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The Benefits of Private and Group Yoga
by Daralyse Lyons


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The mat beckons. “Come, sit, move, breathe,” it seems to say. The mat invites inquiry. Yoga itself is intensely personal, yet many students only allow themselves the experience of group classes. As a yoga teacher, I instruct both private and group yoga classes. In all of my experiences, both as a teacher and a devotee of yoga, I have arrived at the belief that yoga acts as a mirror for life – our experiences on the mat are a reflection of our experiences in the world. How does this translate on the mat in private and group sessions? In general, a personal, individual yoga practice allows us to turn our focus inward, revealing privately-held emotions and experiences. In turn this allows our body, mind, and spirit to feel more wholly integrated. Attending group yoga classes reveals much about our relationships with others and with the world, acting as a reflection of our socialization. In life, we are constantly related to both ourselves and others, so too should we be in yoga with a balanced approach to practicing both solo and in groups.

When we practice yoga on our own, or in a one-on-one private session with an instructor, it is intensely personal and private and, as such, our experiences tend to be more raw. So many of my clients have experienced tremendous emotional releases “on the mat.” One woman wept in Child’s Pose as I gently rubbed her back. Her body shook and she felt deeply-held emotions which she let out without reservation. A male client of mine revealed that he was flooded with anger in Downward Dog. Because his was a private session, and the experience was his and his alone, I told him to scream, which he did. He screamed until his anger dissipated. Another client, an elderly woman I have been working with for several months, was grateful that her private sessions catered to her physical limitations. She had been to numerous group yoga classes but felt far more comfortable with her body and herself without anyone else around. “I don’t have to compare myself to anyone,” she told me, “it’s just me and I can feel comfortable in my own skin.” Also, individual yoga sessions lend themselves to deep introspection and contemplation while fostering within us the ability to be alone with ourselves. This time of tuning into our physical and emotional experiences in our practice cultivates the ability to quiet the mind throughout the day. Individual yoga becomes a springboard for a life that is more mindful, attentive and self-regarding.

So why do group yoga? Interestingly enough, I see group yoga classes as an integral part of the journey, although not a substitute for individual mat-work. Group yoga allows us to be part of the collective vitality and energy of a group focused on a similar practice. This allows us to fuel our individual practice and generally feel more energetic and inspired. However, it is important to note that you must keep listening to your body while experiencing this group consciousness. By listening to your body and modifying poses as needed, you'll get the most out of your practice without risking injury or pushing yourself beyond your limit to keep up with the other students. Most yoga teachers will tell you not to compare yourself to other students. However, it can be beneficial to use your group yoga observations to your advantage. Once you see another body attain a feat, you become aware of your own body’s potential and of the various possibilities that yoga offers to those who practice regularly. To use an example from my own experience, I never knew it was possible to do a split until I first saw someone else do one. Now, I freely drop into Hanumanasana Pose and give others the experience of viewing a level of flexibility that may or may not be within their reach. 

Another bittersweet reality, but valuable life lesson, of group yoga is that the student must learn to share. With only one teacher, the student may not always get the full attention of the instructor and needs to be more comfortable with setting comfortable limits and goals for his or herself. When I teach a group yoga class, I can’t devote the same level of attention to an individual student as I do when I teach privately. I walk around and adjust various bodies, laying comforting hands on weary muscles. But, students are forced to share me like siblings with a doting parent. Such is yoga. Such is life. Along with this theme of shared experiences, group yoga classes foster a spirit of camaraderie. As a student, when I walk into a yoga class, I smile at my yoga buddies and they smile at me. We exchange pleasantries and wonder together what the teacher has in store for us. As we begin to practice, we are ever aware of ourselves and each other. Last week, while attending a yoga class, the other students and I were diligently engaged in our respective practices, breathing and being, when the teacher remarked on the need for quiet. Just then, a jackhammer began noisily intruding on our solitude and the blare of a siren sounded in the distance. The entire class erupted into laughter. Then, we got back to doing yoga. At the end of class, we chanted together. Our merged voices were much like our laughter. These moments were richer because they were shared; our individual joys were multiplied in our collective experience.

I have come to the conclusion that neither group nor individual yoga is better. Group yoga is more social by nature, perhaps less emotionally evocative, and may be more energizing and less relaxing. Individual yoga is more personal, more introspective, and operates at a deeper level. But, both are beneficial. That’s why as a practitioner I attend classes and practice on my own and why, as a teacher, I recommend that students attend group classes and practice on their own as well. Just as the world invites us to develop a relationship with ourselves and with others, so too our mats invite us to look inward and outward to enrich ourselves, our souls, and our relationships.



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About the Author

Hi! My name is Daralyse Lyons and I am the founder of the Emotional Yoga approach to healing and wholeness. I'm a walking testimonial for the technique, having used it to recover from a rampant eating disorder, OCD, depression, anxiety and PTSD. My life before finding Emotional Yoga felt hopeless. In fact, I was told by some medical and mental health practitioners that I would never be able to recover from my eating disorder and other emotionally-driven maladies.

Learn more about Daralyse at emotionalyoga.info/index.html.






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