When I first started yoga in my early twenties I attended large group classes at yoga studios with well over 30 students in a room. The classes were a rainbow of different people of all ages and levels of experience and different physical needs.
I had no idea what was going on, whether I was doing the postures right...where I was meant to feel the stretch or how to engage what in which position. It was all completely foreign and most of the time overwhelming.
Looking back I'm fairly lucky that I persisted with the practice despite the frustrations of not knowing what I was doing. Reflecting on it now I think there were a few reasons why I was able to:
I hadn't had any major physical injuries at that point in my life.
Secondly I had a false confidence, that kind that comes with having a body that's twenty and feeling as though you're invisible.
Now that I've completed extensive studies and been teaching yoga for over 9 years full time to tens of thousands of bodies over the years, I've come to appreciate why yoga was originally taught one to one.
It's also why now my biggest passion and bulk of my work is done working with my students in a one to one setting or in small group classes.
The four biggest reasons a personalised approach is the best way to practice yoga:
Your body is completely different to every other body.
Everything from your genes, your job, your stress levels, your entire lifestyle affects your body and your patterns of movement.
Some people are in desperate need of a yoga approach that is more focused on strengthening and building stability, while others need more flexibility or mobility work.
Some of us need to focus primarily on releasing tension in the shoulders and neck while others need to prioritise hips and postural alignment or something different all together.
A new mother with a 6 month old baby still breast feeding and a marathon runner are going to need completely different approaches from a yoga practice and yet in most cases they are lobbed into the same yoga class with 30 plus other students.
No two bodies are the same and so having a more personalised approach becomes key in supporting you and achieving the results you're looking for in a yoga class.
Awareness is the first step on the road to change and key in avoiding injuries.
Developing an understanding of your body and mind and the patterns of movement and thought that exist for you are key in bringing about change and results.
Lets say you struggle with back ache, or neck tension. Developing more awareness around your posture and how you carry yourself throughout the day and how to adapt a yoga practice so that your helping to free up the areas contributing to the problem is key.
I've heard often from students that they attended a large yoga class often in a gym environment and instead of leaving feeling better they've left the class in more discomfort than when they walked in.
I really believe this is in part due to a lack of awareness of how to work within the limitations of your body and how to adapt a general yoga practice for what you're struggling with personally.
I can tell you now that not every body should be practicing certain postures, and not every body should practice the same pose in the same way either. There is an intelligent sequence of working with a yoga practice that means you can slowly work towards unlocking and strengthening different areas without putting yourself at risk.
The best way to learn this is to attend smaller classes or one to one sessions with an experienced teacher so that you can slowly learn how to develop more awareness around your body and what works best for you.
You wouldn't build a house on a poor foundation...or would you?
The reality is when you're teaching a larger group of students with varying degrees of experience with yoga you simply can't teach the essential foundations of a really effective and mindful yoga practice.
Simple things like the foundational work of learning how to use the breath to inform the practice.
The basics of working safely with limitations, learning the difference between pain and discomfort.
Unpacking the alignment of the basic postures in order to get the most out of your time on the mat and avoid yoga injuries.
It's really tough for yoga teachers to adequately support a room filled with 20 or more bodies, this is one of the main reasons why we teach to a maximum of 12 students and where ever possible one to one.
The reality is you need to teach to the bulk of the group and so those who are new and lack the basics for a really good practice often get left behind, and those who would really benefit from the challenge also often miss out as the class ends up pitched right down the middle.
While on going one to one yoga sessions or small group classes might not be accessible for you all the time, I strongly suggest that if you're fairly new to yoga, have specific things you'd like addressed with a yoga practice or are struggling with health concerns or injuries, small classes or personalised sessions are the way to go.