I've been fortunate enough to teach Yoga in a variety of settings since I started in 2012. I have taught in workplaces, Yoga Studios, on the beach, in a park, and in Community Centres and Gyms. Depending on the setting, sometimes the Yoga classes are scheduled between various fitness classes, and if the setting is a Gym, people's main reason for attending may be getting in their "work-out" for the day. Now, Yoga certainly can and will strengthen and tone your muscles, increase you flexibility, and sometimes get you sweating, so what makes it different than your typical "fitness class"?
I would say it comes down to purpose.
When you attend a bootcamp or HIIT class for example, the purpose is often to burn calories, increase heart-rate and build muscle. People's goals in these classes may be to lose a few pounds or "get back in shape", and this is often how these classes are marketed. These classes are generally about working on the physical body. (note: I know there are huge benefits to emotional and mental wellness from moving the physical body and I am not trying to discount any physical movement or exercise - I find going to the gym to be a wonderful stress relief myself! There are also wonderful mind-body style classes popping up these days, I am just trying to separate the two for the purpose of this article)
Yoga's purpose is to connect mind, body, & spirit. And although these days we generally focus on the "body" part while practising, it is important and helpful to know how the other two pieces fit in.
In Yoga, the physical practice is only 1 small piece of the puzzle - or, technically, the third of 8 Limbs. Unknown to many practitioners, the physical practice - Asana - which is generally what you go to a Yoga class for in Western society, was not the main purpose of Yoga those many hundreds of years ago when it was first practised. Back then, the physical practice was only done to prepare the body for the long amounts of time spent sitting in meditation. Now, I am not going to go deeply into the 8 Limbs of Yoga, simply because I am still only a student of them and in no way an expert, but besides Asana, the other Limbs include guidelines to live an ethical and integral life, breathing technique, deprivation of senses (meant to help turn the practitioner inward), concentration and meditation, and finally - a state of ecstasy! (Here is an easy read of the 8 Limbs if you want to get started on your own study) Knowing this, it may make a bit more sense as to why your instructor is asking you to feel sensations in your body, to "watch your breath", to sometimes change or deepen your breath, or why they refer to your "chest" as your "heart space" all the time.
At the end of the day, what is important is that whatever physical activity you choose makes your feel your best. But maybe, next time you go to a Yoga class at your neighbourhood gym, set the intention to go a bit deeper than the physical body - just to see what happens.
Interested enrolling for the next Your Best Yoga session?? It starts November 2nd, 2016 - Click here for more info on the adult session. I am also offering my first Your Best Kids Group Session starting November 2nd. Click here for more info on the Kids session.