Your first yoga class

Hi there Yogistas, and especially a big warm welcome for Newbies!

I want to talk about starting something new – going to your first yoga class, and hopefully give some useful tips.  Let me know how they work for you.

The first thing to know about taking a new class is, we were all once newbies.  (This may not apply to children of yoga lovers as they would have grown up with it!) But everyone else, yes we were once new.

Group Yoga Class

Group Yoga Class

Creative Commons License photo credit: Eli Christman

People start yoga in a number of ways.  I started from a book, others from a DVD, others from TV.  I think these are good ways to start, as you can begin to get to know a few things about yoga before getting out there into a class and dealing with all that stuff. (See my later comments).

But then comes the time to get out there and do a class!

So, first you look for a local class.  

Do you go to a gym that holds classes, do you go to a big studio with a full timetable, do you go to an independent teacher?  Well they all have pros and cons, like everything.

Gyms.  Gyms that hold yoga classes can be a mixed bag.  To an aerobic or fitness instructor,  yoga may look like a relatively easy add-on to what they already offer, and they may be right.  Fit folks can often do the poses with a good degree of facility and so they can teach them without too many issues.  My reservation with that, is that without the indepth training of a good yoga school the fitness teacher is only demonstrating and modelling the poses, rather than providing a good understanding of all aspects of yoga, and modelling that for their students.  But for beginners, just getting to grips with the poses is a great start, so what I might call, ‘fitness yoga’ is not a bad place to start.  You may already have a gym membership, it may be convenient, you can do your class while your children have a swimming lesson, or your partner does weights, you may feel far more in your comfort zone if you are already happy at that gym, etc. lots of reasons why this might work for you.  Also, I have worked at gyms, so your gym yoga teacher, may be a fully qualified specialist yoga teacher, so all good!

Yoga studio.  Then there is the yoga studio.  A lot of beginners may find this a bit out of their comfort zone, others may love the idea its out of their comfort zone, all that omming, incense and Eastern mystique!  Studios usually try to offer all levels of classes, and may offer different types of yoga, they will have a number of different teachers, and they probably offer different ways to pay.  So often they offer unlimited classes for a month, or the more you buy the lower the cost of each class.  For beginners look for introductory classes and prices.  If you are going to try a studio, literally take it for a test drive!  Try out each teacher and style that is available for newbies.  You may get a super cheap week, so free up your schedule and get as much use out of your pass as possible, that is why they are offering it.  You may not like Teacher One’s style, but Teacher Three floats your boat.  You may not like ashtanga, but you love restorative.  Its there for you to try and for you to choose.  Spend enough that you can sample as much as you want, but dont make a financial commitment you would be unhappy with if you find its really not for you.  I believe there is a yoga class for everyone, but you may need to shop around to find it.

Independent teacher.  Then, there are independent teachers.  They typically hire a hall/room or teach in their own home, and what they offer can be as varied as you can imagine.  They often offer introductory prices to encourage people to come, so go along and see what you think.

So, you have a selection of local classes you might try.  What next?

Clothing and kit.  What to wear?  And what to take?  Well, you can spend a lot of money on yoga gear, and some of it is so cool and funky, you really want to.  My suggestion is, dont!  Be practical, you probably have something suitable already.  At this stage you are just testing the waters.  If you like it you can really splash out later!

Bottoms.  What you need for a yoga class is a good pair of comfortable trousers.  They need to be stretchy enough so you can move, snug enough that the teacher can see what your body is doing, (they are responsible for your safety) and not transparent!  I kid you not!  Some black leggings and trousers appear practically transparent when the user is in a full forward bend, so please test this before buying, or going to class.  Tracksuit bottoms are ok, leggings are ok.  Good yoga fit trousers are slim fitting, capri or long, with an ample rise, by which I mean how far they come up your torso.

Now, if you are fit and toned, you may feel happy in shorts of various lengths, or in hipsters.  But if you are working on getting fit and toned you may feel more comfortable throughout the class with something a little more forgiving.  A little longer in the waist, or with a fold down waist, and a little more coverage in the leg.

Now bare legs do work best for many poses, like tree where you balance on one leg and place the other sole on the inner thigh, skin is less slippy.  But if its cool, or you are less body confident, good trousers are best.

For blokes, think about how what you wear will work, when you stand on one leg and plant your other heel in your groin!  You may want to rethink your underwear for that one!

Tops.  Wear a comfortable, stretchy top which will work in the poses!  What do I mean?  Well, in yoga we stretch, we bend, we twist.  Lots of clothes dont work well.  So when you stretch up does your belly pop out?  If this bothers you ,wear a super long vest top which tucks in or holds tight. Similarly a loose top will just drop down over your head if you go upsidedown, so think that one through!   If you have a wonderful womanly endowment make sure you are happy with the coverage when you bend forward, when you go upsidedown.  And make sure your underwear is up to the job and comfortable.

General outfitting.  And talking about temperature, bikram yoga is very hot and sweaty, so you need to dress for that, but I would never, never, never suggest bikram (hot yoga) for newbies.  Go somewhere else, become confident in the poses, then do hot yoga, unless you dont want to by that time!

For other yoga styles, you can get hot, you can get cool.  Wear layers.

