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March 3, 2013

Most yoga practitioners have experienced a “bad” class. Maybe the music doesn’t fit with the flow. Maybe the teacher moves the students into a pose before properly warming them up. Maybe you needed a more restorative practice, and the teacher is leading you through challenging core work. Whatever it is, this class is just not what you had in mind.

Here are a few ways to see this “bad” class as an incredible opportunity:

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1. Let go of expectations. 

Let’s say you take the same class with the same instructor every week, but you show up at the usual time to find a substitute. Uh-oh. Before you think about picking up your mat to leave, remember that this is a chance for you to do something different. We often move through our days according to patterns and routines that are very familiar, and we sometimes tend to zone out, letting habit take over. The mind wanders, and action becomes less purposeful. Changing things up a bit is a good way to get out of this rut.

Non-attachment is a key tenet of yoga philosophy, so going with the flow (literally!) is a great way to stay present in the moment and try to let go of patterns that can sometimes be limiting. Let go of any preconceptions you may have about this class, and feel what is happening in your body and mind. Remaining open to a different experience allows you to stay in the present moment, rather than going on autopilot.

2. Try something new. 

Maybe you’re a devoted vinyasa practitioner, and you’re in an Iyengar class. You’re used to flowing through your yoga practice, and the teacher’s attention to detail is cramping your style. This is a great way to open up your mind and your practice. Give in to the teacher’s style and pay attention to how you feel. Try a new pose or a new variation and see what changes for you. Be open to this experience, whatever it is. Different perspectives and yoga styles help keep your practice fresh. You may not love the class, but you may discover a new way of experiencing an asana.

3. Look inward.

It’s very tempting to get caught up in feelings of frustration or anger when a class doesn’t go the way you’d like. However, a class or a teacher that doesn’t do it for you provides you with the opportunity to practice pratyahara, or sense withdrawal. Close your eyes and turn inward, bringing your gaze to your third eye. It’s a pretty safe bet that this type of introspection will change your experience of the poses. Acknowledge and honor whatever you’re feeling.

4. Focus on the breath.

This goes hand in hand with looking inward. Rather than letting a bad attitude get the best of you, stay in the present by watching the breath as it moves in and out of the body. Staying with your breath throughout your practice keeps you grounded in the present.

Breathing also has strong physiological links to emotional and cognitive states. So if you feel yourself getting frustrated, make an effort to come back to the breath, relax, and experience what is.

5. Change your perspective. 

Remember, your practice is YOUR practice! The Buddha is credited with saying, “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” In other words, getting all huffy will not make your experience of the class better. More than likely, it will ruin your experience of the class. Attitude is everything.

It's important to challenge ourselves on and off the mat. If you're feeling resistance, try to move toward it rather than away from it. Really experience what you are resisting and why. It will deepen your practice and your understanding of yourself.

So put a smile on your face and have the best class you can!

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