How to choose yoga classes for your unique needs

This post lays out three main themes for yoga classes to help you quickly decide which class on YouTube will best suit you without wasting your precious time. 

New students looking to establish a sustainable home yoga practice often struggle with maintaining a regular yoga routine. Daily life can often get in the way of the best intentions. Fear of moving beyond our comfort zone can also lead us to fall off the bandwagon.

A good way to prevent this is to get savvy with choosing the right class for you. This is because it is very easy to get sucked down Youtube yoga class rabbit holes for hours.

For anyone looking to develop their own home yoga practice, one of the most important things is to become your own teacher. This means:

  • tuning in to when you can realistically practice in your day
  • considering how you feel emotionally
  • understanding how you feel physically.

These three elements will guide your decisions about the types of yoga classes that would best suit your unique needs.

Get the accompanying freebie for this post – a reflections journal starter to help you keep on top of your yoga routine.

At a Glance

Whether you practice in the morning, afternoon, or evening will influence the type of class you do. Morning classes lend themselves well to a more physical practice to help increase vitality for the day. Afternoon classes will be focused on refreshing the mind and body. Evening classes will benefit you if they are more restorative in nature.

Taking a few minutes to sit quietly and identify how you are feeling emotionally is a great opportunity to really make your yoga practice unique to you. If you’re feeling angsty, or nervous, then find a class that is slower-paced. If you’re feeling groggy and lethargic, a more dynamic class will be of benefit.

Try to identify first any areas f the body that are achy or stiff. Search for a class that targets those points of the body to help find some release.

It is always recommended to practice on a reasonably empty stomach, but this isn’t always feasible. In that case, leave at least two hours for food to be digested before beginning an asana class or breathwork class.

Let’s look at each theme in a little more detail.

woman in white yoga clothes meditating on the beach at sunrise showing time of day as one of the themes of yoga classes

Themes for yoga classes 1: Choose a class based on the time of day

A great way to narrow your search on YouTube is to identify the time of day that you will most likely practice. This will influence the types of yoga classes you choose. Let’s break this down in a little more detail.

Morning classes

For many of us, mornings are when we can carve out a bit of time for ourselves to practice. Our nervous systems will be coming out of rest-and-digest states and beginning to ramp up a little bit. Therefore, this is the perfect time to aim for a yoga class that is more dynamic in nature. For example, a hatha yoga class* will be energizing without exhausting you.

A yin yoga class would also be appropriate as yin yoga targets the joints and this is best done with relatively cold muscles. Yin yoga is often equated to restorative yoga, but it’s important to note that the two are different. Yin yoga can actually be quite challenging as you hold poses for several minutes at a time. This can bring up some emotional discomfort for you to release, hence why it is beneficial in the mornings – you can start the day with a fresh perspective after class.

*Hatha yoga here is describing an asana practice that is reasonably slow yet still challenging in nature. In actual fact, all movement-based yoga classes are hatha yoga. Ashtanga primary series is hatha yoga, as is an Iyengar class, but they have been systematised differently. Western influence has somewhat minimised the term “hatha yoga” to be a slow moving practice. I’ve used it here in this context because this is how many classes are named on YouTube.

A typical search on YouTube for a morning class might look like “30-minute yin yoga morning sequence” or “20-minute hatha yoga for mornings”.

Afternoon classes

If you work in an office, the chances are that by lunchtime your energy is draining and your mood is comparatively less perky than it was when the day began. A lunchtime yoga class is a wonderful way to lift your spirits and revitalize you for the rest of your day.

Deskwork can wreak havoc on our bodies. When we sit at a desk for hours at a computer, we are losing core strength and flexibility in our legs, and breathing shallower as a result of hunching over. Shallower breathing puts us in a state of fight-or-flight, which you can read more about here.

Therefore, choosing a class that focuses on chest openers (back bends), or what have also been called heart opening poses, and includes some legwork (look for something that includes warrior poses) and core work (anything that works up to crow pose would likely include a lot of core work) would be of great benefit.

Your search on YouTube might include “20-minute lunchtime heart opening yoga” or “30-minute before lunch yoga sequence for office workers”.

Evening classes

Personally, this is the time of day I am most likely to practice. This is when I have the most time for myself on weekdays. However, I am gearing up for bedtime, so I wouldn’t opt for anything too dynamic. Instead, I look for something that will support the relaxation of my nervous system. This could be restorative yoga, or a hatha yoga class that has a substantial breath work component aimed at lengthening the exhale and slowing down the breath. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for our rest-and-digest state.

Restorative yoga is different to yin yoga in that props are used to fully support the body in each pose, allowing you to completely relax and focus on the breath. Yin yoga use props, but to aid you in going deeper into a pose as well as relax a bit in others.

A search on YouTube could look like “40-minute yin yoga for sleep” or “60-minute restorative yoga to relax the mind”.

