In response to my post “The lure of the mega studio,” Ray wrote a thoughtful comment, asking me about my frame of reference. To what am I contrasting the mega studio?
Since day one, my predominant practice has been Iyengar yoga. So, the studio attributes randomly listed below apply frequently (but not exclusively) to Iyengar studios. But the key difference is not the type of yoga but the teacher-student dynamic: is the teacher just leading a sequence of asanas (like a DVD come to life) or is the teacher actually teaching?
- Small-ish classes, ranging from 10 to 3o (unless a teacher is truly pro and can pay attention to numbers above that).
- Consistent classmates, who, like me, have committed to a series with a particular teacher.
- Classes that run from 1.5 to two hours, which is necessary for inverted and higher-level asanas (especially backbends). Mega studios often run standard-length classes of one hour (or 1.25 hours, max).
- Classes for specific levels, such as level 1-2, 2-3, or 3-4, in the Iyengar system. Watch elderly or unfit beginners at large, all-level classes: it’s quite alarming!
- Teachers who know who I am. They notice me as a stranger when I first approach them, they ask my name, they immediately take notice of my body and quirks.
- Teachers who are vigilant about students’ safety and try to individualize the asanas to their levels (if students are more advanced, the teacher suggests the next-stage pose; if they are struggling, the teacher uses props to fit the pose to their bodies). Never do teachers do the whole asana sequence along with students during class; it’s their teaching time, not their practice time.
- Use of props to modify asanas for any level. It always amuses me that non-Iyengar students are loathe to use props (or maybe just baffled by them). But they’re not to blame. Rather, I question why some mega-studio teachers let inflexible students struggle toward their toes in forward bends, instead of handing them straps and blocks.
- Classes with no music. Also, classes where lights are dimmed only for savasana and not for “atmosphere.” Otherwise, how can teachers watch what students are doing?
- Informal Q&A between students and teacher throughout class, rather than the uninterrupted sequences that typically unfold in mega-studio classes (where no one ever asks for clarification or help during class).
- Classes that teach inverted poses, such as headstand, shoulderstand, handstand, and elbow balance, which require props for beginners and hands-on guidance from teachers.
To me, the mega studio a great way to shake up your practice after you’ve learned the fundamentals.