Questions During Yoga Class: Deepening Your Practice While Honoring  Others

 We all know what it’s like to have questions come up during a yoga class, and yet most students are hesitant to bring them up  either out of concern for interrupting the experience of others or simply hesitancy to disrupt the flow of class.  Sometimes these questions are minor — “Should I be feeling this stretch in my hamstrings or my hips?”  Sometimes they are more involved — “Is it better to have a wider base or to hinge more fully?”  And sometimes they are important for our safety — I have experienced discomfort doing this pose in the past … is there a safer approach or pose?  And yet, regardless of the form of the questionmost of the time we let our concern for others prevent us from asking. 

 Of course, if we are fortunate enough to be in a class where we know both the teacher and fellow-practitioners and are confident that our question won’t disrupt, we are more likely to speak out.  However, in the average class – especially one that is drop-in or with a new instructor – we most often err by staying silent. 

 As a long-time practitioner and teacher, I can say that this is a very common issue and one with which teachers truly wouldn’t want you to wrestle — you’re in a class to learn, and teachers are there to share their understanding.  That much said, we also all – students and teachers alike — value the flow of a class.  For that reason, in today’s article I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the most common types of questions and the easiest ways to address them.  Obviously, each teacher is unique, so if you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to check before implementing these approaches.  The important thing is that every teacher would want to support you in finding a way that you can feel free to bring up questions without fear of disrupting the experience of others. 

 The Three Levels of Questions & the Best Ways to Address Them 

 I think most teachers would agree that there are three basic levels of questions that we all experience in class, each in turn with its own degree of importance.  In my experience, simply clarifying between the three goes a long way to easing our concerns about whether it’s best to speak out rather than wait until after class.  Let’s take a look at these categories, followed by some of the more mindful ways we can address them while also honoring the experience of others during a practice. 

 Level One: Basic Questions of Safety.  Unquestionably, the most important form of question relates to safety in a pose, and these should always be expressed.  We all know that, while yoga is on the whole a healthy and safe activity, there are definitely poses that involve an element of risk, as well as unique conditions that might make a specific pose less-than-healthy for us, and nobody understands this more than a good teacher.  For this reason, if you are abouto enter a pose and have any reservations about the safety of the pose for you or questions as to how to move into the pose in a healthy way, you should always feel free to communicate with the teacher before entering the pose. 

 Of course, the ideal time for this is before a class begins, but we all know it isn’t always possible to anticipate what a class might include, and teachers understand this, too.  So, if you find youreslf in the middle of a class wondering about safety or possible modifications/alternatives, always feel free to ask before entering the pose.  That much said, naturally we don’t want to disrupt other students, and we may also not wish to draw attention to our particular challenges.  Icases like these, a simple approach is to hold off on entering the pose but wait to catch the teacher’s eye – he or she will then happily work his or her way toward you and ask how he or she can help. 

 Obviously, some questions are simpler than others, so its good to be prepared for the possibility that the teacher might say: “That’s a great question, but the answer is a bit involved. For now, heres a safe alternative, and lets talk after class about thmordetaileresponse, but this should never stop you from asking.  And the teacher’s response might also be the opposite, realizing that your question is one from which the entire class may benefit, and in turn sharing reminders and options with the class as a whole.  By bringing it up unobtrusively, you honor and take care of your own needs while letting the teacher determine the smoothest way to honor the flow of the class. 

 Level Two: Variations and Alternatives & Their Respective Merits.  The next level of questions is what can be thought of as meaningful but non-pressing questions, either of alignment or variations.  These are obviously less crucial than questions involving safety, but they are still an important part of our practice.  In fact, arguably a big reason we all go to classes is precisely to learn about these things.  And given the fact that no teacher can (or should) cover every single nuance or alternative in each pose, it’s natural to have questions come up. 

 So, how can we handle this while again honoring the flow of class?  Once more, eye-contact with the teacher is the simple key.  A good yoga teacher is always scanning the room, not only checking to see that alignments are safe, but also looking for signs of distress or uncertainty about a pose,  For that reason, all you need to do in these cases is to simply catch the instructor’s eye with a look that says: “Not urgent, but I have a question….” 

 The beauty of this approach is that it relieves you of concern about disrupting the flow of the class or the experience of other practitioners, and puts things in the experienced hands of the teacher — if it is a conducive moment to pause for a question, he or she will ask, and if it happens to be at a point where people need to keep moving or require further guidance, he or she can keep general instructions going while, again, working his or her way toward you, at which point you can quietly bring up your question.   

 Again, if at this point the instructor thinks it might benefit everyone, he or she can then say: “A great question,” and then share the answer with the class as a whole.  And, if it happens to be unique, he or she can quietly give you a brief response while allowing the meditative flow of the class to continue.  Finally, just like the level one questions above, if it’s more complex than time allows, he or she can let you know and invite you to bring it up after class, again without you worrying about having disrupted the experience of others. 

 Level Three: Minor but Genuine “Curiosities.”  Our last level is what can be referred to as minor but still-genuine issues we wonder about.  Some of these are physical (“Is it better to feel this here or here?”), some systemic (“Is this helpful for this condition or situation?”), and some psychological/philosophical (“Is there a link between this pose and these feelings or thoughts?” or “How, if at all, does this pose connect with this particular chakra?”), but they all combine the characteristics of being both non-pressing but still sincere. 

 This type of question might seem trivial, especially compared to safety, but I think it’s important to address – again, because a big part of why we come to class is to learn not only alignment and “deepening variations,” but also about the nuances of our practice as a whole.  At the same time, these are also obviously the type of questions that are most likely to disrupt the flow of a class.  So, how do we balance these two issues? 

 There are two simple ways of honoring these questions while also honoring the class-time of others, one or both of which may work for you.  The first is a bit more work, but it also has more benefits, while the second is more reliable, but it can take a bit of communication with your teacher. 

 Approach number one is simply to make a mental note of the question and link it in your mind with the pose you are currently in or have just completed – for example, saying to yourself: “During cobra, I was wondering about the merits of gazing forward versus gazing downward.”  Then tell yourself: “At the end of class, I‘ll go to the teacher, remind myself of the question I had during cobra, and ask.”  This is actually a surprisingly effective technique because it allows us to link the question with a physical state, making it far easier to recall, while also having the added benefit of teaching us to remember the poses we have performed in a given class – a habit which can greatly enrich our practice at home. 

 Obviously, this approach can take a certain amount of mental effort, so there is another approach you can use, although, again, this requires some communication with your teacher.  Once more, it relies on eye-contact — simply catch your instructor’s eye with a look that says: “I’ve got a question, but it’s very minor,” and then say or mouth: “Could you remind me after?”  The merit of this approach is that remembering poses is what we teachers do for a living 😉, so after class, he or she will have no trouble recalling: “So, you had a question during cobra?”  This will then stir your memory and allow you to ask without disrupting the class flow or the flow of your own practice.   

 Putting it All Together 

 Again, these are what I’ve found to be the most common categories of questions and the most constructive and non-disruptive ways to address them.  I hope this might give you some ideas as to how you can honor your own safety and growth while also honoring the experience of others.  Most of all, whatever approach you might take, please know that every quality yoga teacher is both deeply concerned for your safety and also truly wishes to support your growth as a practitioner, and that means that questions not only aren’t an interruption, but are in fact very much what we are there for…. 

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