Friends, today on the blog I am pulling back the curtain “behind the scenes” at South Mountain Yoga. I want to share something that has become very important to me and the SMY staff. It’s also very important to you, the students, without you even being aware of it!
One of the most common pieces of feedback I get is that while each teacher has something special to offer, there’s a feeling of coherence to classes at our studio. “I know you’ll always warm us up,” is a frequent comment. Or “I went to another studio and I was so surprised–they didn’t chant Om and they didn’t have savasana!” Or “I really like how you guys tell us how to do the poses.”
That’s not an accident. Several years ago I decided that if our yoga studio was really going to serve our community, our offering needed to be consistent. So I drew up a list of “Elements of a South Mountain Yoga Class.” Our teachers understand the rationale for each element and strive to meet these standards. Our students, whether they know it or not, benefit from knowing that they’ll always get a warm up. That we will always offer insight into how to do the poses. That there will always be a rest at the end.
Here’s the full list of the notes we try to hit with each class. How are we doing? Let us know!
Elements of an SMY Class
The field of modern Hatha yoga is vast. From Bikram to Kripalu, there is a huge range of acceptable approaches to every aspect of what we call yoga. SMY is not affiliated with any particular style or brand, but over time our work has evolved in a particular way. We’ve come to appreciate the value of the following elements in our classes.
At SMY, we open our classes with a greeting, an introduction, and a period of centering.
- Greeting: Students are warmly welcomed.
- Introduction: Teachers begin by setting a context for what will be covered during class.
- Centering: Teachers offer instructions to help the students relax and chant Om.
2. WARM UP
Students are prepared with a warm-up. Warm-ups are a key time for students to tune into what they’re feeling in their bodies. This enhanced proprioception is more likely to keep them safe as the class progresses.
3. SURYA NAMASKAR (or any one-breath-per-movement vinyasa sequence)
Sequences include a vinyasa segment to get the students moving, sweating, and panting a bit. Moving through a vinyasa with one breath per movement builds cardiovascular health, enhances the flow of endorphins, and prepares students for the main body of the class.
4. INSTRUCTION IN BIOMECHANICS
SMY teachers instruct the students how to line themselves up in each pose. Alignment in yoga is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, every body is different and it is inappropriate to try to force all bodies into the same rigid form. However, most of us are more sedentary than we could be, and certain patterns are almost universal.
5. INTELLIGENT SEQUENCING
SMY teachers offer intelligent sequences to keep the class interesting and the students safe. A good sequence gives a class shape, cohesion and momentum, while preparing the students to safely explore their limits in the more challenging parts of the class.
6. PERSONAL ATTENTION
SMY teachers look at the students! What makes a studio experience more interesting than being a home with a video? In part, the relationship with the teacher. At SMY, teachers look at the students, know their names, and offer personalized instructions every once in a while.
Students get time to wind down from the more intense parts of the class. Making time for a cooldown reminds us that it is okay to have boundaries, to slow down, to rest.
Each class includes a full Savasana. The most important pose of the class for stressed, tired students. We aim for a minimum of six minutes.
Class ends with an Om and a final contemplation.
A Few Additional Notes
Although we play music before and after class to create a welcoming vibe in the studio, SMY classes generally do not include music, other than occasionally during Savasana.
Some yoga teachers prefer to practice with their students. Over the years, we have found that when the teacher practices with the students, her focus is split between her own experience and keeping an eye on her students. Our students have come to appreciate that teachers are there to teach them yoga, not just lead them through a routine. Therefore, while SMY occasionally offers Led Practices on holidays, our teachers do not practice with the students.
We never assume that every student wants to be touched in class, and we try to make any necessary adjustments verbally.
TALK TO PRACTICE RATIO
We’ve found that our students very much appreciate the high level of education in our teachers. Our students enjoy hearing the philosophy, mythology, biomechanics that are the backdrop for what we do in yoga class. Our students also appreciate that our teachers notice when people aren’t getting it and take the time to explain. That being said: students come to class to do yoga practices. Our teachers therefore keep the focus on movement and practice, avoiding prolonged explanations and demonstrations.