Although I’m sure it remains an unpopular opinion with yoga teachers and students alike, I still feel strongly that yoga classes should be a learning environment as opposed to a practice environment. I went on at length about this point in my Slow Yoga Series. To summarize my point from that series, I believe yoga should be learned from an instructor in class and but the practice should happen at home. But that’s not the way it works.
Yoga classes today aren’t really classes. The “class” is a guided yoga workout rather than a yoga lesson. Students expect this. Modern yogis use studio classes as their yoga practice, never (or hardly ever) rolling out their mats at home. They rely on the yoga instructor to guide them through a practice a few times per week and call it done. Showing up and participating in class counts as practice. Teachers expect this as well and endeavor to guide a class through a sequence with cues and demonstrations but aren’t able to teach much more than modifications.
Students come to a sixty-minute class prepared for a sixty-minute sequence rather than a classroom experience so in-depth teaching is relegated to workshops and retreats. Gone are the days when we studied yoga; when we learned technique and theory from a teacher and then took it home to practice over and over, making a study of yoga. Yoga students today aren’t really students of yoga, and teachers have become trainers. Love it or hate it; that’s our reality now that yoga has gone mainstream.
Throw a spending fast into the mix. Yoga classes are non-essential spending, especially if I’m practicing instead of learning. I can practice at home for free. Private lessons that would enable studying yoga with a teacher are even more expensive than group classes, so not a better option. Unless I can find a teacher who might let me trade work for instruction, home yoga practice is pretty much where a thrifty yogi settles. And so I have though I resist thinking of it as settling. If I truly want to study something I can find ways to do it and still stay on the no-spending track.
One way is to watch streaming yoga classes before I practice them. I’m serious. I study the class before I practice with the class. I started doing this in November after my last studio package was exhausted. Free yoga classes are available online. For a very low cost ($5 per month in one case) I can subscribe to an entire library of digital classes. If I watch before I join in I can write down the sequence, take notes as I go, stop the action and replay something that needs better examination, and listen without the task of executing the direction. More information gets in because I’m not putting out (so to speak). I learn more and I retain more. Sometimes I watch the class, practice the sequence later from my notes, and then practice along with the video the next day. Sometimes I will spend a week studying and practicing the same sequence, learning something new with every review.
Years ago I practiced with an instructor who joked to me that she couldn’t watch “yoga on the TV” because the compulsion to stop and watch was too strong. She’d end up sitting on her mat watching the class instead of practicing. I laughed along with her at the time but now I get it. She was probably starving for some honest-to-goodness instruction and learning instead of monkey see/monkey do yoga. Around the same time I took a workshop from an instructor who spent four hours breaking down the nuances, transitions, and breathwork of Triangle Pose. Four hours on one pose? You betcha. The reason the yogis of days gone by spent all damn day studying with their gurus is that it took all damn day to teach and learn yoga.
While none of us have all damn day, we do have more time than we believe. If we think we’ve only got one hour a day for yoga, we can still use it to study yoga versus going through the motions. A one-hour video only takes one hour to watch. Practicing the sequence from my notes can be done in one hour. Practicing with the video takes one hour. That’s three hours spent on the same sequence. You think I’m not going to learn more in three hours than I would in one? I will. I do.
Not that video yoga can ever replace a real-life and real-time experience, lest the flesh and blood teachers struggling to pay rent think I’m suggesting that—I’m not. I’m suggesting it as a supplementary resource and as a frugal way to squeeze more value and more learning out of that resource. It’s still not a solution to everything. Still not ideal or perfect. It’s one small thing I can do to be a student of yoga rather than a participant, and a small way to keep me aligned with my desire to stay on this spending fast.
One of the eight branches of yoga is niyama, positive behaviors or observances. Niyama includes tapas, passionate discipline, fiery desire, clearing out the crap that keeps us stupid and lazy (such as excuses). If “I don’t have enough money” is an excuse, then a spending fast is an example of tapas. If “I can’t find any free classes” is an excuse, then streaming classes are an example of tapas. If “today’s yoga classes are workouts instead of lessons” is an excuse, making a study of them is an example of tapas. If “I don’t have three hours to spend studying one thing” is an excuse, one hour a day for three days is tapas.
It’s a practice.
It’s a practice.
It’s a practice.
The more we practice, the better we practice—the poses, the niyama, the tapas.
–Tara Taunt Tonakihis