What Happens in a Yoga Class?
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I wear to a yoga class?
Something loose and comfortable that allows you freedom of movement. Most students prefer leggings and tops. Yoga is generally done in bare feet but bring socks to wear especially during the relaxation.
Can I eat before a yoga session?
Yoga is best practised on an empty stomach. However, this does not mean that you need to fast or starve yourself! Experts suggest that you eat something light an hour or two before a yoga session.
Generally Yoga classes begin with a short period of quiet to slow and prepare the mind, breath and body, followed by limbering moves and sequences to warm up the muscles and joints in preparation for asana (posture) work.
Asanas (yoga postures) strengthen and tone the body and improve the flow of energy, helping to regulate the physical systems of the body and breath, and stilling the mind for meditation. The asanas used in a class will vary from and depend on the abilities of the students. The objective in asana work is not how far you can stretch or contort your body, but to combine stability (stira) with ease/relaxation (sukha). Asanas will be modified to individual ability and to address medical conditions ranging from pregnancy, back pain to arthritis.
Working with the breath
Considering that our life depends upon our breathing it is remarkable that we have as much conscious control over it as we do. Breathing is fundamental to life. Man can live for weeks without food, days without water but only minutes without breathing. Breathing is controlled automatically by a respiratory centre in the brain. A nervous impulse sent from the brain causes us to inhale, breathing in essential oxygen as well as Carbon Dioxide (CO2). As soon as the CO2 reaches a certain level in our bodies an automatic reflex causes us to exhale. Human beings are unique in having a degree of control over their breathing. Automatic breathing allows us to be able to sleep; controlled breathing allows us to sing, talk and laugh!
Babies breathe deeply and healthily. The passage of time often brings a deterioration of the efficiency and effectiveness of our respiration. Lack of exercise can result in a loss of mobility and elasticity in the thoracic (chest) muscles and in the diaphragm (large muscle below the ribs which is important in helping to breathe in and out). Poor posture, physical tension, emotional upheaval and unsuitable environments can also impact on our ability to breathe deeply. Shallow and restricted breathing results in less vital oxygen being drawn into the body. The majority of people regularly utilise only 25% of their breathing capacity. Yoga helps us to learn to exercise control over our breath. This not only increases vitality but also improves digestion, tones the nervous system and calms and concentrates the mind.
“If you would foster a calm spirit, first regulate your breathing; for when that is under control the heart will be at peace; but when breathing is spasmodic, then it will be troubled. Therefore, before attempting anything else, first regulate your breathing on which your temper will be softened, your spirit calmed.”
Kariba EkKen 17th Century mystic
“The mind is like a chariot, yoked to a team of powerful horses. One of them is breath, one is desire. The chariot moves in the direction of the more powerful animal. If breath prevails, the desires are controlled, the senses are held in check and the mind is stilled. If desire prevails, breath is in disarray and the mind is agitated and troubled.” Hatha Yoga Pradipika
In a yoga class you will practice breathing techniques to develop awareness and full use of the breath. These techniques are developed into 'pranayama' exercises to help control and move prana (energy) through the breath. Prana means ‘vital’ or 'life force energy'. Not all exercises are suitable for those with respiratory or circulatory conditions, so be sure to advise your teacher of any such conditions before you start a class.
RELAX AND RENEW Sessions
On the 5th and 10th Session a special ‘RELAX AND RENEW’ class takes place whereby in addition to the regular active yoga postures these restorative postures are aided and supported by combinations of bolsters, belts, bricks, blocks folded or rolled blankets and odd pieces of furniture, where internal healing processes takes places that can be overwhelmed by stress and disease.
History and philosophy
Most teachers include history and philosophy in their yoga classes by introducing a 'theme'. This will help you understand how the yoga you are doing fits within the original spiritual context and history. Don't hold back in asking your tutor questions - in most yoga classes, discussion and feedback is actively encouraged!
There are a huge variety of meditation techniques and styles. The ones you're most likely to come across will have the objective of stilling the mind by focussing your awareness on a single object – the movement of the breath, an image or candle, a sound or chant.
British Wheel of Yoga Website.
Yoga Journal website.
Handout to Students
The point of the whole exercise is to become physically fitter, mentally more alert and emotionally calmer. Relish the time you spend on yoga.
The true pleasure of yoga often comes while you are performing, so don’t worry if you sometimes take longer to get it right.
Breathing releases inner energy and also stimulates and enriches the blood supply to your body, mind and nervous system. Learn the movement first, breathing just as you need to. Then, add the breathing sequence and you will really feel the difference.
TAKE CARE: If you suffer from any medical condition, physical or mental, please be sure to tell your teacher and speak to your GP before you start a class ~ even if you have been practicing yoga for years.
Perform the asanas (postures) with keen attention to detail but not with anxiety. Be gently objective about your progress noting your greater and lesser successes and looking forward to your next opportunity to perform those techniques. Think more about style than effort. More about elegance than achievement.
BONES, JOINTS AND MUSCLES: Problems with spine, neck, knees or other bones and joints– vary the amount of movement, speed and dynamics you make. Often a little movement will keep you in trim. Avoid anything excessive.
Never bring any weight or pressure to bear on any damaged or weak joint, or bones– use support, do not let your head drop back. Do not take any weight on your knees. Don’t kneel…. ask your teacher for props/modifications.
Muscles are easily damaged and do not repair very quickly. Never jump into a posture– listen to it.
HEART AND CIRCULATORY PROBLEMS: Precision breathing will improve your circulation and help you to feel refreshed.
BLOOD PRESSURE HIGH OR LOW: You must not do anything that will upset the fine balance of your circulation ~ Avoid having your head below your heart. Stop when you feel dizzy or tired.
DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS: Do not put pressure on your stomach especially hernias and do not position your head below your diaphragm.
Always make sure you inform the teacher of any health problems that may crop up even if you think it is MINOR.
IF YOU ARE UNWELL, HAVING PERIODS, FEEL DIZZY AND/OR PREGNANT, PLEASE LET THE TUTOR KNOW BEFORE THE START OF THE SESSION AS SOME POSTURES MAY NOT BE SUITABLE TO YOU.