Friday, June 3, 2011

10 Things to Know Before Your First Yoga Class

Many new students wonder what to expect in their first yoga class. Will it be obvious that I'm new? Will I be the only one who can't do a head stand? What if I don't have the right equipment? Do I need the cute yoga clothes? This post is what I as a teacher want my students to know!

1. First things first: pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for coming to class! This is often the hardest step for new students (beginner or just students new to the class) and you've already completed it! The hard part is over!

2. Props are a yogi's best friend! Many students fear looking like "beginners" if they use a block in triangle or a strap to help reach their toes. The reality is that experienced yogis are the ones who know when they need a prop to help create space in their pose, give more stability or allow them to deepen their stretch. Props can make your pose more comfortable and therefore help you receive more benefits from the pose. When a teacher offers a prop, try it out! See what helps you get the most from your practice!

3. Modifications are not for the weak. Just like the prop misconception, modifications are for the yogi who knows what they're doing. A person very dear to me recently was complaining of wrist pain in plank. I suggested doing plank on her knees to relieve some of the pressure in her wrists. She responded, "But I want to do the real pose!". Yoga is about sustainability. We want to be doing yoga for the next 50 or 60 years. If you are creating pain in your poses, that is not sustainable. It is much better for your body to do a modification that allows you to build strength in a pose than force yourself into something uncomfortable or painful. A teacher may offer a modification that makes a pose more gentle or more challenging. See what's right for you!

4. Saying no is always an option. This is YOUR practice! This means that if a teacher is telling you, "Touch your toes in forward fold.", and it is uncomfortable for you, don't do it. Yoga is about being in touch with your body and knowing what's best for you. A teacher may come up and offer a modification or adjustment, but the reality is, you are the one in your body. You know better than anyone else what works for you. Another way to say "no" to a pose, is child's pose. This is a perfect one to come back to when you are getting in touch with your body.

5. Class is not a fashion show. Yoga has become much more marketable in the past few years and the merchandising shows it. Open a fitness or yoga magazine and the models are wearing name brand, perfectly coordinated clothes. This is not what a typical yoga class looks like. There is no top that makes your Warrior II better. Wear what is comfortable and allows good range of motion. If that happens to be a cute "yoga" top, great. If it's a worn in shirt left over from your school days, even better.

6. Bring the focus onto your own mat. I firmly stand by the belief that yoga is for every body. Everyone is different and no one looks the same in every pose. Different bodies experience poses in different ways. Letting your focus drift to others and how they look on their mat takes away from your practice. When you find your mind wandering, just remind yourself that you are exactly where you should be in your practice.

7. Adjustments are gifts from your teacher. Before I began taking yoga workshops, I had never been in a class with a lot of hands on adjustments. I was so worried, thinking that because the teacher was adjusting me because I was doing something wrong, I wasn't able to enjoy my practice. Through trainings and workshops, I realized that adjustments are about making poses safe for students. They are also about creating an experience in a pose that we can't give ourselves. No matter how hard we try, we can't get that length that we receive when a teacher lifts our ribs in low lunge.

8. Yoga is not a religion. Sometimes new students fear that they will be forced to participate in Hindu chants or learn Sanskrit in class. Some classes do focus on Sanskrit, but most classes will allow you to choose to participate or just listen. There is a spirituality in yoga, but in my interpretation it is about connecting to your divine spirit. It can be God or Shiva or Buddha or nature or whatever you find most inspiring. I usually end class with, "Namaste", which means, "I bow to the divine spirit in you". I feel that this is a beautiful way to close a practice and connect with students. It is up to you if you want to answer with "Namaste", "thank you", or silence.

9. Savasana is the most important pose of your practice. Life is busy, we know this. As class winds down, it's easy to look at the clock and think about leaving early to get dinner ready, picking up the kids or running errands, but savasana is the most important part of class. These final minutes in class allow you to settle into your body and feel the benefits of your practice. Your mind calms and a sense of peace comes over you. This is one of the biggest gifts I can give to my students. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and enjoy your savasana.

10. I'm here for YOU! Please feel free to come up to me before or after practice with any questions or feedback. If you have any injuries, let me know. If you have an area you would like to focus on, I want to hear about it. This also applies to class. If you are in pain in a pose or have questions about body placement, raise your hand or your head and I'm more than happy to come over and assist in any way I can.

These are my top ten, but if you have any other questions before your practice, please feel free to ask! You can comment here or e-mail me: