Things to Know Before Your First Yoga Class

Common Yoga Props

Common Yoga Props

When people first hear about yoga, the pictures that pop into their heads are ones of willowy women dressed in skin-tight clothes, twisted into seemingly impossible shapes. For a majority of us in the West, we sit a lot, so our hips, and just about everything connected to our pelvic region, and usually our shoulders, because we spend so much time in front of a computer screen, are tight, so the poses seem unreachable. Sometimes, like with many things, the more we practice, the better we get. Competition, comparison, and goals are anti-yoga and deserve their own post, so for the purpose of this one, we’ll stick with “practice is the road to improvement”. It’s this “improvement” that will get some inquisitive beginners in the door.

There are many schools of yoga, and in later posts I’ll be investigating each one, but for now, I’m going to refer to yoga in general terms. Here are the benefits of an asana (physical postures) class:

1) increase flexibility

2) improve balance

3) aid in weight loss/appropriate body weight

4) receive better sleep

5) improve the breath, which increases oxygen to the brain and body

6) release toxins in the body through sweat and breath

7) more accepting of ourselves physically

8) develop a “happiness” while in class that lasts for a while afterwards

9) decrease in frustration, angst, and annoyance with others

10) more appreciation and gratitude

11) more awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and the environment

12) smiling more often

Some things to keep in mind before your first class:

1) every teacher and discipline is different, so if the first one doesn’t work, try another

2) when your teacher introduces themselves to you, be sure to share any physical concerns such as back issues, knee replacement, pregnancy, etc. as that’s the best way for the instructor to keep you safe

3) wear comfortable clothes, perhaps a more snug-fitting shirt than usual because poses like down dog will have your shirt bunching up around your nose

4) don’t eat anything heavy for 2 hours before class, but stay hydrated

5) if you don’t have your own mat, most studios have them available, usually for a small rental fee

6) in a full class taught by a popular teacher, there is limited room, so leave all extra clothing or bags outside the studio or in your car

How most classes are structured:

Full Lotus

Full Lotus

1) students seated on their mats, perhaps with some blocks or blankets or straps for later postures, while the instructor is in the front of the studio space

2) closing the eyes and focusing on the breath is a common way to begin

3) some instructors begin with a bit of yoga philosophy that will be the focus for the class

4) for the next hour, you get to play Simon says, following the instructor’s directions

5) final pose is lying on your back, with some props if needed, in a darkened studio with eyes closed

Corpse Pose

Corpse Pose

6) some classes are more boisterous than others, but usually rolling up the mats and replacing the props is done quickly and quietly

What makes people return to yoga:

1) sense of peace after class

2) better sleep, less stress, less frustration (and a quicker return to contentment when annoyances arise)

3) improved balance, flexibility

4) improved focus and concentration

All the above allows us to live life more artfully, which helps us recognize the peace that always resides within but is covered with distractions, and thus travel through our days in contentment. Not that we’ll be blissed out, but through regular attendance, we learn some of the tools and techniques that help us be more happy in our lives, which is what everyone wants. You may, like many of us, decide that yoga has made such a profound impact on your life that you must share it with others, and therefore you’ll sign up for teacher training! Can we use yoga as just a physical practice, like exercise? Sure. Does yoga offer more? Oh, yes, it does! But it begins with your willingness to walk through the door of a studio, try a few different classes, see how you feel after a month. You just may find yourself approaching life a little more peacefully.

When I was completing  yoga teacher training, I wrote several poems about it. You can read a few here:

Have you attended a yoga class? What was your experience? Do you have suggestions for someone trying it for the first time?