Ahhh, the joy of discovering the gifts that yoga can bring to your life: the delight of moving in harmony with your breath, the clarity and ease that come from making space in the body and mind, the exquisite stillness found in deep relaxation.
New yogis, believe me when I tell you that many wonderful experiences await you on and beyond mat when you make yoga a part of your life.
While stepping into your first class can indeed be exciting, it can also be intimidating. From the profound to the practical, here’s what you need to know before you do your first Downward-Facing Dog:
1. Start Slow
Regardless of what style of yoga you’re drawn to, give yourself time to learn the basics first. Joining a series of classes designed for beginning students is a great way to begin. (Learn more in How to Get Into Yoga.)
These classes often move at a slower pace and provide detailed instructions for learning how to safely practice the postures of yoga.
You’ll be able to take what you learn into any style you eventually want to practice.
2. Find the Right Style(s) for You
When it comes to yoga practice, one size definitely does not fit all. It’s important to educate yourself about the differences in what falls under the vast umbrella of what is called “yoga.” (Learn more in Different Yoga for Different Days: A Quick Overview of 5 Popular Styles.)
Methods, traditions, schools, and styles vary widely from physically-focused to spiritually-oriented, from athletic and rigorous to soft and gentle, from technical and structured to free-flowing and intuitive, from slow-paced to fast, from silent and contemplative to classes accompanied by a playlist or DJ, and on and on.
Inquire at local studios to find out about the differences in the classes they offer. Consider your level of physical fitness and clarify your reasons and goals for practicing yoga to find a style that meets your needs.
3. Find a Qualified Teacher
Even more important than the style of yoga you practice is the teacher you learn from.
Here are some questions to help you get to know more about your potential teachers:
- What is their training and teaching experience?
- Are they themselves students, committed to their own practice, ongoing learning and development in yoga?
- After a few classes, do they make an effort to learn your name, inquire about your physical condition and your experience of the classes?
- What is their professional reputation? What are they known for?
- Do they uphold the highest standards for professional integrity?
- Do you feel at ease with the atmosphere they create in the class (both before and during?)
- Does the teacher encourage a sense of self-exploration and connection to (and honoring of) your own experience during class?
4. Arrive Early
About 15 minutes before the start of the class is a good amount of time to allow you to get oriented to the space, set up on your mat, relax for a few minutes, and settle in so you’re ready to begin when the class starts.
5. Introduce Yourself to Your Teacher
Be sure to tell her about any active injuries, sensitivities, or physical conditions you’re working with that might affect your ability to do the class.
An experienced teacher will be able to inform you about any contraindications and give you safe alternatives and guidance about how to work with your condition.
6. Listen to Your Body
I know, I know, it’s easier said than done. When I first heard this advice I remember thinking, “Really? What language does my body speak?”
The truth is, yoga is about being in a conscious relationship with oneself.
There’s no better place to begin than with the body.
Over time, you’ll develop the sensitivity needed to understand the signs your body sends you about when it's beneficial to go deeper in a pose and when it's better to back off. (Learn more in Yoga Can't Cure Your Back Pain!)
In the meantime, just remember it’s YOUR body and YOU are in charge of how you move through the class.
Yoga shouldn’t be painful. If you feel any sharp, sudden sensations, especially in a joint of the body, release the pose you’re doing right away and rest in a neutral position, either standing, seated, or lying down on your back.
Above all, respect your limits and honor wherever your body is at regardless of what the person on the next mat over is or isn’t doing, which leads me to my next point…
7. Keep Your Eyes on Your Mat
One of the quickest ways to feel like a failure when you first begin yoga is to compare yourself to other students in the class. (Learn more in Yoga is for Every Body.)
Even in a class setting, yoga is essentially an inward journey.
Flexible bodies, experienced practitioners, or simply anyone who can “do” a pose you find challenging can all sabotage our practice and distract us from the true spirit of yoga.
The truth is everyone’s body is different, and therefore the poses will look different for everyone.
8. Practice an Inner Posture of Welcoming
Remember, the starting point in yoga is always exactly where you are. Begin by inwardly welcoming yourself to your practice with utter self-acceptance.
Take a moment at the beginning of class to simply allow yourself to be wherever you are at in your body and mind.
Whatever else happens after you do this, know that just by allowing yourself to be just as you are, you’re already practicing advanced yoga! (Learn more in Self-Love Practices to Teach Yourself How to Love You.)
9. Thank Yourself for Showing Up
No matter what happens during the class, or what you wished had happened, take a moment at the end of your practice to thank yourself for showing up.
Acknowledging your effort will make it more likely you’ll want to return to your mat.
It’s important to understand that the benefits of yoga are cumulative. They come from consistent practice over time.
If you have a positive experience after your first classes, remember how you felt at the end. This will to fuel your commitment to return.
If your beginning experiences with yoga are less than ideal, know that it can take some time to find the right fit.
Just because one class or one teacher doesn’t resonate with you, it doesn’t mean that yoga isn’t for you. Try different teachers, styles, or classes in different studios to find what feels right!