A well-respected senior teacher that I’ve studied with says that Hatha yoga shouldn’t be practiced in a group setting. He teaches elements of the practice to groups of students, but believes the real practice should happen at home, when students practice on their own. (He’s actually called practicing with friends a “yoga gang bang”—some of you reading this will know who he is!)
His point is well taken and I have learned much from this philosophy. When you practice in a group, you are influenced by the energy of the others in the room and this isn’t always a good thing. A new practitioner’s nervous energy, for instance, might throw your balance off. Or you may find yourself comparing your practice to that of other people or trying to inadvertently imitate theirs. Perhaps you are even learning something incorrectly because you are watching the way someone else approaches it (incorrectly). Developing a home practice had huge benefits for me in terms of the depth in which I was able to approach yoga, and also in terms of teaching myself some internal discipline.
But I think there are benefits to practicing in a group setting, as well. The biggest one for me is the oftentimes incredible amount of lifted energy in the room. If you are practicing with the right group, and led by a good teacher, the surrounding students can energize your practice and take it to a higher level. Another bonus is that group practice can help you grow in certain respects: It pushes you to do poses you might not do on your own, and ensures that you show up to practice because you have made an external commitment to do so. (Kind of like joining a study group in college.)
Personally, I find reward in both group and solo practice, and utilize them both for different reasons and at different junctures in my life and practice. What about you? Do you prefer to practice at home alone? Or in a room with a lot of people? (Or in a room with a few people?) What are the benefits and downsides to each one? And, if you are a teacher, do you prefer to teach privates or large groups? Write in and tell us what you think!