I’ve had quite a few people ask me about embarking on their first yoga class and it seems that all of you have, pretty much, the same questions and concerns.
Important note: I am not, nor have I ever been, a yoga teacher. So, I can only comment on yoga in general. I was, however a personal trainer for 8 years and I feel like I have a lot of “coach” left in me. You should see me on the rare occasion I walk into a gym. It is all I can do to keep myself from going over to someone to correct their form. Actually, sometimes, I can’t hold back. It doesn’t usually go over to well. When will I learn?
Anyway, on with the tips:
- You absolutely need to learn yoga from a teacher, in person. It is a very complex practice and until you have several months (or even years in some cases) of experience, you really do need the hands on guidance and feedback of a teacher. For the past few years, I have mainly done my yoga at home, with DVDs and www.myvirtualyoga.com. When I do go back to class every now and then, I am always surprised at how much correction I need. I should really go to class more often.
- When you start, commit to only one class on one day. Don’t pay for a package yet. Don’t plan on “starting to do yoga”. Just show up once. If you don’t like it, never go back. (Or try another class, teacher, or school of yoga.) If you do like it, go back once more. Repeat. When you are comfortable, commit to a regular class and buy a package, if you like. You are now officially a yogi or yogini. Welcome to our world. Namaste.
- Find the style of yoga that suits you. If you like saunas and hot tubs, you may love a hot yoga like Bikram or Moksha – if you don’t, you won’t. If you like an intense, challenging workout, try Jivamukti, Ashtanga, or power yoga. If you want something gentler, Yin Yoga, Iyengar, or Kripalu might be for you. If you are looking for more of a focus on breathing, meditation, and chanting, look into something like Kundalini. If you have mobility issues, try a restorative yoga, Sivinanda, or Viniyoga. Call around, Google, or ask for advice at a yoga studio.
- Nobody is looking at you. Everyone is either looking at the teacher, themselves (if there are mirrors), or the best student in the class. If anyone happens to glance over at the newbie, we are all thinking how awesome and brave and strong you are for starting yoga.
- Everyone, regardless of their level of experience, is totally lost in a new class. I have been doing yoga for over 20 years (mainly Bikram and Jivamukti) and every time I go to a new class, it is like I am starting all over again.
- On your Gurugrid (you already have one, right?), find you shoulder width for hand placement and hip width for foot placement. This will help you in about half the poses in any type of yoga and it will take away a LOT of guesswork, set up & transition time. Check out the videos on thegurugrid.com to find out how to do this.
- When you are stretching, visualize your muscles relaxing and elongating – it actually works.
- Look at the time you have in each pose in a positive rather than a negative way. Instead of thinking “only 30 more seconds left”, think “I only have 30 more seconds to enjoy, work on, and get the benefits of this pose”. After that, you are on to your next pose and the moment is gone.
- Just like we say, “Plant your body. Let your alignment bloom.” Your hands and feet (and in some poses, your knees and elbows) are your roots. Plant them firmly into the ground and extend and stretch them outward, just like roots. I don’t know why, but we have a tendency to scrunch up our hands and feet when our bodies are working and trying to stay in balance. Don’t scrunch up. The rest of your body is like flower. Lift the weight of your body up, toward the sun, rather than letting it fall downward, into the earth. I pulled a hamstring a few months ago in Bound Triangle (variation 3) because I was not lifting up my body weight. I am very conscious of this now – especially in this pose. Note: This idea applies mainly to poses where your hands, feet, knees, and elbows are the contact point with the mat. In other poses, like Bow, your torso is the contact point, or root and your hands and feet are the flower. Complicated, I know. But I think you get the gist of it.
- Keep your navel pulled in and use your Mula Bandha. This is basically, engaging your transverse abdominis. Ladies – this means; keep your Kegel muscles engaged. Guys….ask your teacher how to do Mula Bandha.
On your first day of your first yoga class, you bring with you more courage and strength than anyone in that room. We all know this. And every single one of us is inspired by you. On your second day, you will be just like everyone else, so enjoy it while it lasts.
P.S. Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments section - yogis, yoginis, or teachers. I sometimes find the comments people post to be more interesting that the articles. I am sure not in this case, though. Ha! Ha!