Want to try yoga but don’t know where to start? This guide will give you all the information and advice you need to be prepared for your first class.
You’ve probably heard a number of things about yoga both good and bad. You’ve probably heard about the countless ways yoga can improve your overall physical and mental wellbeing. You also probably know a few enthusiastic yogis that swear by yoga. You may have heard that yoga is slow, and boring and weird and that it’s hard and you have to be flexible and you have to be strong and it’s too spiritual. Or you’ve heard about hot yoga. Regardless, you may have heard some mixed reviews out there about yoga and maybe what you’ve heard has made you apprehensive about trying a class. You also may still be curious and a little intrigued and if you are I hope this blog post finds you well, (because it was written with you in mind).
Here’s what you need to know before your first class:
1. Make sure that you are able to participate in physical exercise. As with beginning any physical activity first and foremost make sure that you are cleared by your physician to perform physical activity. Yoga classes and styles of yoga range in intensity from athletic and vigorous styles to therapeutic and gentle and meditative styles. Although it may have a reputation for being a “softer” or “gentler” kind of physical activity, yoga is still physical activity and with it there is some degree of risk involved. Even if you are “just stretching” make sure that you are aware of any injuries, illnesses, or medical conditions and any and all precautions you need to take. You are not obligated to discuss your medical conditions, illnesses, or injuries with anyone if you are not comfortable however, if it affects or is relevant to the way you need to practice yoga I highly recommend privately letting your yoga teacher know prior to class. Although both obvious and redundant, your safety is your top priority. If you are working through an injury or illness and have certain precautions you want to look for a teacher that is more experienced. You may even consider hiring a teacher to work with privately for a few sessions to start before you take a class. Remember your yoga teacher is an expert in yoga!
2. What style of yoga is best for you? This is a loaded question, because if you are new to yoga you most likely do not know what style is best for you, and that is perfectly fine. I encourage everyone (even my most advanced students) to try a variety of styles of yoga, because you don’t really know what you like/don’t like until you try it. With that in mind I still encourage and urge you as a beginner to do your research and familiarize yourself with different styles of yoga and terminology. Ask yourself first, why are you coming to yoga? Are you cross training for another sport or hobby? Do you need to stretch? Do you need to meditate? Are interested in the philosophy or spirituality? Or the therapeutic benefits? Are you looking to be apart of a community? Do you have any injuries or medical conditions? I do not expect anyone to be an expert in all the countless styles of yoga that are out there. However, these are all still important questions to ask yourself before your first class because they will be to guide you in the right direction. Yoga Journal is a great resource to refer to different styles of yoga and to familiarize yourself with terminology and yoga in general.
3. Find a studio. Get to know the studios in your area. What styles of yoga do they offer? Do they have experienced teachers that possess Yoga Alliance certifications? Do the classes and prices align with your schedule and budget? Do they offer beginner or all levels classes? Are the classes heated? Do they have mats to borrow or rent? Read the reviews for the studios that you’re looking at. Read both the class descriptions and the teacher bio’s. Learn about the person who is leading the class, what is their experience, what is their background, what it their specialty. Read reviews on the studio, does the teacher or studio come highly recommended? Not sure how to find studios? The MindBody app, which is free in the app store, is great for locating studios that are near you; keep in mind that not all yoga studios participate with this app. Check Groupon and other coupon sites or new student specials before signing up and save yourself some cash!
4. Nourish yourself. Yoga is physical activity and it is not recommended that you eat a larger meal right before practicing. Practice 2-3 hours after a larger meal is usually the rule of thumb. As with any physical activity, make sure that you are well nourished and well hydrated before practicing, especially if you choose to take a heated class. I recommend eating something small and nutrient rich before class. Bring a water bottle to class to stay hydrated throughout practice. Not all studios will have the option to purchase a water bottle from them, so it’s important to be prepared.
5. Wear something comfortable. You do not need to be decked out in Lululemon or a flashy pair of leggings. Wear something that you are comfortable in. I recommend bringing layers especially in the winter; classes may start off cool and then warm up or vice-versa. If taking a heated class dress in something that will keep you cool. You may get very sweaty so consider bringing a hand towel to wipe off the sweat or keep from slipping on your mat. You may consider bringing a change of clothes for after if necessary. Keep in mind that in yoga you may be bending, twisting, inverting, ect so you will want to wear something that will provide proper coverage but won’t restrict you from moving.
6. Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. We all have to start somewhere. If you are brand new to yoga or maybe you tried one class a long time ago, I recommend starting with at least a few beginner level or introductory classes before taking an all levels or intermediate class. While you may or may not be physically ready to take any “upper level” or more advanced classes, it’s important to familiarize yourself with proper technique and alignment and terminology. Typically beginner classes don’t assume you know all the names of poses or how to get into or out of them, so they tend be a little more instructive. As with any new skill it’s important to build on a strong foundation. Take a few beginner classes to familiarize yourself with proper alignment in the postures and you will develop better habits in your practice which can help to decrease the risk of injuring yourself in yoga.
7. Bring an open mind. Attending your first yoga class can be a whirlwind of an experience. Yoga has the ability to take you out of your comfort zone and it is up to you in which way you choose to respond. Some new students welcome it with ease and others put up defenses. You may not fall in love with yoga the very first class you take. Your first class may exceed your expectations, or it may fall short of them, and that's perfectly OK! Don't be discouraged. Try a different class, a different studio, a different teacher, or a different style of yoga. There's a class out there for you, trust me. Know that you will have "good" days and "bad" days, and by that I mean somedays practicing yoga and moving and breathing will come easier than other days. There really is no "good" and "bad" when it comes to yoga. It's just a matter of showing up and making it to your mat, everything that comes after that, the good, the bad, the sweaty, is just frosting on the cake. Remember the goal is not the pose, the goal is not to be the most flexible person in the room. As Mark Stephens, a celebrated yoga teacher, says "...in yoga we are interested in how we go, not how far we go..." To your dismay or to your delight, yoga is not competitive and there is no end result or outcome, its an ongoing process seeking to connect and integrate body, breath, and mind, hence the term practice. So show up, do the best you can in that moment, and most importantly have fun with it. Yoga is not meant to be taken too seriously!
Wherever you choose to take your very first yoga class, I hope after reading this you know what to expect and that you have all the tools and resources you need to find the perfect class for you. Yoga is not meant to be scary, intimidating, competitive, or weird. There will be classes and teachers and studios you like, and some you don't...and that's just fine. Bring yourself, an open mind, and give yourself the opportunity to try something new, you never know where your yoga journey will lead you.
In case you're worried about looking silly....we all do at one point or another, go with the flow and have fun with it :)
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