What Makes a Good Yoga Class?

And what makes a really bad one? 

Greetings fellow yogis.

I have just returned from a really crazy, really bad yoga class. It was so wrong, that my friend wants her money back. It was so wrong, that I feel slightly abused. It was so wrong, that I am compelled to write about what makes a truly terrible, horrible, very bad yoga class in the hopes that you may never repeat these mistakes.

It wasn’t the yoga!

First of all, what makes an experience go bad is usually not the yoga itself. Yoga is a combination of poses with breath, intention and good vibes. There’s a bit of Yamas and Niyamas, also known as Yadda Yadda, which convey the importance of being a decent person. And that’s it.

How can breath, movement and good vibes go bad? It may not be perfect every time, or your cup of tea, but rarely is it terrible, right? Therefore, what usually goes wrong has to do with everything else.

The Studio

The studio or venue is not just providing four walls and a floor. From the first “hello,” to the last, “Have a good day,” the studio is the cradle for the experience.In this case, the class was sold as a 60-minute, fun-loving, booty-shaking, sweat-making, heart throbbing, foot-stomping flow class. That is what we signed up for, and that is what we expected.

However, once we put our mats down, the teacher said this was a special event. If you change the format, you must tell your students before class, preferably in an email or website announcement. Doing so in the room is a classic bait and switch.So, the booty-shaking, foot stomping flow was now going to be … a restorative class?

I can’t make this stuff up!

Not that there’s anything wrong with gentle yoga, but it wasn’t what was sold. If people come to move and instead they sit, they cannot get that hour back in their day. Then, after about 70 minutes the instructor revealed that the class was now a 90-minute format. That also needs to be announced before the mats go down. People have shit to do.

Know this:

When you keep your students late, or change a format, you make the class about you.

When you honor the time and format, you make the class about your students.

For the future, studios please note:

  • Be nice and greet your students.

  • If your student puts a health issue on the little form, please suggest how they can stay safe. If the student took the time to write it out, then you should take the time to acknowledge it.

  • Keep your space clean and welcoming.

  • Confirm the class formats are correct.

  • Communicate any changes ahead of time, if possible.

  • Post accurate information on social media and the internet.

The Teacher

I recognize there are many kinds of yoga, and that we all have different styles. I also take into consideration that every teacher is doing the best they can with whatever training they have. In this case, our class had a “master” teacher, who came from out of town.Nevertheless, whether you are a “master” teacher, or just a local shlub teacher like me, there are some basic dos and don’ts to good instruction.

Be on time. Yup, so simple.

Show up early, check your music connections, check the venue, make sure the room has good acoustics, see if you need a headset, make sure the mats are where they should be, introduce yourself to the students, ask about the students’ level of ability, familiarity with the format and potential needs. Right? So freaking simple and yet, apparently, so hard.

Be responsive. The teacher was told repeatedly we couldn’t hear her. The music was loud and she was turned away from us, speaking into the mirror. If students can’t hear you, you need to face them, speak louder, use a headset, adjust the music, and walk the room. Apparently, so simple, and yet so hard.

Pay attention.

We are here to serve our students and if you are so preoccupied with the exciting vision of YOU in the mirror, you cannot possibly do this. Many yoga formats do not allow the instructor to put down a mat so they have 100% of their attention on the students. It is your responsibility to know what students are doing, who is struggling and who could be hurt. You need to practice on your own time.

Lastly, if you don’t know what you look like from behind, you might check to see if your pants are see-through. Just saying. However, that could have been part of this format, I’m not sure.

For the future, teachers please note:

  • We are here to serve.

  • Be on time. Set up your room and your music ahead of the class.

  • Greet your students. Make that important connection.

  • Pay attention to them.

  • Be responsive.

  • And be nice for God sakes. You are not all that.

The Students

We don’t have control over the community. We can’t pick and choose our fellow yogis. The best we can do is hope we find our kind. In this case, I guess it’s part of the format that the women moan and groan, yip and yelp and have their “moment” like the café scene from “When Harry Met Sally.”

Yup, I might have wanted what they were having, but I came for something else. When I think about it, that is what made it a really weird yoga class for me.

For the future, students please note:

  • Be mindful of other students’ space and experience.

  • Please keep your extraneous stuff out of the way.

  • That includes children and dogs. Seriously.

  • However, I really liked the children and dogs walking around. For me, it was the high point of the class.

Michelle Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She is an award-winning journalist and author of several books on yoga. You can find her at www.YogiMuse.com, or in Denver, Colorado where she is a local, shlub teacher who almost never wears see-through pants, unless it is part of the class.