I remember my first yoga class. I was a college student who needed participation points for this pre-med club I was in, and going to a yoga class with this group was one way to do it. I was interested but didn't know what to do, what to wear, or how to show up. I didn't even know what yoga was. I just knew there was some physical aspect to it that I guess gave you health benefits (since a pre-med club was going), and it didn't involve running (which is one of my least favorite things to do). I just rolled out of my dorm with a loose t-shirt and jogging pants (since those were the only exercise clothes I owned) and hoped that I didn't look like a complete idiot and wear the wrong thing. My roommate looked at me and suggested I wear my hair a different way, so I pulled it back into a low pony and headed to the gym where my class was held. Even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I tried it. I ended up loving it. I kept going back; and over time, it slowly but surely changed my life for the better.
We all come to this practice for a different reason. Sometimes it's for flexibility. Sometimes it's to find peace of mind. Or sometimes it's because a friend invited us to go along. The thing is, is that we all start out as beginners.
Here are a few things that I think would've been helpful to me while starting out or even for those who are just yoga curious.
- What is yoga? Yoga means "yolk" or "union". It's bringing together the mind, body, and spirit through the linking of yoga poses with breathing and living the ethical practices of the yamas and niyamas. Practicing yoga is like learning how to live in your own body and relate positively with the rest of the world.
- Yama and niyama? What’s that? Will yoga interfere with my religion? Yamas and niyamas are ethical practices such as non-harming, being truthful, self study, etc. Yoga is not a religion. You are free to practice whatever religion you want. In fact, practicing yoga has inspired me to learn even more about religion. There‘s always a little spark in my heart when I’m sitting in church and something comes up where I can see the connection between what’s being said and what I’m reading about as I dive deeper into learning about yoga.
- What do I wear? A whole new "yoga wardrobe" is not a necessity. Wear something that's easy to move around in. If you're not sure, try it on. Squat down. Fold forward. Lift your legs. Maybe even lay down. Does it feel comfortable? Can you see through your pants or shorts when you squat or bend over? When you lay down and lift your leg or bring it out to the side, would anyone see anything you don't want them to see? The answers to these questions could impact your decision about what to wear. I once had a pair of yoga pants with a zipper on the back. It dug into me whenever I laid down on the floor, so they're not even an option for me when I go to class.
- What if I'm not flexible? You don't have to be. One of the main reasons people come to class is to improve their flexibility. There are ways to modify the poses by using props or doing the pose slightly different that still get you the same benefits. Like so many things, flexibility comes with time and practice.
- What are props? Those are the blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters that are stored either at one end of the class or in a separate room. They’re used to create support, connection, comfort, or sensation in a pose. Using props does not make you better or worse than the person next to you, so feel free to try them out whenever the teacher offers it. You can experiment with them on your own too!
- What do I do when I come in? Depending on where you’re going to class, you could do different things with shoes and sign in. For example, if you’re in a gym or community center, shoes can either be put off to the side or in the class cubbies. If you go to a studio, shoes are removed after entering in order to honor the sacred space that’s being set aside for the learning and growth that happens within the walls. However, wherever you go, please remember to silence your cell phone to prevent it from disturbing the class if it goes off. Then, find a place to put your mat and begin settling into the space. This can be done with small movements, sitting in stillness, or talking quietly with the person next to you. It's recommended that you show up 10-15 minutes early so that you're not rushed and have time to fill out any waivers for the first class.
- What is Savasana, and do I have to lay down the whole time? Savasana is the final resting pose. It is a time for deep relaxation, and to allow your body to integrate everything it’s learned during the practice. The pose can be practiced anywhere from laying flat on the back without any props to being reclined or on the side supported by props. You can even sit in meditation if you’re coughing or having a hard time breathing. Ask your teacher about the different variations that are available. Once you find what’s right for you, this can easily be your favorite part of practice.
Remember, the hardest thing to do is show up. The second hardest part is remembering to breathe. Everything else comes with continued practice over time. If you can do that, you can do anything.
How was your first yoga class? What are some of the things you wished you knew? I'd love to know. Please share in the comments below.