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Five Signs You’re in a Terrible Yoga Class (and what you can do about it)

June 11, 2014

The man next to me sounded through the whole class like he was receiving an extremely painful blow job. And he had the faces to match. I know because I looked.

OhFaceBut no, that wasn’t what made this class one of the worst I’ve been to in a long time. I can deal with Uber Ujayis (loud, dramatic breathers), Smelly Students (enough said) and Rogue Rebel Rousers (doing handstands when the rest of the class is in Child’s Pose). Other students don’t bother me, but bad teachers, they inspire me to jump right on my blog and spread the good word of good v. bad yoga. Yes, there is such a thing. And you should be armed in order to protect yourself from making sweeping yoga generalizations and swearing it off altogether.

If you’re in a class and you see some of these things going on, you may want to consider whether you should

  • leave in the middle of class (yes, it’s ok – but don’t be disruptive)
  • you should never come back (find another class that fits the bill)
  • you should make the best of it and decide later whether to voice your concerns to the studio manager (not to the teacher)

So here are the Top Five Signs You’re in a Terrible Yoga Class:

1. The teacher hasn’t said anything but the words “Inhale”, “Exhale” and “<name-of-pose>”.

It might sound something like this, “Inhale Warrior I, Exhale Warrior II, Inhale plank, Exhale Chatarunga, Inhale Up, Exhale Down Dog, Inhale Plank, Exhale Chaturunga….” and goes on like this for at least 45 minutes. This is NOT OKAY. Barking out names of poses isn’t teaching, it’s calling out names of poses. Alright so you love to do vinyasa flow yoga which means you like to MOVE but if your teacher can’t incorporate any ALIGNMENT, ADJUSTMENTS, VARIATIONS, MODIFICATIONS, ACTION CUES or ENERGY CUES into her flow sequence, you’re not going to learn squat. And you’re almost sure to get injured. Eventually.

2. You didn’t hear her call anyone’s name, speak with anyone, touch anyone or help anyone individually.

BadTeacherThis woman is a yoga robot. She’s not experienced or trained in the art of teaching yoga (yet) and YES it is an art that takes years of practice, but you don’t have to be her guinea pig. If you don’t see her connecting with any individuals during class on any level, it means she doesn’t know them and she hasn’t figured out how to (yet). And one of the most special and meaningful things about yoga practice is the relationship between student and teacher. Good teachers know their students. Find one who wants to know YOU.

3. You feel panicked.

Yoga is not boot-camp. It’s not designed for cardiovascular training nor is it meant to activate your fight-or-flight response. If you feel panicky or agitated because either you are hyperventilating, your heart is about to explode out of your chest, you feel like you’re going to pass out or you’re just so damn frustrated, you are probably in a really Terrible Yoga Class. Consider also that you’ve accidentally wandered into a “Prana Vinyasa Flow Level 3 Superstar” class after “trying yoga once on vacation” but if you’re pretty sure it’s open level or beginners then we have a problem. Your teacher is moving way too fast and she’s not noticing that you’re having a panic attack. Refer back to #2.

 4. You can’t stop thinking how shitty this yoga class is.

This is a really important one. I am plagued with it on the rare occasions when I do stumble into a Terrible Yoga Class. It happens less and less now because I’ve become more and more experienced (read, jaded) about researching and finding great teachers in Washington, DC. If you can’t turn your thoughts away from how awful your experience is and turn your focus inwards instead to get through the remainder of class, then it is time to quietly pick up your things and leave. Sure, we can take this opportunity to “practice compassion” and “do what’s right for us” but there is a limit and all-in-all, as a teacher, what I want for my students is to feel better on their way out than they did on their way in. If that’s not going to happen, practice letting go and get the heck outta there.

5. Your body aches, a lot.

You came to yoga because your body ached already so why should it ache more while you’re practicing? Because your mind has entered a state of total discontent and conflict and you’re feeling it viscerally. If you can’t mute the teacher, do your own thing, go at your own pace (and do this without causing a great disruption to those around you) then it’s time to leave. Remember the exceptions – did you just run a marathon, break a bone or give birth? You may have other reasons why it’s not the right time for you to be taking this type of yoga right now.

Why am I talking about all of this?
One, I just took a horrible class. And two, it’s important to remember that yoga classes are like music. Just like you’re drawn to certain genres and artists, you’ll be drawn to certain styles and teachers. And yes there is that much variety out there when it comes to yoga.

So DONT GIVE UP! Keep on looking. And if you need help then you know where to reach me.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2014 2:30 pm

    Ha ha, I love this! I found this post after I walked out on a terrible teacher (basically an aerobics instructor who made snarky comments the whole time and had us do squats and lunges to too-loud crappy music) then felt a little guilty about it. Luckily I have an excellent teacher now and look forward to his classes.

  2. fayelene permalink
    February 13, 2015 11:00 am

    Thanks for this — very helpful. Just had a class where I nearly cried (welled up, didn’t spill over) and #3 and #4 really resonated. The teacher seemed to be delighted when she “lost half the bodies in the room” because everyone had collapsed. Not my buzz. Great article.

    • February 14, 2015 6:52 pm

      Wow, thanks for sharing fayelene. It’s great to have a release in class, but not for that reason! Hope you have other teachers that will support your practice in a kinder way.

    • April 27, 2015 1:04 pm

      I hope you can find a really kind teachers who’s right for you. They’re out there!

  3. Zoe permalink
    October 10, 2016 9:23 pm

    So true! I went to a class today & the teacher barked each pose out in Sanskrit & occasionally reminded us to breathe. Nothing more. No explanations, no modifications. Teacher had my beginner friend in a headstand with no enquiry about her pre-existing medical conditions (had he asked, he mightn’t have been so quick to reprove her for initially trying to sit out during headstand). I’m a yoga teacher & he spent most of the class correcting me; at first I thought it was my ego getting in the way & making me cross about it but my friend reckons he clocked I was a teacher & was trying to assert his authority by humiliating me. My practice is by no means textbook beautiful, hence going to other teachers’ classes, but there were people much more in need of his help in that room since it was an advanced level class yet billed as mixed ability. He’s also gonna injure someone one day with deep backbends followed immediately by deep forward folds: my lower back, which I’ve never had a problem with before, was really unhappy. Such a bad class!! & the puzzling thing is loads of 5* reviews on google. But maybe he has regulars who enjoy being made to feel rubbish. Still, you always learn something, even if it’s how not to conduct a class!

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