Advice for Your First Yoga Class
I remember my first yoga class. It was horrible.
It was in a small room in the basement of a gym. The lights were turned down so I couldn’t see anyone for reference. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the poses. I didn’t know where to put my limbs or even where my limbs were in the darkness. I don’t even remember if the teacher was doing poses on the mat or walking around the room. All I remember from that first experience was darkness and confusion.
It was so horrible it took me about seven years to try it again.
Because of that horrible first experience, I have huge empathy for a new student. I want to do everything I can to make their first experience the best possible. I want them to come back. I want them to get a glimpse of the yoga that I love. But I also know, no matter how much I prep them and help them in class, it is probably not going to be a fun experience for them.
So, here is what I tell them. #1 – It’s okay to have no idea what the hell is going on.
At your first class, you don’t understand any of the words or cues and you feel like your limbs are going this way and that and it’s very confusing. This is normal. Everyone feels that way at their first class. Hell, even now I will often look around in a class and think, “Wait, what are we doing?” So, please, please, please don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t let it discourage you. Yoga will get better. I promise.
#2 – If you get tired, rest.
Yoga is harder than people think. Furthermore, you have no idea how your body is going to react, especially if it’s a hot yoga class! Don’t be afraid to sit down or lie down and take a break. We have all done it, including me. I do it all the time. And there will be times in the future, even after years of practice that you will need to take a rest. This is normal. Furthermore, listening to your body and honoring it IS YOGA. Listen to your body if it needs to take a break.
Something else to keep in mind, you will have good yoga days and bad yoga days. Just like runners have days when running is easy and other days when running is torture and they can barely get through. Your body is different from day-to-day. Listen if it needs a break. There is probably a reason.
#3 – If something hurts, stop doing it.
It is understandable if you feel some discomfort. It is understandable if your muscles start to burn a bit. It is not okay to feel a sharp pain. This is a tough one to teach any level of yogi. It is so easy to let the ego get in the way and ignore the pain. The ego is the part of your brain that says, “We’re only in this pose for a few seconds. It should be okay.” Or, “The pain is part of the growth. No pain, no gain.” Or, “But I love this pose. The pain will go away eventually.” We need to learn to let go of the ego. That’s the first step. Once you’ve got that down, you learn to listen to the body without the ego in the way. Then, you have to learn to understand what your body is saying. Third, you have to know what to do about it. And, if you know something doesn’t feel right, but you don’t know why or what to do about it, please ask your instructor. We teachers aren’t there just to bark out instructions. We are there to make sure everyone stays safe. So please, just ask. Which leads to #4…
#4 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you have a question, flag the teacher down. They are happy to help you. They want to help you. They want you to feel successful. Don’t be afraid you are interrupting the class. Teachers know how to handle those situations. It is more important that you remain safe. It is true that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” but the teacher knows how to take care of the many and you at the same time.
Furthermore, sometimes you need special adjustments and the only way to learn those is to ask. Part of yoga is learning to adjust for your body, and it is probably going to take a teacher showing you those adjustment to learn them. Like how to use props to adjust…
#5 – Props are your friends.
Whether you are a first time yogi or a seasoned yogi, props are your friend. They are not a crutch or a weakness. Often, they help you get deeper into a pose. And using them can help you stay safe. For example, the ever popular block.
I use a block in class to help me in camel. I squeeze the block between my calves. I feel like it helps me stabilize my core. You can also squeeze a block between your thighs to get the same effect. Blocks are especially helpful for people with bad knees or tight hips to sit on in class. Whether you are sitting on your knees or cross-legged, sitting on a block can give you some height and take pressure off the knees and hips.
Straps are awesome to help you make your way into full binds while in extended side angle. Your hands may not be able to connect behind your body, but a strap can fill the gap helping you make the connection you need. You will also be able to keep your chest open and stay in correct alignment by using the strap. Way too often I see people go into a full binds, but their chest is pointing to the ground. The chest should be slightly rotated to the sky and the shoulders open.
Lastly, Blankets are great to place under tender knees to provide cushioning when kneeling. They are also wonderful in svasana to help you feel warm and comfy.
There are many, many uses for props in yoga. So remember, props are your friends.
#6 – Don’t do what the experienced yogi in class is doing.
This is a huge issue. On the one hand, I understand new yogis looking around the room for reference. On the other hand, that obviously professional yogi in the room, DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO THEM! This happens so often that it drives me crazy. I don’t know why new yogi’s become fixated on the experienced yogi, but that fixation becomes mirroring.
The thing is, that yogi is usually doing advanced versions of the pose, or modifying the pose because the original version of the pose just isn’t doing it for them anymore. They want a deeper stretch. So, when you look around the room and see that yogi with their leg behind their head – forget that person even exists.
Don’t get me wrong, it is okay to look around the room for reference, but it is more important to listen and watch the teacher. A good teacher will see that you are looking at them for reference and model the poses for you. A good teacher will most likely know that you are new to yoga whether you tell them or not and pay attention to make sure you stay safe. Which leads to #7.
#7 – Tell the teacher you are new. And always let the teacher know if you have any injuries or special issues.
The more informed the teacher is, the more they can help you. It is not a burden to let the teacher know these things and it does not make you high maintenance. We teachers do this a lot. We are able to help you AND teach the rest of the students. We are cool like that. It’s one of our superpowers.
Furthermore, don’t be embarrassed to say you are new to yoga. There is no reason to be. We have all stepped on to the mat for the first time and felt ridiculous. Refer to #1 for more info on first time fears. Also, for the most part, we can tell if you are new. There’s no point letting your ego lead the way and try to hide it. We know.
#8 – Try lots of different types of yoga.
There are lots of types of yoga and they can be very different. Hot Yoga, Vinyasa, Hatha, Ashtanga, Gentle, Restorative, Yin – All very different types of yoga. Try them all if you can. You might be surprised by what you fall in love with.
#9 – Don’t buy an expensive mat right away.
Different mats are better for different types of yoga. Buy a cheap $15 mat somewhere first. Once you figure out what you like, then invest $60-$80 on a good mat.
For example, if you get into Hot Yoga, some mats are better than others due to the humidity in the room making the mat slippery. There are certain mats that become sticky by soaking up the moisture. You can also use any old mat but use a towel on top, or invest in a special anti-slipping yoga towel. But if you decide vinyasa is your yoga, you may be more interested in a mat that will have a grippy surface.
When you decide what yoga is right for you, ask some teachers for advice on buying a mat. For the record, it is totally worth buying a good yoga mat. That mat becomes your best friend. You roll it out and you know the next hour of your life is going to be awesome.
#10 – Remember, it’s just yoga. So smile and have a little fun.
Yoga is in our world to help us feel good. Yoga is in our world to help us feel happy. Yoga is in our world to help us find peace. It is not here to lead us to the perfect body that can do the splits. It is not here to mold us into the Dali Lama. It is here to help us. Not to torture us. So, relax. Don’t take it all so seriously. Smile and have a little fun. The more you surrender to yoga, the more yoga will heal you. It’s just yoga. Smile.
And, for those of you experienced yogis reading these tips, this advice is really good for everyone, no matter how long you have been practicing. It is a nice reminder for those of you who are seasoned that, if you have an injury, tell the teacher. In general, it is a nice reminder that we should set our ego aside. And it is a nice reminder that it is okay to buy a yoga mat for all the different types of yoga we practice. *smile*
If you are, or someone you know is, thinking of stepping into the world of yoga and have specific questions, I am here for you. Please email me at email@example.com. I’d love to help you out!
And for those of you who had a…shall we say, interesting first time yoga experience, I’d love to hear your story! Comment below or email me!
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