If you’re new to yoga, and thinking about starting by taking it as part of a group, there are some things you should keep in mind that will ensure that you have a good instructor and experience.
Finding a good group instructor can help prevent physical injury to your joints, lower back, shoulders and wrist while learning yoga in a group class. As a private yoga instructor, working with a client one‐to‐one, I can be attentive to and customize for the needs of a specific individual. A typical group class size can include as many as 20‐30 people, so it’s likely that the teacher won’t see everyone in such a large class and/or even notice if everyone is in proper position, which can ultimately increase your risk of physical injury. But if you’re new to yoga, and thinking about starting by taking it as part of a group, here’s what you should expect from a group teacher, and things you might want to keep in mind to compensate for the teacher being unable to pay as close attention to you as would in a private session.
Even though the instructor cannot customize the group session for you, one can distinguish a fair yoga instructor from a good one by the degree to which they focus on individual needs within the limits of the size of the class. One of the first questions I ask in a private session is whether my client is new to yoga. It’s a basic question to assess my client’s level of experience in their yoga practice. It helps me determine the structure of the session, my approach and clues me in on my client’s ability to navigate poses and set the pace of the session. I can tailor the yoga session to the needs of the individual, for example, tightness in the lower back, hamstrings, shoulders or wrist or knee pain, and work on specific injuries. While instructing one‐on‐one, my focus on the client’s form and the ease to which they move from one pose to another.
Given the sheer number of people in a group class, it’s impossible for a group instructor to maintain the same level of attention to everyone with the same intensity in a group class setting. Nonetheless, a good yoga instructor will focus on individual needs within the limits of the size of the class. So for example the yoga teacher should be walking among the students, assessing who needs assistance with a pose, and offering physical adjustments that help the students maintain proper form or body alignment. The teacher also should be scanning the class to see who is inexperienced (for example, those who are struggling with simple basic poses). The teacher should be checking with and assisting those inexperienced individuals frequently. The good instructor, while walking among the students, should be asking about physical issues and injuries. With this information, the teacher can anticipate, and offer variations of or avoid poses that those individuals may find difficult or painful. And a good instructor should also ask beforehand whether the students would like to be touched or adjusted.
Having taught groups at the Y and in various other clubs for five years, I’m keenly aware of the fact that teaching a yoga group requires a lot of concentration and effort. Some teachers lack sufficient experience and/or interest to do this difficult work well. They may not circulate enough, ask the right questions or process the answers in ways that help. Certainly teachers who “teach” without moving throughout the class ought to be viewed skeptically. Finally, the teacher should create the right atmosphere. The class yoga experience is meant to be pleasant and shouldn’t make you feel anxious which is counter the goals of yoga.
Finally, once a yoga class exceeds ten students, no matter how good the teacher, students need to pay attention to their own bodies and take care of themselves. By this I mean that, whether the instructor mentions it or not, yoga poses shouldn’t hurt. So if it does, don’t wait for the teacher who may be busy with others to make the adjustment; reposition yourself or ease out of the pose.
You should be a careful consumer in selecting the right group yoga instructor. The proliferation of yoga classes and instruction scenarios has produced something valuable for you that you should take intelligent advantage of: choice.