How To Survive Your First Yoga Class

Jan 16 2011
Article by Joanne

I am always amazed when I see a yoga class that is not completely full. Knowing the rewards that yoga can bring, I often wonder why there are not more people doing it. Everyone can benefit from yoga, regardless of age, sex or level of physical fitness. I encourage my friends to come to classes with me but I hear the same thing over and over again, “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible!” I find this statement surprising. Yoga is not just about flexibility, and yoga is definitely not just for flexible people -- everyone can do yoga!

So, to try and remove some of the mystique about the practice of yoga, here are some quick and easy tips for what to expect at your first yoga class.

1. When you step into a beginner’s yoga class, you will find most people won’t be able to touch their toes or sit cross-legged on the floor and will have very little knowledge of yoga. It’s a beginner’s class, right?  Chances are, you will not see someone performing yoga poses in the same way you have seen in magazines or videos. These are often professional teachers or advanced practitioners, i.e. someone that has been practicing for many years to be able to perform yoga poses with ease. These people do not go to beginner’s classes, they teach them. Remember it is their job as a yoga teacher to offer you a safe and comfortable place to learn, and they won’t expect you to be anything but a beginner.

2. Fear of the unknown often means we avoid trying new things. It is very unlikely that something will happen in a yoga class that you won’t be able to handle. You will probably end up along side people, just like yourself, who want to live happier, healthier lives.

3. To help remove some of the 'fear factor' let's go though what is going to happen when you go to a yoga class.

  • Arrive about fifteen minutes before the class on the first day.
  • Leave you shoes at the door. Yoga is practiced in bare feet.
  • Check in at the desk and let them know it is your first time at the center, they may ask you to fill out a registration form. The staff at the front desk will direct you to the change rooms and then the space where the class will be held.
  • Go to the change room and get changed into your yoga clothes. Wear something that would be suitable for a workout at the gym. Some forms of yoga can be surprisingly sweaty, in a hot and busy Ashtanga class it can sound like it’s raining with all of the drops of sweat hitting the mat! If you know you sweat a lot bring a small clean towel.
  • Many yoga centers will have yoga mats that students may borrow but most people prefer to bring their own for hygienic reasons. If you don’t have one on your first day, don’t worry about it.
  • If you have any serious illness or injuries it is important to let the teacher know before the class begins. You should also check with your doctor before you start any new physical activity.
  • Yoga should be practiced on an empty stomach. It is recommended you leave three hours after a large meal or two hours after snacks. Just like any physical activity, doing yoga on a full stomach can lead to cramping or nausea. It also prevents the body from efficiently distributing blood and oxygen to the muscles and joints.
  • Make sure you are properly hydrated before the class. You ideally shouldn’t drink water during the class, if you feel the need to drink water just take little sips and then thoroughly hydrate once the class in finished. Drinking coconut water is a natural way to rehydrate.
  • Refrain from wearing any fragrances. Many people are sensitive to fragrances and you will be breathing deeply in a confined space.
  • Once you are in the yoga space, sometimes referred to as the shala, you will put your mat down on the floor, sit on your mat and wait quietly for the class to begin. The shala is considered a sacred space, so leave any loud banter at the door.

4. What happens next will depend on what style of yoga class you are attending. The teacher my start by chanting “OM” in which case you are welcome to join in the chant or you can just sit quietly until it is over. The teacher will then guide you through a series of yoga poses or asanas, accompanied by a guided breath. It is the combination of the breath and asanas that make it yoga rather than just exercise. If the guided breath seems complicated and you can’t keep up, then you can just breathe deeply through your nose. You will get the hang of it eventually.

5. The last posture of the class is usually Savasana. You will be asked to lie down on your back and rest for about fifteen minutes. Although it may seem like you are not doing very much this is another very important yoga asana. It is used to bring the breath and heart rate back to normal, while allowing the body to absorb the prana or energy from the yoga practice. It helps to relieve stress, mild depression, headaches, fatigue and insomnia and it lowers blood pressure.  This pose is a great opportunity to reach a state of deep relaxation that we don’t often get to experience in our everyday lives.  I know many people who just show up to class just to do this pose.  The teacher will let you know when it is time to get up and the class is over.  

6. Save any in depth questions you have for the teacher until the end of the class but if you feel any pain, or you are lightheaded during class, stop and let the teacher know.

Yoga is spreading to many smaller cities and towns. If you live in a major city you should be able to find many beginners yoga classes. To find a yoga class in your area, check an online yoga directory (such as www.worldyoganetwork.com) the local telephone directory, community center or the notice board at your local grocery store. It may take a bit of time to find what works for you but use this as an opportunity to try new things and experiment with various yoga studios and styles. You could be drawn to a more dynamic style of yoga or you may want to mix it up and do many different styles. Try out different teachers, too. Sometimes it is just a matter of finding the right teacher that makes everything ‘click’.

Hopefully this survival guide will help you make it through your first yoga class and you will be well on your way to a happier, healthier you.

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About Joanne Smallwood

Joanne Smallwood has been a dedicated practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga since 1997 and a teacher since 2005. In addition to teaching in Goa she is also a founding member and editor of World Yoga Network. She values a daily practice and enjoys sharing her love of yoga and her experience as a student and teacher.
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