Going to a new class can be very daunting for many people. If you have never done any yoga before, you can really feel like you are stepping into the unknown. You may have some ideas of what Yoga is, and aren’t sure if you are going to like it. That is ok.
The very first class I went to, when I was a very silly 19 year old, I got into such an uncontrollable fit of giggles with my best friend that we had to leave. It was a long time before I tried Yoga again, and I took it far more seriously and fell in love with it.
You will find that I use a lot of Sanskrit in my class. I don’t use the westernised names for postures. I will talk about Meru Asana rather than ‘Downward Dog’, for example. You may also find, if you have come across Sanskrit in other Yoga styles, that some of the names I use are slightly different. The words I use are the ones taught in the particular tradition I was trained in, which is known nowadays as Gitananda Yoga. Gitananda Yoga is a very traditional style of Hatha Yoga, which places a great deal of importance on the traditional language and teaching style.
Your body is the teacher, not me
It is vitally important that you pay heed to your body, and respond to what it is telling you. If your knees hurt and you would be more comfortable sitting on a chair, listen to your body and ask for a chair. If you are in any pain in a posture, if your muscles are shaky and struggling, pull back or come out of the posture. This is the most important thing I can tell you, apart from to remember to breathe. Listen to my guidance, but if your body tells you something else, you listen to that over me. If you need to sit a posture out, if you need to rest, if you need to drink some water or visit the toilet, you do what your body needs. Yoga helps to foster greater awareness of, and connection to, your body, so the more you listen to the signals you are getting, the more you will benefit.
Not an exercise class
The style of Yoga I teach is a very traditional one. It is very focused on balancing body and mind, and training the body and mind to recognise the difference between tension and ‘non-tension’.
Yoga is a system for living, it is not an exercise class, and while the postures do create strength and flexibility in the body, the greatest reward, and the goal of these postures, is balance of mind and body, and personal growth. You may come to Yoga because you want to improve the health and fitness of your body, and you will achieve this along with a whole lot more. As Max Strom, author of the beautiful ‘A Life Worth Breathing’ wrote, paraphrasing John Lennon
“Yoga is what happens to you when you think you are getting fit” (not an exact quote, I need to revisit to get the exact quote!)
We work a lot with the breath, developing deeper and fuller breaths. This is the most effective way to create balance in the body and mind. Learning good breathing can be totally transformational for your mental and physical health. It certainly has been for me.
The classes I teach follow a fairly predictable structure. There will be a lot of repetition, which is, of course, the only way to learn and train your body and mind to do anything new. If you come regularly, you will learn the format of the classes. The postures might change from time to time, but the structure will stay the same.
You can get a taste of the way I teach in this 45 minute class video, but as most of my classes are 90 minutes in length, this is only a taster
Class begins with a few minutes of ‘quiet sitting’. During this time we will be focusing on the breath, and training the mind to focus on one thing at a time. There will be considerable mental resistance to this, as your mind wants to think about everything all at once. Remember during this that not being able to focus the mind is completely normal. You will find your mind wanders a lot. The growth comes in every time you notice its wanderings and return to the breath, even if that focus only stays for half an inhalation. Each time you bring it back, you are training it that you want to focus.
I will bring you out of quiet sitting with 3 ‘Om’ chants. Om is a very special sound in yoga, and I think it is important to include it in the class. You can join in if you want, or you can opt out. I will have my eyes closed throughout, and will not ask anyone to join in if you don’t want to. After this I will chant the Guru Gayatri, which is a chant to acknowledge the generations of Gurus that have shared the teachings I was trained in, to thank them and to ask for the wisdom of the teachings in the class. I will not expect anyone else to join me in this, but I will make the words available to you if you would like to learn them and join in.
The Jattis are a series of small movements that will loosen the joints in the body ready for the pranayama and asanas. We will begin at the feet, and gradually work the way up to the head and neck. These movements are designed to release tension in your body, to warm the muscles up and get you ready for the more demanding postures that will come later. They are both relaxing and energising at the same time, I have delivered sessions where all I have had time to do is jattis and a short relaxation, and people have still had plenty of benefit.
As you might expect from a teacher whose main website is called Balance and Breathe, and who has the word ‘Breathe’ tattooed on her wrist, I, like my teachers, place a great deal of importance on the breath. It is through the breath that we can control the emotions, regulate the stress response and relax the body and mind. We will maintain awareness of, and connection to the breath throughout the practice, and we will do postures that are specifically designed to strengthen the lungs and boost lung function. The better your breath, the better your life, and yoga is the perfect vehicle to help you improve your breath. You may find that your breath is quite shallow to start, this is normal. In time, and with regular practice, you will find that your lung capacity increases and your breaths become deeper.
The postures of Yoga are called Asana in yoga philosophy. We will do a variety of postures which will balance, tone, relax and strengthen the body, and the mind. Gitananda Yoga places great importance on maintaining balance between tension and ‘non tension’, learning the different between stress and relaxation. Because of this, we hold the postures for as long as needed to experience the tension, then after each posture, we take a moment to relax and bring the body back to rest. This trains the mind to recognise the difference between stress and relaxation, and to be able to let go of tension when it is no longer needed, a vital skill for daily life. There will be standing postures, balance postures, seated postures, and lying postures. We will revisit the same postures often to help you to become skilful in them – better to be able to learn a few really well than to mix up lots and never really learn any well.
This may be the most important part of the class. After the postures and the tension they create, we relax the body and mind fully, with a 10 minute quiet relaxation. I will guide you into relaxation then leave you in peace to absorb the relaxation. We will work with a number of relaxation practices, and I will teach you techniques you can try at home when you need to relax. A yoga practice without relaxation at the end can leave you with too much tension through the body and mind, it really is vitally important. I used to go to yoga classes and not fully participate in relaxation, and then would go home to a bottle of wine or an evening in the pub with lots of smoking, clearly not anywhere near relaxed enough! Your body temperature will drop during relaxation so make sure you bring a blanket to cover yourself with.
At the end of each class, we finish with the Shanti Mantra. You can learn more about this here. Again, you don’t have to participate in this if you don’t want to, but please don’t get up and leave until we have finished
Water is essential for bodily health, so at various points through the class I will guide the whole class to drink some water. I encourage plain or fizzy water, without any flavouring, and especially not any sugary drinks, to promote maximum health benefits for your yoga class. Please make sure you bring a bottle of water to class with you.
As you can see, there is a lot to each yoga class you attend. You will get such a lot of benefits from each and every aspect of the class, and I look forward to seeing you grow as you deepen your practice.
You can find out about all my classes and workshops on the class timetable page, and any questions you might have may be answered here, but do feel free to get in touch if you need to know anything else.