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The Limitations of Group Yoga Classes

By Christina Gerdes

TUE JUN 08, 2021

Why Would I Pay for Private Yoga Lessons when I can take Group Yoga for Less Money?

This is a great question and has an easy answer. Because you are an individual person with individual needs and as Mado Hesselink so expertly put it, “The desire that people have to be with the group and do what the group is doing, and yet there is no way to make one practice that fits everybody.” And I will add, Every Body, Breath, Mind, Behavior, and Heart. Commonly known as The Koshas.

I learned from Gary Kraftsow, the Founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, and the teachings of many other student’s of Desikachar, that Group Yoga Classes were not the way Yoga was traditionally taught to adults. Children took group classes and groups came together for ritual purposes, but Yoga was taught one on one with the individual student's needs as the main intention. Yoga may not be what we think it is just because Most of what we see are Yoga Poses. Yoga poses serve a purpose and they are a part of Yoga, but a much smaller part than you might guess (see the heart image below). And having read the histories of how Yoga came to the Western world, I understand why Poses became the main theme when teaching yoga and I have seen how Yoga is starting to peak out from under this umbrella of Asana (poses) to FINALLY start to encompass it’s fullness and richness. Yoga is a way of life. It is a philosophy, and in Gary Kraftsow’s words, "Yoga provides the tools for a process of self-investigation and self-development that ultimately guides practitioners toward self-realization."

This is how I put it to those who come and practice with me: You are a Multidimensional Multilayered Being. You are more than your body, but you do have a body. The tradition says you have layers to who you are and you move through life interacting with other outside forces. You have a body, but you also have energy, thoughts, feelings, and deeper desires. And all of this interacts and bounces off the world around you, your relationships with family, friends, co-workers, strangers and enemies. All of that together also interacts with nature, other living creatures, the seasons, time of day, even the sun, moon and stars. As well as, what you eat, how you sleep, what you read, learn, and listen to, to name a few other daily interactions. And for many in the world, all of this is also interwoven with something bigger and unseen. Yoga can address all of these relationships and therefore A LOT more than just the body through poses.

In a Private Yoga Session my job is to get to know the student in front of me and learn what their greatest intention right now is for a personal practice. That personal practice then attempts to address some or all of that, depending on what the student wants, needs and is ready for. I have absolutely no agenda when a student enters our practice space, except to be fully present for them and to be able to offer them, to the best of my ability, the teachings that I have learned in a way that will best support them. Yoga as a Way of Life means, it is a Way of Living that doesn't have a "One Size Fits All Way of Living” because we are not all the same. So, I promise not to teach you the same sequence of poses that you have already been practicing. Your practice will be unique and individual and address the most pressing to the subtlest of concerns you may have to help bring balance and stability to your Whole Being and potentially your Whole World.

“I am not working out, I am doing Yoga.” Christina Gerdes

Don’t get me wrong, group classes serve a purpose and for many they are a student’s first introduction to yoga. There is a different energy to practicing in a group and a feeling of community. For some a group class can be more motivating and add a level of accountability that has not yet become a habit of routine in one’s daily life. It can also be a way to learn some of the other deeper aspects of yoga, beyond just poses, especially during workshops or special events. “However, the general public still sees yoga as a system of exercise...Those who come to understand that yoga is more than exercise may look for instruction to explore its other aspects.” Gary Kraftsow. And no matter how yoga is practiced the student will gain some benefit, but a “One Size Fits All” group class is still limiting because many are unable to go every day. Yoga has a cumulative effect, so a little throughout the day, everyday, is more powerful than 1 or 2 hours a week. But many students, and even teachers, haven’t yet developed the ability to discern what to do in a home practice and how that might look and feel from day to day or moment to moment.

During Private Sessions, one of my goals is to help empower the student to begin to understand their multidimensional multilayered Self in order to Know and Trust what they need and not what anyone else thinks or tells them they need. I do my best to not only provide an adaptable personal practice (or two or three), but also share other resources to support their personal life experience. This can include guided meditations, digital classes, recorded yoga nidra sessions, reading resources, but also other healing modalities and Non-Yoga Tools. It isn’t my job to say what will assist an individual to deeper understanding of oneself. I feel like it is my job to just meet the student where they are and find the resources, analogies or tools that will continue to support them beyond our one hour together.

We start where They Are At Now. They decide what time of day to practice at home and we find the best poses to move their body with what is currently going on. Based on when they are practicing and or why, there are specific breathing practices. Perhaps, there is movement and breathing for morning, noon and/or night. The student might be working through an intention, goal setting or overcoming some habitual thought that has been holding them back and so they move and chant or sit and chant a mantra or affirmation. They may want to work on overcoming some areas of fear and so we are working towards a goal posture, like handstand. Or they might have a desire to connect to a deeper Source or even reignite their relationship to Faith. That is some of what a Private Yoga Lesson can provide that a Group Class cannot.

"Commonly, students report great and even therapeutic benefits from their yoga classes, no matter which type of class they are attending. This occurs because of the inherent therapeutic potential of yoga, but it should not obscure the distinction between a yoga class and a yoga therapy session." ~ Gary Kraftsow

One Size Fits all might feel comfortable in an oversized t-shirt and sweatpants, but in Real Life and in a Real Life Yoga Practice it always feels like something is a little off. Think of all those multilayers and dimensions of your own life for a moment. Have you ever left a group class feeling off somehow, maybe in your body, your breath, your energy, your emotions? Have you ever eaten something that your friend ate and it left you feeling uneasy? Have you ever gotten that haircut or clothing that someone famous had and looked in the mirror and knew it wasn’t right for you? That’s because one size does not always fit all. Every now and then it can satisfy, but it never quite fulfills like when you get the haircut and clothes that frame you, or you eat the food that really nourishes your body or you know that you just practiced in a way that was exactly what you needed.

Yoga is a daily Personal Practice that is easily supplemented with a weekly group class or monthly special event or workshop. It is in the moment to moment breath out of the yoga studio where you begin to witness and embody Your Real Life Yoga Practice.

Contact me today and find out if Private Yoga is right For You. I would love to share with you a personal yoga practice, to Embody Yoga Everyday, Throughout Your Whole Life. 💜

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