Yoga is everywhere these days. It's prevalent on social media, it's all over the television, and there's a yoga studio on every corner. It seems like everyone is practicing yoga. Why is everyone practicing yoga?
I think the world is catching on to the fact that we all need some TLC. Yoga is love. It takes courage to walk into that first yoga class, but I promise you, it's worth it. If you are feeling a bit nervous about that first class, you aren't alone. We've all had to walk into that first class.
Here are some tips to ease your mind and help you get started.
1. Do your research.
Look online for a space that suits you. If you are already established with a fitness center, start there. Read the information about the different classes they offer. You don't want to jump into an advanced class your first time. Find a class that is suitable for beginners. If you don't see that information, call the studio and speak to someone. Tell them you are a beginner and let them direct you to the right class for you.
2. Arrive Early
Expect to have to fill out a liability waiver. This is standard procedure and does not mean the class is going to hurt you. You'll want to get that done and get set up in your space. Many locations offer mat rental or have free mats for your use if you don't have your own. Most studios will have cubbies for you to store your belongings while you practice. In almost all studios you will be asked to remove your shoes before you enter the space where you will practice.
3. Expect to feel uncomfortable
As the class begins to fill up it may seem like everyone knows one another and have been best friends their entire lives. They haven't. It's perfectly ok to sit in stillness on your mat as you wait for the class to begin. Once the class starts, it may feel like you are the only person who is unfamiliar with the movements. Remember, every person in class with you was a complete beginner at one point.
Many classes begin and end with either a chant of OM or a longer chant in Sanskrit. It's ok if you don't know what is being said. You can choose to participate or not. You may find that you enjoy the joined vibration of a group chant. Many teachers teach the poses in Sanskrit. Nobody is a Sanskrit scholar. You will not be expected to know what these words mean and there will not be a test. Most teachers will use a combination of Sanskrit and English while teaching the poses. A good teacher will verbally guide you in and out of the postures. You will most likely hear terms like "root down through the feet" or "send the breath into the hamstring." This is yoga teacher speak for allowing the feet to really press down into the mat and using concentration as well as your own breathing to allow your hamstrings to release. Expect to hear a few of these unfamiliar terms in your hour long class.
5. Being touched
Many yoga teachers offer physical assists. You will usually be asked by the teacher if it is ok for them to touch you. It is perfectly acceptable to say no. If you agree to the assists, you will receive the benefits of proper alignment. The teacher won't "correct" you as much as help you gently stretch, fold or twist a little deeper into a pose so you can receive the maximum benefit. A good teacher will not single any one person out, but will walk around the room assisting everyone equally.
Yoga forces us to be completely present in our bodies. We are stretching and opening everything. This can cause unexpected emotions to come up for us. Emotions are a part of the process and it means whatever we are experiencing needs to be felt. Be with it. Explore it. Whatever "it" is. Maybe you will understand where it's coming from. Maybe you won't. Just allow it to be there. It's perfectly normal to cry during a yoga practice or after the practice is over. Yoga is a safe space for this. It's a release and it is beautiful. Don't hold back if this happens to you. Let it go.
Leave it behind. Yoga is not a competition. Everyone has their own personal practice. There are no comparisons. No one is better than or worse than you. When you feel the urge to compare yourself, gently bring your attention back to your own mat, your own body, your own breath and your own practice. Let everything else fall away.
The most important pose in the yoga practice. Also known as Corpse Pose. At the end of class, the teacher will instruct everyone to lay flat on their backs arms and legs down on the mat. Like a corpse. Savasana allows our bodies time to rest after our practice. It allows our bodies to fully absorb all the benefits of our practice. Many people have the hardest time with this pose. The mind starts to wander and we have a tendency to want to get up and DO something. Don't. Just be still. When the mind wanders, gently redirect it back to your breath. Be still and allow this time for yourself.
Don't forget to have fun. Yoga can seem so serious, but don't forget that "It's just yoga." You are allowed to smile and you are allowed to laugh at yourself if you fall out of a balance pose. You are allowed to laugh anytime you like. It's your practice. Enjoy it.
Shannon Dievendorf is a RYT, registered with Yoga Alliance. She teaches mixed level Hatha and truly believes that yoga is for every body.