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What does it mean to “learn yoga”?

Lots and lots of brand new students have told me on the first day “now, I have never done yoga before, is that okay?” I respond by saying “of course, this is the class for beginners, you don’t have to know how to do anything before coming class.”

There seems to be some kind of misconception that you have to know how to do yoga asana (poses) before coming to class. This is so silly! Would anyone think “I can’t go to school to learn how to play the piano because I don’t know how to play the piano”? Probably not.

But still, there seems to be a pervasive notion that you already have to be “good” at yoga before you have ever tried it.

I reassure the new students that you absolutely do not need to know how to do anything before coming to class. It is my job to teach you. I teach you how to place your mat and where and how to stand or sit on it. As a student it’s your job to cultivate some willingness to show up to class once a week. Getting yourself to class is really the most difficult hurdle. Once there all you need to do is pay attention and listen to the teacher. That’s when the learning can begin.

In Iyengar Yoga the students are asked to attend a class of the level that is appropriate for their experience. The new students attend the Intro class. After a session of the Intro class they can then move on to the Level 1 (if they want to, it’s not a requirement). Grouping students of similar experience into a single class creates an atmosphere of learning. When students are able to learn their confidence in the subject and themselves is increased.

Students new to yoga take the Intro class. Students who have done yoga in another style should also first take the Intro class. And here’s why…

To learn the poses you have to learn how to create certain actions within the body; how to lift the knee cap, in order to straighten the leg; how to press the back-ribs in, in order to open the chest. These are examples of concepts we learn in the Intro class. Once the students are familiar with these actions they can move on to the next level where they learn new actions and also new poses. In the upper level classes there is an assumption that you are at least familiar with the concepts taught in the previous level.

A student who takes an upper level class but is unfamiliar with the concepts taught in the previous level will often feel deflated. Her learning and confidence will certainly not be increased. This is especially true of students who have taken other kinds of yoga for some time. They consider themselves to not be beginning yoga students any longer so they drop into the Level 2 class. They hear the descriptions of the actions we are working on in the Level 2 and feel completely lost, overwhelmed and consequently, never come back to class. And what’s worse, they have left with an inaccurate impression of Iyengar Yoga itself. I have witnessed this first hand, many times.

To sum up, in the practice of yoga learning is necessary. It’s therefore important to be in the right class so that you are able to learn.  

Please contact me if you have any questions about the class descriptions or about Iyengar Yoga in general.

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