Also a good yoga class should always include relaxation, so take something warm for that part.  In UK I suggested jumpers, warm socks, hoodies, AND I provided blankets!  But in Aus a warm shawl is enough.  But you can cool down a lot in relaxation, even in a warm climate, and then you cannot relax!

Yoga is done in bare feet, and a minimum of jewelry.

My only other comment would be that some, more traditional yoga places maintain a strict dress code in terms of modesty, in which case shoulders and midriffs must be covered, no low necklines and clothes looser and less revealing.  Its worth checking!

Kit.  As a newbie, you will probably find the teacher has a spare yoga mat you can use, do check! They may also sell them. Otherwise borrow one, you can buy very cheap ones from big chain stores or use a gym mat or at worst a large beach towel.  This will cushion you from the floor, especially when lying down, although it may be too slippy for standing poses.

Thats all you need, but some poses may be easier with a belt or yoga block.  Teachers usually provide these or they will show you how to do the pose without them.

So, there is very little initial investment required.  A little thought will make your early experiences more enjoyable, but you probably have all you need already.

So you know where you are going and you are kitted out.

Some do’s and don’ts.

Don’t go to class on a full stomach.  You will feel sick and not very bendy.  Have something fresh and healthy to eat about an hour beforehand, or if you are desperate, have a banana 30 minutes before.

Do take a bottle of water with you, especially if its hot weather.

Do get there early.  There will probably be some registration forms to fill in and a good teacher will want to know about any ailments, operations or issues.  This is in order that they can offer you alternative modifications to the poses, where these are necessary.

As yoga is done in bare feet, (extra mittens and yoga socks are an unecessary expense) you will be removing shoes and socks, extraneous clothes and leaving your bag somewhere.  Sometimes in a locker or open cubby hole outside, often at the side of the room.  But you will probably need warmer things for later during relaxation so keep them accessible. My suggestion is to take as little as possible so you dont have much baggage.  Please turn off your phone ahead of time.

If yoga props are available, get a full set!  Mat, belt, several blocks, eye cushions, several blankets.  Dont be shy, they will greatly help you during the class, and when they are provided, the teacher will certainly be helping everyone in the class use them to best advantage.  As a teacher, newcomers are my first concern, as they need direction to learn the ropes and may be shy about asking questions.  Do ask your teacher what props are recommended for that class.

You may want to put your mat at the back of the room so you can watch what other people do without feeling watched by them.  You may want to get close to the teacher so you can see what to do. It depends on you, it depends on the shape of the room.

New experiences always feel uncomfortable.  Remind yourself that yoga is not a competition.  This is a hard concept to assimilate as most of us have been in an unspoken competition most of our lives!  Chill!  You dont need to be flexible, you dont need to have good balance, you dont need to be slim, or athletic, you dont need to have any idea what you are doing, you dont need to be able to get into the pose, even after the teacher explains and demonstrates.

The best attitude is to have a go, and have a laugh!  If it works great, laugh!  If it just doesnt work, great, laugh!  Yoga is a tortoise race, not a hare!  Slow, steady, consistent, enjoying every moment and every breath, having a laugh, thats my kind of yoga!  Who cares what you look like as long as you walk away feeling energised, stretched out, relaxed and happy.  Thats my priority when I am teaching!

Depending on the teacher, there may be chanting/omming!  Join in if you want, otherwise just let the sound wash over you and enjoy.  Later you may want to join in, but a lot of folks feel shy about vocalising so dont let it worry you if you are not doing it.

When you are faced with an established class of people who know each other, it can feel uncomfortable, and you may feel like the only person who hasnt been affiliated.  Consciously let that concern go.  A good teacher, enjoys helping new people connect with themselves and the group.  At the end of the class you will know whether this is going to happen for you.  If not, maybe its not the class for you.  Cliquey is not very yogi!

You are responsible for you!  It is your body, your choice to come and your choice on the poses.  If you decide this pose isnt for you, dont do it.  A good teacher will quickly see you arent happy and give you an alternative.  Yoga is, in essence, a mindful activity.  If your body is unhappy only you know, so be aware and assertive.  Yoga is a long term process and lots of things can change.  Later on you may love that pose!  But it’s always little by little, ‘in the moment’ and definitely precautionary.  Life is a race.  Yoga is not.  Allow yourself to enjoy that!  Focus on enjoying yourself, relaxing and breathing.

A good teacher is likely to be a bit hands on.  This should feel non-invasive, reassuring and positive.  Also when dealing with newbies, a teacher should ask permission, before making any adjustments.  This is perfectly normal in a class, but if this feels awkward or stressful for you, please speak out and say you would rather not.  Everyone has different ways of relating, and privacy and seclusion is your choice.  At no point should you feel compelled or harassed!

Savasana!

At the end of the class, you will probably finish with relaxation.  This is the best part!  It may feel strange, lying around quietly with a bunch of strangers, but its the best part!  You may fall asleep.  God forbid, you may snore!  But this is the best part!  Dont allow your societal programming to rob you of this blessing.  Established yogis will ALL tell you this is the best part!  You may never relax more than you do at this point!  A good yoga class behind you, a good yoga mat beneath you, some soothing instruction from the instructor and you will drift off into a gorgeous delirium of peace you may have never experienced before!

Dont worry if you snore, dont worry if you arent focused, dont worry how long it feels.  Trust me, this is the best part.  Your body will thankyou, your peace of mind will thank you.  You deserve it.  Enjoy!

 

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