I’ve been teaching a few pretty crowded classes lately. Often you’ll see some eye-rolling and grumbles when students have to move their mat to make more space for yet more people. But from my end I can’t think of anything more exciting and powerful. Granted, I started practicing in NYC where space was at an even higher premium and we were packed in like vegan yogic sardines. So, I guess I have a high tolerance.
In this context, I’ve been wondering what really makes a pumping group class so special. You can rag on drop-in group classes as a cheap alternative to 121s or a lazy alternative to self practice but I think there is something truly unique and irreplaceable in practicing within a community. Mysore style ashtanga has their groove down of self-practice with guidance within a group. But the led, non-standardised class is a different matter. What I’m trying to find in my teaching and perhaps getting a bit evangelical about is making sure my role as a teacher is to not just give a sequence that is blindly followed or is so complex and/or micromanaged that I create yogic fascism where I control all! I want to leave room for self-inquiry within a led sequence. Additionally, I still want the pulse and rhythm of breath and movement that in a group creates an incredible energetic force. It’s a hard balance to strike, but I think there are ways to encourage it and leave space for it to happen.
Here is my advice for teachers (and practitioners in finding classes to support this type of practice) to help build this communal energy
Slow and Steady
Create a rhythm and pace that is moderate and accessible. Make sure everyone can join in and in someway complete the entire practice. If it’s so hard and so fast that people drop like flies the class is actually less difficult (as people have completed less) and less effective. At a moderate pace everyone can find depth and level of difficulty that suits them and the shared rhythmic experience grows and grows. An invisible force develops between people practicing together that guides, inspires, and nourishes.
Repeat, Repeat, and then Repeat
No one gets bored by repetition in a class or week after week except perhaps the teacher. Creativity for the sake of creativity is often pointless and unnecessary. Repetition allows flow and energy to develop that otherwise would be devoted to figuring out what the hell was going on. Repeat! These days I’m only changing my sequence every few weeks and allowing repetition within the sequence. The repetition with breath and movement calms the mind and brings into a collective meditative state. Don’t believe? Try it and prove me wrong.
Get out of the Way
Teach a simple repetition sequence and then let students repeat it on their own. There will be pockets of panic confusion and annoyance. But, so what. It’s good for them and empowers the student in their own practice and takes the pressure off the teacher as the focus of all things good and pure (as much as I want the attention).
Avoid dividing the class
Create accessible sequences with little to no hierarchy. Let everyone taste the same poses as much as possible with appropriate modifications up or down as appropriate, more or less repetitions as appropriate, but still making sure everyone is always working to similar aims and supporting each other.
Shut up (fill in the f.). Sometimes all you need to say is the pose and breathe. Leave them to it.