One of the things you may have noticed in our yoga classes is that we talk, a lot. There’s actually a reason behind this. Yes, we want to give you clear and accurate instruction, and in a yoga pose there’s a lot to be paying attention to, but that’s not the only reason why we talk.
One of the things a yoga class can do for you, that other exercise forms don’t, is give you an opportunity to clear your mind. In our yoga classes, we often ask you to focus; maybe on your breath, perhaps on a point in front of you as you balance. Essentially we are teaching you tricks to block out the world, to tune out the external stimuli that are a constant distraction, that keep your thoughts whirling, your brain racing and often leave you feeling stressed, anxious and exhausted.
Our voice is simply something for you to focus on. If we can hold your attention on us, on our words, on the instructions we’re giving, we stop your mind from going to other places. Some people who come to class find the constant talking a distraction in itself. They prefer quieter classes, with more silence and we offer those too with Stretch and Rest, Renew, Restore. On the flip side, for people who struggle with silence, who will always fill that silence with thoughts, the more active classes with the constant dialogue (Classic, Mix, Flow) really work.
That’s not to say that being able to clear your mind happens overnight. I still remember the first yoga class in which it happened for me. As I left, I had this sudden realisation that for the last 60 minutes, I had literally not had another thought other than what I was doing in that moment. It was a completely liberating and new experience and one I continue to chase in every class, because it’s hard to do, and, sadly for me, practicing in one of my studios makes it even harder. My thoughts constantly wander; “are people enjoying the class?”, “is the heat the right temperature?”, “how long has that lightbulb not been working?”, “what’s that new crack on the ceiling?”. Given that the studios are my business and place of work, they are a place in which I find it very hard to switch off. So I often take my yoga practice to other studios, where I can be free of the concerns of how the studio is being run and instead can focus in on my breath and what the instructor is saying to me.
Also, when I am practicing our set sequence classes and I know what’s coming next, it can be easy to go on autopilot, to stop listening to what the instructor is saying and get caught up with my own thoughts. And I know I’m not alone in this. I see other people struggling with this all the time in the classes I teach. That’s why, every now and then, you might get us pointing out that you’re not doing what we’re asking you to do. You’ve presumed we’re turning to the right when actually we’ve thrown you a curve ball and started by turning to the left. We don’t do this to make you look or feel silly, but to point out that you’re not listening and, if you’re not listening, you’re not focused, which means your thoughts have wandered and you’re missing out on the magic a yoga class can bring. If this is you, mixing up your classes, taking a Mix or a Flow class every now and then (where the postures are different every time) will help build the discipline of following the yoga teacher’s voice and not your own thoughts.
Maintaining your focus in a hot yoga class can be particularly challenging. A hot room is teeming with distractions. In your first few classes all you can think about is the heat and your sweat. You need a drink, you’re fidgety, itchy, in a word, distracted. In these types of classes a loud, clear, strong voice and a commanding way of teaching is imperative. We need to hold your attention on us and stop your brain from getting caught up with those distractions. And, over time you learn to ignore them, you leave the sweat and you just stay focused on your breath. You follow the cues you’re given and keep your attention focused on what’s happening inside your body rather than all around you. And, when you do that, when you can take control of your thoughts, rather than letting them control you, that’s when your yoga becomes more than a class and part of your way of being.