Q: I have been in one yoga class for a long time. I am not finding myself having more difficulty with poses as the years go on, but I’ve started thinking about when that might happen. If at some point I can no longer do most of the poses in class, I would of course know it’s time to move to an easier class. Do you have other thoughts on when/why to change classes? I’m not talking about responding to a sudden change in physical status, such as having broken or strained something, but rather thinking about longer term changes that are likely (?) to come.
A: Dear Stable Student,
This is a very interesting question. In a sense, you are asking about how one prepares for the inevitable changes that accompany aging. Obviously, we all are aging every day, and at some point, more significant limitations in our physical abilities will arise. In some eastern traditions, as a way of confronting these changes, the student is taught to meditate on change, aging and even death. The fear that can accompany these things is considered an obstacle on the path of yoga, and if addressed and worked with and through, is considered progress towards yoga's goals.
And more specific to your inquiry, although you might choose to attend an "easier" class as time goes on when poses that were once easy become too much or just no longer appropriate for you, you may not need to change classes. As an example, I attend an advanced class once a week, and many of the seasoned practitioners in that class no longer do certain poses that come up in the course of class, but still find it valuable to be with the teacher and the community, simply substituting appropriate alternatives when needed. Since taking public class is so much more than simply the performance of difficult poses, and you may be getting a lot from being in the presence of a mature teacher and wonderful fellow students, don't be quick to jump ship, just because your vessel is getting a little older!
Finally, I believe somewhere in my past posts, I have spoken about the stages of life and the recommended adjustments in practice that Krishnamacharya and Desikachar recommend (see here), and in their estimation, there is a natural and expected shift away from so much asana as we age, and doing more meditation and pranayama as we get older and are, in many ways, more prepared and ready for these more subtle practices. That may be something to start working towards now, while you are fit and able.
A: In my opinion if you’re exhausted after your class then it is time to reevaluate your goals in going to yoga. It is okay to like a bit of a challenge but if every pose is challenging and you are having a difficult time keeping up with the rest of the class, then it is time to change classes. I recommend that you discuss your concerns with your current teacher and if this isn't possible, like it is a gym yoga class, then I recommend you find a class where you can get more individual adaptations to your physical abilities. It also sounds like maybe you are a bit bored in your class and the routine may be very predictable, so perhaps you might want to try some other forms of yoga that encompass the whole of the physical spectrum.