You might notice that all my search recommendations start with a time length. This helps to narrow down the classes that YouTube will display to ensure they suit your unique needs.

woman in white yoga clothes in child's pose on a wooden deck showing that your emotions is one of the themes of yoga classes

Themes for yoga classes 2: Choose a class based on how you’re feeling emotionally

Modern yoga (with the influnce of social media) tends to emphasize the asana practice above all else. This can lead us to believe that we should be striving for improved strength and flexibility over how we feel before, during, and after class.

I encourage you to somewhat let go of that belief and instead turn your gaze inwards before each practice. Tune in to the present moment. Ask yourself how you’re feeling before you search for a class. When I’m teaching yoga, I guide students to tune in to how they’re really feeling for at least the first few minutes of class.

This is an essential skill to develop in your own practice as it will help you to choose a class that will benefit you emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. This is the purpose of modern yoga.

If you’re feeling annoyed, frustrated, angry, nervous, anxious, or over-excited then a slower paced class focusing on restorative poses would benefit. Anything that includes simple forward folds (like child’s pose) will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

If you’re feeling lethargic, disconnected, uninspired and unmotivated, then a practice with more vitalizing yoga poses is beneficial. This will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, giving you more energy and clarity. Something that incluides a lot of warrior poses, or inversions (like Downward Dog) will be of benefit.

Possible searches include: “45-minute restorative yoga to calm down” or “30-minute yoga for energy”.

Man with back to camera rubbing left shoulder and back of neck showing that understanding physical issues is one of the themes of yoga classes

Themes for yoga classes 3: Choose a class based on how you’re feeling physically

If you take classes at a yoga studio you’ll notice that at the beginning of class, the yoga instructor asks if you have any physical issues going on. This is so they can adapt the class plan to include poses that support the healing of that issue or remove poses that might create a risk.

Tune in to your body and do a quick head-to-toe scan. How are you feeling? Is there an area of the body that feels stiff or aching? Do you feel like you have some tension in your upper back or neck? This might need an understanding of the difference between pain and discomfort, which you can read more about in this post.

Personally, with all the sitting I do, I love a physical practice that allows for some chest opening, leg strengthening, and stretching. This is a class that suits my unique needs as a reluctantly sedentary being.

For example, if you lead a fairly sedentary life, as I do (long commutes and desk-job make it unavoidable), then you might notice some nagging lower back pain. In that case, you could search for classes that support your lower back or lower body.

A typical search might look like “30-minute yoga for lower back pain morning sequence” or “20-minute evening yoga for neck tension”

Putting it all together

You’ll see that your searches can include all the keywords that are relevant to your needs.

For example, if you have a bit of lower back pain, you can practice in the mornings for 15 minutes, and you’re in need of a perk-up, then your search words can reflect that: “15-minutes vitalising morning yoga for lower back pain”. See what comes up and what resonates.

Bonus tips

These three themes are a great way to get started with developing your home yoga routine without spending hours lost in the bowels of the internet. To spice it up even more, try these tips.

Try out a few teachers

Be open to trying out a few different classes with different instructors. You will find teachers that you just don’t resonate with and that’s OK, even if those teachers have a lot of people following them. Everyone has a different teaching style.

To get started, try out some of my tried-and-tested recommendations here. These are some really skillful teachers, in my opinion, who have given me some of my most memorable classes.

Keep yourself accountable

By this, I mean planning in advance to take away the cognitive load of searching for a class each day. Personally, I save my most memorable classes to a playlist on YouTube. These playlists I have organized by time length, feeling, and pain point. One class can be saved in more than one playlist.

I then make a tentative plan for the month and paste the video link into the relevant practice days on my digital calendar. That way I don’t need to search again every time I want to practice that class. I also like to write the class name and playlist down on a small post-it note and add it to my wall calendar, so I have a double reminder.

FUN FACT: Repeating a yoga class is really beneficial. This is because you will see how the same class can feel very different on a different day, and you will be able to see how you start to feel a little better with each practice, and experiment with using props.

If planning a month in advance seems too overwhelming right now, focus on planning the next yoga class. Once you’ve completed it, immediately plan three or four options for the next one so that you can make the right choice quickly depending on the time of day and how you feel.

Keep a reflections journal

I am not one for writing about my feelings too much, so I understand if this feels a bit cringy, but it is helpful at the start. Before practice, jot down a couple of sentences about how you feel. After class, do the same. You might want to include any questions you had or anything you didn’t understand. Keep a note of how the practice made you feel, and how you felt with this teacher.

If you need some answers to your questions, you’re welcome to join my Facebook group, where no question is too foolish, and we all support each other in our practice.

Blue paper peeled back to reveal the word "conclusion"

Key takeaways

  1. Decide on the time of day you can practice
  2. Focus on how you’re feeling emotionally.
  3. Focus on how you’re feeling physically.
  4. Consider how much time you can practice that day.
  5. Use these answers to develop your search on YouTube
  6. Save interesting-looking classes/classes you already enjoyed to an appropriately-labeled playlist
  7. Paste the class link to a digital calendar / write the class name and playlist name onto a schedule/planner
  8. Keep a reflections journal

If you’d like a head start with the reflections journal, click the button below for access to my FREE printout to get you started.

Until next week, much love