Asking people to define a “good” yoga class is like asking them to define a “good” meal. Personal taste, our history of experiences, our culture, our age, our mood, everything, can affect what we find subjectively “good.” But, there are some things we can all agree on. Good food is balanced, incorporating more than one of the 5 tastes and ideally all of them. Good food is prepared fresh with good ingredients. Good food shows off a level of attention to detail, even in the most simple meals.
There are people out there who love a sweaty yoga class; others who love a bendy one; there are more still who simply want to get upside down early and often. There are people who want pop music blasted through the speakers, people who want heat lamps and misters, people who want an instructor reading inspirational quotes into a microphone. Some people want to hear about crystals and lunar cycles, some people want nothing to do with the stuff, and some people who don’t think a class is complete without chanting. Sometimes I’m amazed when I take a class I’m quite certain is the worst yoga experience of my life only to find others in the room clapping and thrilled with their experience. But, hey, I don’t like bacon, and a lot of people seem to be into it
I can’t answer who is right and who is wrong. I can say, though, that regardless of style, there are some simple things we can all agree on.
- A good yoga class is safe.
This is non negotiable. It doesn’t matter how much people may “like” a certain class, if the sequencing isn’t safe, if postures aren’t properly prepped and counterposed, if people leave feeling discomfort in their bodies or minds, it’s not working!
- A good yoga class leaves space for personal variations and needs.
I’ve long-held the belief that there is no such thing as a “Level 1” or “Level 2” class. I say this because I know myself to be a Level 2 inverter, a Level 3 hips and hamstring opener, and a Level 0 toes to my head-er. No one yogi is a single level across the board in every pose. You may have walked onto your mat for your very first practice already quite advanced in one area of yoga. There may be another area in which you forever remain a beginner, no matter how much you practice. A good class acknowledges this, offers options, and leaves space for where you are in your body on any given day.
- A good yoga class is realistic with its expectations.
Ever been to a class where the teacher is THE ONLY ONE still doing the sit ups? Having realistic expectations for the room helps everyone feel connected to the practice. A good teacher will come with a plan and immediately throw 90% of it out the window. Adjusting to who shows up, evaluating realistic expectations for that day, and taking students somewhere productive are qualities of a good teacher. And good teachers teach good yoga classes.
- A good yoga class features interaction and feedback between student and teacher.
Teacher still not left his mat? Not a good yoga class. Teacher doesn’t know your name? Not a good yoga class. Teacher using this time to practice? Not a good yoga class. And, yes, for this reason, I believe no yoga video can ever be a good yoga class. While there are universal cues everyone should know for a pose, a big part of a teacher’s job is evaluating which cues students understand and which they need clarification on. You will learn infinitely more by having interaction with a teacher who can refine your personal practice. Videos are fine for the days a studio alludes you. Otherwise, get your butt to class with a teacher who knows your name and your body, and do the work with them.
- A good yoga class brings more people to yoga.
At the end of the day, this one is the most important. A yoga class may be, by any definition, totally crappy. But, yoga is still totally awesome. As long as the class brings people to the practice and helps them decide to stick with it, that class is a winner. So, really, I throw away everything else. Cheers to the crumby yoga classes that still find a way to convey the magic of the practice. Yoga is yoga. It’s always good.