Last week, I cut it close getting into a yoga class on time. When I settled in, I noticed a couple directly behind me who I hadn’t seen before. It was too late to say “hello”, so I just silently hoped that they had chatted up the instructor before class and knew what to expect in a yoga class.
I felt bad watching them struggle through the class and that inspired me to come up with this list…
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10 Things to Know Before Your First Yoga Class
You’ll need a mat, a hand towel and a water bottle. If it’s going to be a hot class (many are), you may also want to grab a gripping towel (like the one in the photo on the right – available at Everything Yoga) to lay on your mat – it’ll mop up the sweat and keep you from slipping all over the place.
Most studios will let you borrow a mat if you don’t have one. But, really, you can pick one up at any Target or Walmart on your way to the class. When your face is laying on the mat, you’ll be happier not thinking about who’s sweaty butt was sitting there the last time the mat was used.
Though most yoga studios recommend “loose fitting” clothing, I’d actually suggest wearing clothes that are a bit snug. Think about being in a downward dog in a baggy shirt… it’ll flip up over your head and you’ll be adjusting it every time you move. Wear clothes that stay in place when you move.
2 – Let the Instructor Know You’re New
Do yourself a huge favor and start by telling the instructor that you’re new. They can help put you in a good spot, give you some pointers and will watch to be sure you’re not struggling through the class. Even experienced yogis will talk to the instructor before class if they go to a new studio or pop into a different class at their regular studio.
Don’t feel “weird” about admitting that you’re new… the instructor will know anyway once class starts, and then it’s too late to give you all of the best advice.
3 – Locate the “Front” of the Room and Face It
As you’re laying out your mat, look around to see which direction everyone is facing. Face that same way. That’s the “front” of the room. The instructor will refer to it throughout the class.
4 – Stay Away from the Walls
Newbies love to stick themselves in a corner. They think it’ll keep them hidden. But, in a yoga class, it’s rare that the class faces the front the entire time. Most flows have you turning to all corners of the room. So, everyone faces the back and the sides – putting everyone along the walls front and center several times throughout the class.
When you talk to the instructor (’cause you’re going to do that!) they’ll help you find a good spot in the middle of the room.
5 – Be Ready to Memorize Each Flow
Most classes consist of 3 or more “flows”. These are series of poses done one after the next. Most instructors will walk you through each flow a few times, and then, they’ll tell you to “flow on your own”. This means that everyone in the class will move at their own pace through the moves – and you’ll need to know which move to do next. But…
6 – Don’t Be Afraid to Follow the People Around You
Since you took my advice above, you’re placed well in the middle of the class, and the instructor has pointed out a few people around you to follow, you’ll be able to keep up by watching the people around you. Follow them, watch what they do and look to them when you forget which pose comes next.
I love it when an instructor tells me that someone near me is new. It makes me focus, slow down and really take the time to establish each pose – and it makes me feel good to know that I’m able to help someone else. When I’m the “follow that girl” in a class, I have had some of my best practices. So – don’t worry about being a burden. You’re helping the people around you too!
7 – Use Child’s Pose Whenever You Feel the Need
Unlike fitness classes where the instructors push you to do “just one more”, yoga classes are to be done at your own pace. If you feel too hot, too strained, too lost, or any level of discomfort (especially in your first class), just drop into child’s pose.
When you’re ready, join back in. Try the flow one more time, or just wait until the next one starts.
8 – The Instructor May Touch You and/or Massage You
Each person does each pose his/her own way. But, if an instructor thinks that you don’t know what to do, or that you might be doing something that could hurt you, they’ll guide you. Usually, this means that they’ll gently push or pull your limbs or shoulders to get you to move the right way. Don’t be freaked out – they know you’re sweaty and nervous, just let them guide you.
Also, many instructors will do little mini massages throughout the class and at the end during savasana. In child’s pose, they may rub your lower back and slightly push down on your hips. In savasana, they may massage your temples, your shoulders, your calves and even your feet. Sometimes, they’ll use essential oils or china gel as a little added bonus. Again, they know that you’re sweaty – don’t worry – just enjoy it.
9 – Don’t Skip Savasana
Pronounced “shah-vah-sah-nah”, this pose signals the end of the class. You lay on your back and just clear your mind. The first time, it may seem a bit weird… you’ll probably wonder how long it lasts, what the instructor is doing and whether or not you’re doing it right. But really, try to enjoy it. Let yourself sink in, put a smile on your face and just relax.
This has become one of my favorite parts of class. It feels good after working hard. After some time, you’ll be able to control your thoughts and your savasana time will end up being a nice little vacation for your mind.
10 – “Namaste” is Not a Buddhist Prayer
Namaste is one of those words that sums up a big concept in one, simple phrase. I kind of think of it as a word like “welcome”. Saying “welcome” sums up the concept that you wish to convey a sense to another person that they are wanted and accepted in a place or a situation.
Saying “namaste” to someone, is to say that you acknowledge their inner spirit, you hope for it to shine, you’re thankful for it and that you’ll honor it through your own thoughts and actions. It’s really a nice, peaceful word – a concept of connected spirits and shared inner lights.
So, saying it does not mean that you’re praying to any god, or committing yourself to any religious beliefs.
I say it at the end of each class with a focus on the thankfulness for the instructor and for the others in the class.
Enjoy your first class!