Today, we're handing over to Yoga Teacher, Neuroscience & Neuropsychiatry Student & Mental Health advocate, Ella Stanley to hear some of the reasons why your yoga class might not be making you feel quite as "zen" as you expected...
“Have you tried going to that yoga class? It’ll help you manage your stress, honestly it’s amazing!”
We’ve all heard it, whether it’s from your friend, family or doctor. Yoga seems to be the modern answer to the stress epidemic. Classes promise to leave you feeling ‘zen’ and ready to take on the day, thanks to your new enlightened state. However, let’s be real, often a key motivation isn’t strictly stress related. I, like many, was sucked in by the false promises of a lean body. A class that’ll lengthen your legs AND reduce stress… sign me up. If your first yoga experience was anything like mine, you didn’t leave class in a state of bliss and two inches taller. It can be hard work keeping up, especially when the teacher appears to be speaking jibberish. Surya Namaskar, Tadasana, Uttanasana… it’s safe to say I was lost on the Sanskrit, bored, clock watching and disappointed because there wasn’t a single drip of sweat in sight. That being said ten years after my first class I embarked on my yoga teacher training journey. It might seem like a 360 from my first experience but hopefully the next five points might help you understand why you’re not feeling like a high vibing yogi.
You’re not really doing ‘Yoga’
You could have been to a hundred yoga classes, mastered crow pose, nailed your head AND handstand but still aren't feeling the inner stillness you crave. For many Savasana (lying quietly at the end) can be the most challenging posture as we’re forced to sit with whatever our mind throws at us.
Technically speaking, gym ‘yoga’ classes mainly focus on the asanas (postures) of yoga and skip over the philosophical teachings. This isn’t to say to be yogi you need to read the yoga sutras and bring a notebook and pen when heading to class, but switching your mentality from ‘I’m heading to work on fitness’ to ‘I’m going to go and work on my mind’ is a great place to start.
Yoga is about being kind to others but most importantly about being kind to yourself, it’s about being content with what is and recognising what your body needs and giving it that (your body needs rest too)! If you’re heading into class and ignore your body's signals, wanting to burn a few extra calories you can’t expect to feel the mental benefits.
You haven’t found the right teacher
It’s impossible to vibe with everyone. It might be that you’re just not feeling your yoga teacher rather than yoga itself. That’s not to say your teacher is ‘bad’, they might be perfect for someone else but if they don’t hit your spot it’s time to move on. I suggest switching up your normal class and experiencing yoga with a different teacher. Alternatively you could scout around different studios and chat to the staff or check out their website to see if the teachers are featured online with a bio. Oh… and there is nothing wrong with a cheeky IG stalk too!
Failing that… Youtube. You can practice in your own home and try a bucket load of different teachers and styles for free. My personal favourite Youtube Yogi’s are Tara Stiles and Adriene Mishler. Alternatively you could try different apps for a small fee, the Yoga Studio app has been a firm favourite of mine for years.
Your practicing the wrong style of Yoga for you
Much like finding the right teacher, finding the right style of yoga is so important for your practice. If you’re feeling anxious, going to a sweaty hot yoga class probably isn’t the one, you’d be much better off heading out for some Yin. However if you’re feeling sad or suffer with SAD then a hot, sweaty, heart pulsing class with a ten minute Savasana might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Hatha yoga is another great practice for people looking to stress-less. For those who experience panic attacks it might be best to bring a yoga buddy to your first few classes. Hatha yoga focuses on the breath and for some people this becomes a tool to prevent or settle panic. However, for some, breath work can spike anxiety levels. The most important thing to do if you end up in a class and feel a panic coming on is to abandon the teachers breathing cues. Focus on something else, perhaps a clock hand or any surrounding noises. If things get too much you can always slip out of the studio door.
You’re not ‘flexible’ enough
If you’ve been put off yoga by the elastic yogi at the front of the class, please don’t be. A common mistake is that the best yogi’s are the super bendy, flexible ones but that is often far from the truth. The ego can drive people to take all postures to their maximum potential… every time. This isn’t to say every handstander is just looking for attention but it’s not the aim of the game.
In yoga there is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ yogi. Yoga teaches us to let go of the ego and tap into the true self, a place absent from judgement. There is no physical limitation that should stop you from practicing yoga when you find the right class. Meditation and sound baths are a yogic practice too so if you’ve pulled your hamstrings or have a physically debilitating illness asanas might not be the yogic way for you.
You just don’t like yoga… and that’s ok
This is exactly what it says on the tin. Maybe yoga just isn’t for you or maybe you’re just not in a place to integrate yoga into your life. Whatever your reason, know that it is ok. You don’t have to be a yogi to be happy or healthy.