes around the seasons (ie…an energizing spring flow; a slow, restorative winter yin class) and holidays (like a Valentine’s Day heart opening practice; or spooky Halloween-themed class.)
MUSIC: Some teachers prefer silence, and while I appreciate and value the importance of quiet stillness, evoking emotion and creating a mood with music is an absolute must for me.
I make a different playlist for every.single.class. and I always pair the music with the movements we’re practicing – slow, chill, meditative music at the beginning and end, upbeat and energizing tunes as we move through Sun Salutes and build heat.
CONNECTION: I always start my class with a short guided-meditation. This gives everyone a chance to slow down, settle into their space, breathe deeply and connect with the present moment.
I might also share a beautiful quote or introduce the theme/intention of the class at this time.
OPENING: Then we begin to warm up the body with simple stretches, twists and movements that open the muscles and joints; and prepare the body for the more intense poses and postures that will follow.
BUILD HEAT: Here we flow through a series of poses, linking breath to each movement.
This usually consists of a few rounds of Sun Salutations or Mini Vinis (a name I use to describe teeny, tiny, mini vinyasas) that increase blood flow, energy and heat in the body.
PEAK POSE(S): This is the pose (or poses) that we’ve been warming up for and working up to. Our bodies and minds are prepared, so now we can tackle the peak pose(s).
COOL DOWN: Now it’s time to slow things down with a series of gentle stretches – usually seated or reclined – that cool the body, calm the breath and slow the heart rate down.
SAVASANA: Everyone’s favorite part of class. Savasana is the final resting pose that is practiced in every yoga class (not just mine). It signifies the death or end of the practice and the rebirth into life off the mat.
Savasana is the perfect opportunity for introspection and relaxation – it provides space and stillness for the student to let go completely – to surrender and to feel the effects of their practice sink in.
CLOSING: After Savasana we come to a simple seated position, revisiting the theme of class and sealing our practice with gratitude.
Class ends with a bow (from teacher to student and student to teacher) and the greeting, Namaste – which means the light in me honors and appreciates the light in you.
And since breathing is kind of important 😉, in yoga we also practice using the breath to help us move, stretch and expand and we learn to control and optimize the breath through various breathing techniques or exercises called pranayama.
This might include making the in-breath and out-breath equal in length (samavritti), or exhaling as you constrict the muscles at the back of the throat (ujjayi), or simply inhaling good shit, exhaling bullshit. 😁
There you have it. A sneak-peek into the world of yoga.
If you’re still super curious, why not pop into a beginner’s class and give it a try?
Of if you live in Chicago (near Midway airport) come check out one of my “all-levels” classes at PUSH Indoor Cycling.
I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30pm and every other Saturday at 9:30am. I’d love to see you there!
I’d also love to hear your thoughts (and/or questions) about yoga.
Do you practice? If so, what has your experience been?
Is it something you want to try? And what’s holding you back?
Let me know in the comments below.