Entering a yoga studio, or a yoga class for the very first time can be an intimidating experience. Everybody else looks so confident and relaxed and sure of themselves. They’re all stronger and fitter and leaner and bendy as all hell.
But every single person in that room was once a beginner – including the teacher. What you’re seeing is the result of yoga – there’s been a lot of learning going on, and a lot of practicing. Me? When I started yoga, I couldn’t bend forward and reach my knees, let alone my toes.
Yoga is all about practice, and learning – some of which takes place outside of the class and off the mat.
After all, there’s no reason why you can’t learn a few things before you head into your first class, because that’s going to make you feel more confident, more relaxed and more sure of yourselves.
Wear comfortable clothes that are tight enough so when you’re upside down in downward dog, your t-shirt’s not falling down around your neck. There’s nothing worse than having to keep yanking your t-shirt up as it falls across your eyes yet again.
Legs also go upside down, and wide, so wear pants that don’t gape – baggy shorts just don’t work in yoga!
Expect to have to take your socks off! Yoga is always done in bare feet.
Bring a warmer layer for corpse pose – the relaxation we do at the end of class.
Water is not a big thing for most yoga classes – except those in heated rooms. Do come hydrated though! Drink plenty beforehand.
Don’t eat two hours before class – those weird bendy shapes do funny things do your insides as well as your outsides.
Come at least ten minutes early to your first class.
Introduce yourself to the teacher, say hi, ask him or her any questions. A good teacher should be available beforehand to connect with students. But sometimes, it does get crazy busy and the teacher might be dealing with a hundred and one last minute issues. If so, make time to have a chat to the teacher after class.
On the Mat
Pick a student that looks like they know what they’re doing and use them as a visual reference.
Choose a spot nearer the back of the room where you can still see the teacher, but you can also follow the more experienced students in front.
Stagger your mat with your neighbour’s so when you open your arms out wide you don’t whack into their arms.
Always be aware of where you are on the mat – top? middle? back? Use that student as a guide. That way when you have to suddenly jump your feet back, there’s mat behind you!
Never, ever push into pain. If it hurts, back off. If the teacher pushes you or pulls you and it doesn’t feel right, let them know!
Yoga is not about being bendy, it’s not about being strong, it’s not about looking a certain way – it’s all about being Present. And we get present by listening to our breath. It’s the number one thing in class. So don’t worry too much about whether or not you’re doing the pose “right”, focus your awareness on your breath.
Once you are Present, and you can maintain your awareness on your breath, you will find that your breath will effortlessly guide you in and out of the poses.
Never give up! If it gets hard, or you need a break, or you feel sick, or you suddenly want to burst into tears… get down on the mat in child’s pose. A good teacher should always tell you this before class, and show you what child is. Once you’re in Child, just breathe, and watch whatever’s going on inside of you – thoughts, feelings, sensations… breathe and watch.
Forget about all the other people in the room!
They don’t care what you’re doing, what you look like, what you’re wearing, or if you just farted.
And if they do care, that’s their issue, not yours. Tune them out, tune into your breath.
If your mind is racing with lots of thoughts along the lines of “You’ll never be able to do this, this was a bad idea, you’re the tightest in the room, you suck…” well forgetaboutit!
You don’t have to listen to your mind anymore. Those thoughts don’t matter. You’re here to listen to your breath and be right where you are today. And if that is tight as all hell, well then that’s ok!
The strange words
Those funny sounding words the teacher keeps using to describe postures?
It’s the language of yoga, and is one of the oldest languages in the world. The sounds it makes work on harmonics – that is, the vibrations of the words cause specific results in the body. Pretty cool huh? That’s why the OM sounds so damn good at the beginning or end of class – that sound is touching you on a cellular level.
More than just postures
Yep, yoga is about more than just postures – there’s eight parts in total that all come together to help you reach enlightenment.
Ok, I know, you just wanted a bit of a workout right? But even in your first class, you may come across these other aspects.
You’ll find that you feel so good after doing all of these three things that you’ll get curious about the other aspects of yoga – like yamas and niyamas. This is all about how you act towards yourself, and towards other people. It’s stuff like being truthful and non-violent.
A great teacher will weave this into postures – after all, you want to be truthful about how your body is feeling and not push into any pain. You want to be kind and gentle to yourself – and definitely not violently force your body into anything.
Yoga is not a religion though.
Yes, there can be talk about God, or the Divine, but yoga doesn’t ask you to believe in anything. Nope, it’s all about experience. You do the postures, learn the breathing, learn meditation, treat yourself and others well… and one thing leads to another. One day, you might just experience God. Enlightenment. Bliss. Samadhi. Whatever you want to call it…
Ok, but what am I going to get from yoga?
A great butt, toned thighs, less wrinkles… whatever! More important, what is yoga going to get from you?
Yep, think not in terms of what yoga can do for you, but what you can do for yoga.
- Can you turn up regularly and commit to just being on your mat for the duration of class?
- Can you commit to investing in your own mat to bring along to class?
- Can you commit to rolling out that mat at home between classes and just doing a little bit of yoga?
- Can you commit to taking your yoga off the mat and out into the world?
This is how you will benefit – the more you give, the more you get.
So forget about what you think you may get from yoga – all those benefits are already yours, instead focus on what it is you can going to give to yoga!
Where can I buy a great yoga mat and how often should I come to class?
My first yoga mat came from The Warehouse, cost $15 and lasted two years. It was likely made by a 9 year earning 12 cents an hour and supporting her whole family. I think I still have it though. Other places that sell mats include Kathmandu – good mid range mats that usually came with a carry case.
Lots of yoga studios also sell mats – yes, you’ll pay more, but there’s a reason for that. They don’t have mass buying power, the mats are often eco-friendly and they’re just much better quality than what you’ll find in a chain store. Yoga Unlimited has great yoga mats for sale here in Wellington.
It’s worth buying your own mat because it’s a concrete commitment to yourself as a yoga student. This is it – you can take it anywhere, even if you feel like a bit of an idiot when you start carrying it around.
As for how often to come to class. Once a week. That’s it. I’m so confident that yoga will get you hooked, that you’ll find it really hard to only come once a week. Before you know it, you’ll be double-dipping, then making three classes a week, pestering your friends to come, insisting your boyfriend get along to class…
Alrighty… that’s a bit of a heads-up on the world of yoga. Enough to get you started and along to your first class. Wherever you are in the world, yoga is there!