If you Google “Beginners Yoga” you’ll find tons of these ‘things you should know before you come to your first class….’ lists. They’re all pretty informative, but I wanted to go a little bit deeper in areas that I didn’t think had been covered enough. So if you reeeeaaally want to know as much as you can before you step into a yoga shala (that means ‘studio.’ ha! there’s something new you learned already!) for the first time, this is the list for you.
Recently, to my overwhelming delight, my brother Chad found yoga. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but it was important that he found it on his own, in his own time. Now we have these intense discussions about things like yamas, karma, and Sanskrit grammar. And basic questions, too, about yoga etiquette and what to do or not do in a yoga studio. This list was born both of those conversations and my own memories of being nervous upon entering a studio for the first time and feeling like I was going to do something wrong. At Satya we are open and nice, so never feel weird about asking us anything. We’ll guide you lovingly to the mat and keep you coming back.
What You Should Know Before You Attend Your First Yoga Class
- Know the right class to go to - do your research. Come into the wrong class your first time out of the gate and you might never come back. Read the class descriptions on the studio’s website, or call/email the studio and let them point you in the right direction. Choose a Beginner’s class or a restorative class.
- Tell the teacher you’re new. They’ll be sweet and excited for you – it’s an honor to teach someone who has never taken a yoga class before. They’ll watch you carefully during class but will never single you out. They will make sure you feel safe and have the best experience possible.
- Wear the right clothes. Something that’s comfortable and that won’t make you self-conscious. A happy medium between flowy and restrictive. You want to be able to have range of motion without being hindered by too-tight pants, but you don’t want your shirt to fall over your head in Downward Facing Dog, either. You want your clothing to be so comfortable that you don’t even think about it for an hour and a half. Something that won’t bunch. Something that you won’t have to pull down over your belly or out of your butt crack every time you move. We suggest cropped pants from Lululemon Athletica http://shop.lululemon.com/products/category/women-crops for ladies and shorts like this for guys http://www.naturalhighlifestylestore.com/yogishort.html. Keep in mind if you’re a guy, some studios prefer that you leave your shirt on. Ask before class.
- Don’t eat before a class. Leave a few hours between the time you eat and the time you practice. You need to be able to connect with your breath, and that’s hard to do with a full stomach. You’ll be twisting your torso and moving your body in all different shapes that will be hindered by a full stomach.
- Leave your cell phone in the car, or for the love of god, turn it off. There’s nothing worse than having your blissful savasana relaxation hijacked by someone’s AC/DC Back In Black ringtone, and you don’t want to be the one who ruins it for others.
- Take your shoes off. We keep our yoga floor very clean, as you will have your face next to it at points. Street shoes bring in dirt and all kinds of ickiness. Not only is it more hygienic to not wear shoes on the yoga floor, but its also a sign of respect for a sacred space. Every yoga studio has a place by the front door where you can stow your shoes. Pada Mukti….liberated feet!
- Put your mat in the back of the room so that you can watch other more experienced practitioners. This gives you the dual benefit of not feeling self-conscious like everyone is watching you (they aren’t) and learning by watching someone who has been practicing longer.
- Feel good about using props. Blocks, straps and bolsters aren’t just for beginners: it’s nice to use them sometimes in certain poses, regardless of your level of practice. They allow your hand and arm to have an end point so that the muscles can relax and you can release and deepen into the pose. Not everyone’s arms are the same length, and its nice to be able to bring the floor up a little bit to meet your level of flexibility. Props rock. Use them. If you’re not sure what you should grab before a class, ask your teacher – they’ll make sure you have everything you might need, and also watch closely during class that you’re using them properly and that you are stable in the pose.
- Your mat is your microcosm. On it, you are the king or queen of your own little 23”x62” rectangle. There is no one to impress, and no one to answer to except yourself: it’s one of the only spaces we can truly call our own. One of the only places we can take risks and feel safe and supported doing so. Love and appreciate the collective energy of others practicing around you, but withdraw inward into the breath, onto the notion of stilling the mind.
- Let your breath lead, not your ego. Don’t let your ego guide you into a place where you could possibly get injured – it’s okay to be a beginner: we ALL were at one time. It’s important to realize that no one cares that you’re a bit wobbly, nor do they judge. We will never push you to “achieve” any pose or overextend your threshold.
- Let go of comparative thinking. There’s no winning in yoga, no gold medal for “Best Tree Pose.” Your yoga practice is your own highly private time for individual transformation. Very much like your fingerprint, it’s not like anyone else’s. How can it be? You are a unique individual. We all have differently-shaped bodies, different length arms and legs, and unique ways of moving our bodies. Never judge yourself because you aren’t “doing” a pose like someone else in the room. That person in a beautiful Bird of Paradise has probably been practicing for years and couldn’t balance worth a damn the first time she stepped onto a mat. You’ll notice that at Satya there aren’t any mirrors: this is purposeful. We judge ourselves, judge others, and feel judged so much in our daily lives that its nice to find sanctuary from that. There is absolutely no room for comparative thinking in a yoga shala. If you are practicing in a place that makes you feel judged, find another studio.
- If it gets to be too much, come to child’s pose. No one’s going to judge you. You always have this option, regardless of what’s going on in class. It’s like the human version of a roly poly bug curling up into itself for protection. It’s wonderfully isolating, and yet another bonus of a yoga practice: you can just curl up into a ball and people will leave you alone. If only we could do that OFF the mat…
- There’s sometimes crying in yoga. And believe us, it’s a good thing. Enviable, even. Where else can you completely let go of all the emotional crap locked up inside of you, not be judged, and walk out feeling like a million bucks?
- Cultivate your friendliness. You’ll be among nice people. Yoga studios are one of the best places to meet people, in fact: you’ll have at least one thing in common to discuss over coffee.