For the most part, yoga is like pizza (or, perhaps more accurately for this particular Thai cuisine obsessed gal, Tom Yum soup) . . . Even when it’s bad, it’s good. Are some variations better than others? You bet. Are some off-the-charts authentic masterpieces while others are pedestrian meals that simply get the job done? Absolutely. On the other hand, for those of us who know our pizza or our spicy, tangy Thai soup, there is such a thing as a bad slice of pie or not-so-yum Tom Yum.
From its inception more than two years ago, OmGal.com set out to reveal the best classes, teachers, products, trends, and tips in the world of yoga and wellness. If something isn’t worth the word count, I save my syllables for another topic. However, I also aim to be authentic, and, to that end, I have to admit that sometimes bad yoga is, well, bad yoga. Hence, here are my top 10 culprits for a crummy yoga class, as compiled through highly scientific research including 15 years of yoga practice, my own teaching experience, and listening to my friends, students, and you, O.G. readers, kibbutz about what you like and don’t while doing yoga. Please feel free to add your own.
The Bizarro Fake Accent: Thankfully, this trend has waned in recent years, but yoga teachers concocting bizarre accents and awkward patterns of speech in order to sound more exotic or authoritative was mysteriously prevalent at one time. Surely, this trend originated from the first generation of yogis to bring yoga to mainstream America, all of whom were foreigners (e.g. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar). Thus, it made sense that they had accents; English was their second language. But, you, native of the United States who grew up in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania or Colorado or wherever: Stop talking like you’re British or Indian or a Shakespearean-New-Age-Surfer. You sound ridiculous. It confuses and distracts your students. So, please, STOP IT.
The Bait & Switch: If you order tofu and vegetables at your favorite restaurant, the waiter better not bring you veal parmigiana. If you ask your hair stylist for Giselle’s long, sultry layers, you’d be miffed to leave the salon sporting Posh Spice’s pixie cut. If you order a smart looking wrap dress online but open the package at home to discover a moo-moo, you’d want a refund. Where yoga is concerned, expectations and consistency are equally important. If the class is described as advanced, then the level of teaching should fulfill that description. If the style is listed as Vinyasa, it’s poor practice to serve up a Forrest class and hope no one notices (or vice versa). Of course last-minute changes and substitutions occur in all small businesses, and students are understanding of this; however, a persistent lack of consistency on the part of a studio makes for spotty classes and sub-par yoga.
The Chronologically Challenged: When assembling a yoga class, timing is an art. The most obvious examples of this point are studios and teachers starting and ending classes on time; however, the timing of the class’s sequence is also crucial. Any style yoga class should have a rhythm, whether it’s a flowing, fast Vinyasa class or a slow, languid Hatha practice. I once attended a 2-hour class during which the teacher’s lack of preparation became painfully obvious when the class seemingly concluded after 90 minutes (the traditional time allotted for most classes). The teacher knew he/she needed to fill an additional 30 minutes of “air time,” so the result was a poorly organized afterthought of a sequence tacked on to the end of a traditional class. Alternatively, it’s no fun to plod along through most of class, then have to rush through the latter portion (including sivasana!) to finish on time. Like a good pizza, timing is key. The crust should be crispy, not burnt; chewy, not undercooked.
The Inconsequential Sequencer: Similarly, a fine meal follows a logical sequence– appetizer, entree, and dessert. A sequence of yoga asanas should do the same. Does yoga class have to be a narrowly defined set of poses performed in the same order each time? Heck no! But, the sequence should make sense for the students’ physical, energetic, and emotional bodies. The best teachers know how to craft sequences that maximize their students’ energy and ability level. Perhaps there’s an anatomical focus (e.g. hips or backbends) or central theme (e.g. balance or clarity); whichever the case, the order of poses should build and evolve in a way that keeps students safe from injury by not doing too much too soon, work the body in a balanced and mindful manner, and allow students to integrate each movement fully through the use of counter-movements and rest. Put simply, each pose should make sense independently and as part of the larger context. Arbitrary or disorganized sequences lead to inconsistent experiences for students or, worse, injury.
The Agenda Pedaler: Ever walk into a studio, think your going to a yoga class, and end up getting a lecture in politics, religion, or veganism? Or, you sense that a portion of class is a thinly veiled sales pitch for something? This isn’t to say that yoga teachers shouldn’t have opinions or should dilute the content of their classes to be utterly uncontroversial. However, yoga classes shouldn’t be confused with soap box opportunities. The best yoga classes inspire change naturally, rather than force it upon students.
The Incessant Talker: I don’t need to belabor this point. Good yoga classes contain quiet moments of reflection for all. Bad ones often contain aimless yammering.
The Over-share: Sharing is good when it comes to dessert while on a date, a bottle of wine over dinner, comfy sweatshirts among roommates, or toys between siblings. Over-sharing, however, can be bad. Teachers who over-share personal information without applying it to the context of the yoga class are a drag. Typically, this characteristic is a strain of the Incessant Talker.
The Copy Cat: Nothing encourages students to check out mentally more than a teacher who puts on airs. It’s natural for teachers to absorb the habits of each other, particularly if they work together or mentor one another. Mimicry is another story, and whether intentional or not on the part of the teacher, it’s a snoozefest for students.
The Control Freak: Classes without freedom usually aren’t fun. From teachers who discourage drinking water during class to those who cannot handle students who modify or substitute poses, teachers stunt their students’ growth when they can’t relinquish a little control.
The Hypocrite: Hypocritical teachers are still capable of teaching good yoga classes, which makes this topic more of a hot button issue. Whether it’s having more dalliances with students than Tiger Woods with cocktail waitresses or talking more trash than Perez Hilton, a teacher might be able to relegate his/her shadowy quirks to outside the classroom. Eventually, students sense a discrepancy, and the yoga quality suffers.
And, people might begin ordering their pizza elsewhere.