What to Expect in Your First Yoga Class
It took me six months to pluck up the courage to try a yoga class that was only a six-minute walk from my front door. I felt so anxious and nervous that I wouldn’t know what I was doing, that I wouldn’t be wearing the right gear, or that maybe I wasn’t fit enough to actually make it through the entire class. Once I got there I fumbled around for an hour on my mat, falling over, inhaling when the teacher said exhale, and throwing thoroughly confused looks her way for the duration of the class. For the final few moments I flopped down in a sweaty heap on the floor and those last minutes brought me to such a deep state of relaxation, I knew I’d found what my body, mind and spirit had been seeking.
If you are unsure about trying a group yoga session, please read on to find out what to expect in your first ever class.
Before you go
There are many different paths in yoga to consider from Hatha to Ashtanga Vinyasa to Iyengar, so it is a good idea to find out what type of yoga class you will be participating in. Some styles of yoga will seem more suited to you as they may be set at a slower or faster tempo, or there may be more of a focus on meditation or the use of props. Contact the teacher beforehand to discuss the class and any concerns you have with them. Find out if mats are provided and if you may need to arrive a little early to go over any injuries or medical conditions you may have, as this could affect your practice.
Tip: Before attending a class try not to eat up to 90 minutes before it starts. If you do need to eat have something small and light but try and give yourself enough time to digest any food you have.
Yoga will seem very different from other forms of movement or sports that you’ve tried before. Unless you’ve tried Tai Chi or Pilates as the poses may seem quite similar. Try to approach a yoga class with an open mind. This is an ancient practice meant to guide you through your life one step at a time.
1. It doesn’t matter what you wear
But make sure you can move in whatever you are wearing and you are comfortable in it. Wear something that you will be able to move in freely and without restriction. The last thing you want is for your trousers to abruptly stop you stepping forward, or for your t-shirt to fall into your face in downward-facing dog. Yoga does not care what you look like or what you wear.
Tip: Before you start the class remember to remove your socks and shoes and place your belongings either in a locker or at the side of the room so its safely out of the way.
2. Focus on you, not the person next to you
As you move during the session you may develop a tendency to look around the room especially if you aren’t familiar with the postures. You may start to feel that you ‘can’t’ do the posture and everyone else is doing it – and this simply isn’t the case. Your body is unique and individual to you, there is no one that is the same as you. Your body does not look the same as the person’s next to you when you are standing so why would it look the same in a pose? Let go of comparing with yourself and others in the class. We all have our current limitations that we are working through so try to focus on the sensations and feelings as you move, be it confusion or laughter!
3. Breathing is important
Anyone that is breathing can practice yoga, and your teacher will cue movements with inhales and exhales. Focusing on your breath aids you in focusing on the present moment and this ‘me’ time you’ve created by being on the mat. Don’t worry if you inhale as the teachers asks you to exhale as this comes with practice. You may be reminded to breathe during the class so that you don’t get lost in anything you have that’s been playing on your mind. If you continue with yoga your breath will become an important guide in your practice.
4. Downward-facing who?
During the class, the teacher may say the poses in their English translations or in their traditional Sanskrit names. If this all flies over your head, do not worry, you don’t need to remember all the names of the postures. With a regular practice, you’ll gradually start to familiarise yourself with the names and poses over time.
5. Props are your friend
You may be offered a strap, block, or a bolster to use in the class or for a particular pose. Props are an excellent teacher in themselves as they can help us with support, relaxation, or for a deeper understanding of the posture itself. Props aren’t just for beginners either, they can be used by practitioners at any level, so do not feel disheartened if you are encouraged to use one.
6. Lying down matters
Lying down at the end of a yoga class is referred to as Savasana. This relaxing ending to a class is a way of soaking up the benefits of the practice and to just be in your body and your mind, without getting caught up in a sea of thoughts. It’s challenging for beginners and advanced students alike but Savasana is the most essential part of the class so try to not leave a class early or interrupt anyone else’s’ relaxation.
7. Be open to OM
‘OM’ or, sometimes written as ‘AUM’, is often used to open a class and/or to end a class. Finding your voice and your OM may feel awkward or difficult at first but give the chant a go if you want to. Or, you can always practice it silently. The vibrations of OM will fill the room and bring the energy of the class together whilst also signifying that this is the time for the practice to begin and end before you go back out into the world.
And lastly, instantaneous after-yoga-bliss doesn’t happen for everyone first time. As I mentioned before there are many traditions in yoga so it’s important to try different classes until you find one that works for you. There is an abundance of yoga teachers nowadays, so you can find the right teacher or teachers for you too. Attend the same class several times before moving on and deciding it is not your cup of tea. But above anything else simply try to keep an open mind and let yourself explore this ancient practice; you never know it might change your life.