Sunflower Mandala

Louise’s Blog

Alive on Arrival

 

When does yoga class truly begin?

Eleven am, Sunday morning at Yoga Haven in Scarsdale. That’s the start time for my Restorative yoga class, which I have been teaching at the studio for over a decade. The photos shown were taken minutes before class began, with me standing at the back of the room to get a sweeping view of the peaceful, pre-class atmosphere. Most of the students are reclining on their mats, creating comfort in various ways with props, such as a blanket or two beneath the head or a bolster under the knees. (In a Restorative yoga practice, we use blankets, blocks, and bolsters to support our poses.)

Some students have bent their knees to give more support to their low backs. One student sits cross-legged in a variation of Sukhasasa (Easy pose); another is stretching her legs to the sky, a no-frills (and no-wall!) version of the Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall) inversion pose. Another student (in the photo below), still gathering props, reaches for a bolster.

Students stretching, students in stillness. Before a yoga class begins, you’ll see this and much more. When students arrive at a studio (or wherever class is held), some speed into the classroom to get their favorite spot and dive onto their mats. Others linger outside the room to chat with yoga buddies or check and turn off cell phones. In the room, you’ll see students in various stages of preparation, individualized and familiar routines that range from resting quietly to warm-up movements and asana.

Students stretching, students in stillness . . . 

Because yoga offers a strong community atmosphere, some students use pre-class time to visit with the yogi on the next-door mat. (On the down side, this can interfere with the quiet time that many students yearn, so leaving the chat outside the classroom is usually best!) I’ve seen students reading on the mat before class; others fall asleep.

Yoga classes begin at a specific time, but when does your practice begin? This is a question I sometimes ask my students. Did your practice begin when you walked into the studio, after you unrolled your mat, or when you placed your belongings and props just so? After a Down Dog or two, or some catting and cowing?  When you closed your eyes? Or did the practice begin much earlier—well before your arrival time at the studio—at the moment when you decided to take the class in the first place? Did that commitment, that yogic spark, begin your practice? 

Did your practice begin when you walked into the studio, after you unrolled your mat, or when you placed your belongings and props . . . ?

Your yoga practice is much more than the 75 minutes or so spent with your teacher. Next time you go to yoga, remain mindful even before class begins: stay alive on arrival, and notice and savor your pre-class routines and rituals. Consider switching them up: if you typically bound to your mat, try taking it slowly. If you prefer to mat-sleep, perhaps try to do so some pranayama or simple stretches first. Or stick to your familiar routine. There are no bad choices!

Likewise, after class ends, know your practice continues, alive and well. As I often remind my students, continue to explore the qualities you cultivated in class after you leave the studio. The classroom door closes, but your yoga practice is never ending. Namaste.

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