Happy New Year!
Many years spent working as a personal trainer, has led me to the conclusion that, despite me never actually setting any new year’s resolutions for myself, many people do and weight loss goals tend to be among the most common. Along with other goals to become more healthy, such as kicking a caffeine habit or making some necessary changes in your diet. Many of you, I am guessing, may be thinking of taking up a yoga practice. So, I thought what better time than now to share with you a few tips, from one yogi to another, on what to expect in your first yoga class.
Now, I’m not going to list the most common advice typically given, such as:
bring a towel, don’t eat before class, shut off your cell phone, bring some water, etc.
You know that already, I’m sure. Instead, I’d like to share a few, not so common, tips for your first yoga class, that I’ve come to learn over the years of practicing in many studios with many wonderful teachers.
First Time Getting on the Mat
So, here you are, new year, new you—or so we like to imagine.
You have just stepped foot into your first yoga class, scoped out the scene, laid out your mat. Class starts and next thing you know, the room is becoming uncomfortably hot and so are the pants you wore. ( It happens, it took me a long time to realize the importance of investing in some proper yoga gear.)
You move into your first downward dog, your shoulders are burning like hell, your wrists hurt, you need a water break already, but you are not quite sure if or when you should take one, and you begin to wonder if you are going to survive this class.
Don’t worry, you will.
Check your Ego at the Door
The practice of yoga, you will soon learn, is very different from most forms of exercise and can serve up a healthy dose of humility to even the strongest of the strong. So, stay in your lane, or in this case on your mat. Respect what your body can and can not do. It is important to accept where you are as beginner. Don’t try doing anything too crazy, your ego is going to be in full force. Keep it in check.
I once heard a hamstring pop in a yoga class, the last place you would think of having that happen. I cringe a little, every time I think of it. But it humbled me to the core. During that period in my life, I had been pushing myself a little too hard in my practice, wanting to be somewhere I was not. That class, and that poor young man, taught me that having patience in my practice is essential to ensuring the longevity of a healthy practice, free of injury.
Listen to your Body
Let your breath guide you, it is the best indicator of whether or not you have gone past your limit. If you have started to pant like a dog, you may want to take a child’s pose or grab some water. If it hurts, simply back off. If a teacher suggests something you know you can not do, don’t do it. No amount of force will open up a body that is not ready to be opened.
Practice begins and ends with the breath, keep your focus there and everything else will come naturally. We all have to start from somewhere. Don’t let a few hiccups in your first class discourage you.
Unless you are a dancer or gymnast or something that requires a lot of strength and flexibility, you are going to get pose envy,
like a mother—
What is pose envy?
Well basically, it will go something like this, you are there on your mat, up dogging it, down dogging it, sweating, shaking, practically dying…
Next thing you know, you find yourself trying to comprehend what the instructor meant when she offered a twist, along with a bind, in a pose by itself, you didn’t even think was possible.
Finally, you get it, kind of, sort of, barely…
You are in pain, a lot of pain, which can’t be good and then you look over to your left
and the girl next to you,
Okay, she isn’t really levitating, but she is doing some crazy shit, you have never in your life seen before and all you want, in that very moment,
more than anything else, is to be her.
I can’t count the number of times I have felt this way. (Please, tell me I’m not the only one.)
If this happens to you, like it does to me, close your eyes and try to focus on your breath. It’s a great way to still the mind and get that damn ego back in check.
There might come a moment during class, where you ask yourself,
why is everyone breathing so…
There is going to be alot of weird sounding breathing, commonly referred to as ujjayi breath or lion’s breath, going on. However, it will all depend on the studio you go to. I have been to some studios where nobody has made a sound and then others where, quite honestly, it has sounded like a group orgy was going on.
A whole lot of moaning, groaning, and sighing, minus the sex part.
Over the years, I admit, I’ve become a bit of loud breather. So, if you happen to end up next to me or someone like me, have no fear, we’re not possessed. As time goes on, one day you will arrive to class, after an extremely long and stressful day and you may find yourself letting out one of those great big lion’s breath, completely uninhibited. I assure you, it is going to feel AMAZING.
I once had a lady tell me to shut up, (because of the way I was breathing) being that I was in a yoga class, I politely asked her to worry about what she was doing on her mat and not what I was doing on mine. Although, I admit, she kind of ruined my practice that day.
For the rest of the class, I could not stay present for more than a minute without imagining, stepping off my mat and punching her in the face. I didn’t though, that would have been very ‘unyoga’ of me.
Yoga a Day will Keep your Demons at Bay
Be prepared to leave class a little bit more, enlightened, elated, noticeably more positive, happy, almost high. The physical practice of yoga intersects with the spiritual practice of yoga. It is by going into the physical body, through breath and movement, that we gain the ability to tap into our higher self. Many of us take up yoga, mainly, for the physical results but soon begin to see subtle changes in our mental and emotional state.
After a class, you may even want to call your mom and tell her you love her, just for the hell of it. Even if you don’t really like your mom, like me. Or maybe you decide, you do not want to consume any animals that day because you realize that well, they’re just like you, living, breathing, sentient beings. Or maybe, instead of flipping off the car that cuts you off, you smile, you let go, maybe…that is still a very tough one for me to let go of.
What if I Pass Gas?
You might fart, completely accidentally. Hopefully, no one will hear it but if someone does, don’t worry you are not the first person to fart in a yoga class. Just stay strong in that warrior pose and pretend like it wasn’t you. Unless you are the only one in the class that day, then well, just admit it. Say excuse me and try not to turn too red from the embarrassment.
The Art of a Great Assist
The instructor may come over and assist you in a pose. If they are good at it, you are going to feel like God has just placed his (or her) hands on you and you are going to open up in ways you didn’t think were possible.
A good assist, can shift your entire practice. Gaining proper alignment, through an adjustment from an experienced teacher, can greatly increase your range of motion allowing you to go deeper into a pose.
I have had it happen to me, many times, and it still leaves me in awe .
You might feel like your teacher is a God. Similar to that pose envy I mentioned, you kind of want to be like him or her. That damn ego never goes away. They might have an unbelievably strong and graceful practice.
Or during Shavasana, they may share with you some ridiculously, profoundly, brilliant insight into life that you needed to hear, at that exact moment. Or, they may break down a pose in such a way that allows you to access it for the very first time in your practice. You might want to hug them and thank them. You might even cry. All completely normal.
Which leads me to…
The Emotional Body
Your first class may not bring up much of any emotion at all, but if you continue practicing, be prepared to have some deep rooted issues be brought up to the surface, usually involuntary so. Embrace them, even the unexpected ones.
Our breath serves to soften and open up both our tight physical bodies, as well as our rigid minds. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the physical practice. As we get deeper in to our physical bodies through the practice of each pose, we also get deeper into our emotional bodies. Accept it, appreciate it, honor it.
This is where healing begins, on and off the mat.
Yoga Changes Lives
It changed mine. You’ll never be quite the same after your first yoga class.
The benefits of yoga are endless. I recommend it to almost everyone I meet.
So much so, my friends kind of steer clear of even mentioning the word ‘yoga‘ around me, in attempts to avoid getting into an hour long discussion on why yoga is the absolute greatest thing in the world. (Which, it is.)
I’ve yet to meet anyone who is not deeply affected by their first yoga class. If you’re anything like me, after you wrap up your first class, you’re going to be telling everyone about how amazing yoga is!
Best of luck, on and off your mat this New Year!
Do my fellow yogis have any other tips or advice for someone new to yoga?
Please share! 😀