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!
My solo practice is necessary for cost minimization: I want to practice a little but every day, but can’t drop $17 for the privilege of a daily class. That’d be about $120/week. No way.
True re price comparisons if looked at that way.
However the way I was taught (and teach) is that you are given a personally designed practice for home use and then check in with the teacher as to what arises from it for refinement or development.
Thus , depending on your health situation, need for support, or self practice skills you may meet perhaps weekly or perhaps even monthly.
A bit like any art form, such as piano, where home practice is essential to perfect the art.
I do wonder if many of the 121 style situations are in reality a group class for one rather than a lesson to develop an independent home practice in terms of both process and content?
Best wishes Paul
It’s like learning to swim. First of all you hold onto the pole as you’re being dragged through the water by the instructor. Eventually you let go of the pole and swim, being watched and receiving verbal instruction, but at some-point to truly explore and experience the depth that swimming has to offer, you have to leave the pool and go into the ocean on your own… and survive.
Looking at modern practice trends it appears as if it is much more difficult for many students to practice at home amidst the distractions and self responsibility priorities.
As one student said when asked about home practice “I am too busy for home practice what with going to four classes a week” another experienced group student said “I would not know what to do”.
I also observe that many activities require some sort of symbolic companion or authority figure telling you what to do. Hence the popularity of DVD’s, Relaxation Tapes, TV Programmes, even Wii software style virtual teachers to imitate or tell you what to do.
Another influence is the need to go out to do something rather than stay in and separate oneself from the ‘flow’ within the home environment.
A few ideas here for sacred cow readers to chew the cud over.
I could write more about the psychological aspects such as self esteem, self authority, self guidance, even male autistic tendencies along with other factors such as the gender issues (psychological and physiological) which influence this modern phenomena of adult group classes in relation to self learning and other teaching.
My own study background as an apprentice in India of TKV Desikachar over 25 years is that group classes for āsana were for children and 121’s and personal practice were for adults. especially when evolving our Yoga practice to accommodate the many practices that go beyond āsana.
Along with the reflection that all of my lessons with my teacher were individual and all of the practices taught were for home use and I did not ever have one group practice class with my teacher whilst studying with him in India.
Also interesting to reflect that two of Krishnamacharya’s students, now most esteemed teachers were themselves taught Yoga when children and thus were taught within a group class setting.
Does raise the question of not teaching Yoga the way it applies to you, but teaching Yoga as it applies to the other – a favourite quote from Krishnamacharya.
Happy ruminations and hopefully my offerings will not attract too many cow pats from readers!
Best wishes Paul
Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply, Paul!
I think learning how not to be influenced by the group is part of the practice.
Thanks for another interesting post… Interesting timing… I just posted something about this on my blog too and then found your post here… Here’s a link if you’re interested… http://bit.ly/lA2NOg (www.boundlessnative.com)