• Taylor Sarreen

11 Things to Know Before Your First Yoga Class

If you’re thinking about trying yoga in 2020, you have plenty of company. When you're new, the scene at a yoga studio can feel intimidating. These 11 tips will help you feel more confident, comfortable, and prepared when entering class for the very first time.

Educate yourself beforehand with these expert tips:

1. Arrive Early.

Arriving early gives you a chance to set up your mat where you'd like, fill out any paperwork, use the bathroom, and maybe even connect with your instructor. Head to the studio at least ten minutes early to set up comfortably without rushing. Also, stay until the end of class. Your final relaxation in savasana is an important part of your practice.

If you absolutely have to leave before class is over, tell the teacher prior to the class. But avoid making a habit out of this!

2. Don't take class on a full stomach.

Doing yoga on a full stomach isn’t a very good idea. But neither is doing it on an empty stomach. Your body needs to focus on what you’re telling it to do, and not on digesting a sumptuous meal.

What you need, is something in between. It’s usually a good idea to have a light snack an hour or two before you begin your class.

3. Release the tension.

Clenching your fingers, toes, or even your jaw is very common when you're first starting out. The more you let go and release this stress from your body, the easier every pose will feel. Keeping things loose and comfortable will allow for a better experience, and once you've chilled out, you'll find that you're able to hold poses for longer. You will probably be a little sore after your first class. Yoga tends to work muscles that aren’t often used, even if you are a regular in other sports. Just know that it's a signal that you are growing. Ease into your new yoga body and lifestyle.

4. There's basic etiquette to follow.

No need for socks. Not even the fancy grippy ones. Your bare feet will give your practice an authentic sense of being grounded into your mat. Your attire should be comfortable, sweat-absorbing, and allow you to move with ease. Eyes on your own mat. Of course, in your first couple of classes you may need to look around to know what’s going on. That’s totally fine! Just don’t compare yourselves to others. Focus on you, and the four corners of your own mat. Silence your cell phone.

5. Grab all the props.

The main prop that is essential for class is a yoga mat. Pick up any additional props that may be available in the studio. Yoga props help you get into a deeper version of a pose, and can make some poses more enjoyable. They're used for modifications, deeper twists, stretches, relaxation, and much more. You may commonly see yoga blocks, straps, and/or blankets. Also, listen if your instructor tells you to grab a certain amount of blocks or straps before class. Sweating may take place, so possibly bring a towel and water. (Check if your studio gives you a water/mat/towel for free, rent, sale, or at all.)

6. Breath is Everything.

Pay attention to how shallow your breath is at the beginning of class and if it's deeper and more relaxed at the end of class. When you feel your mind wander, think about lengthening your inhales and exhales. It's the best way to calm down and dive back into your practice with a fresh outlook. Some asanas (poses) require the Ujjayi form of breathing. You constrict your throat a bit so that when you inhale and exhale, your breath is loud.

7. There are Different Styles of Yoga.

There are many many different types of yoga classes. Hatha yoga refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. If you’re looking for a muscle-engaging flow with stretching (overall fitness) you may be into ashtanga or vinyasa/power yoga. If you want something that’s more focused on stretching, attend a yin or restorative class. Vinyasa, which loosely means “breath linked with movement" focuses on flowing movements connected to your breathing. Most studios will provide class descriptions on their websites so read them! If not, contact the instructor or studio to get more details.

8. Child's Pose is Always an Option.

Breaks can happen in yoga. However, this does not mean you can walk out and take a phone call and come back. There might be yogis of all levels practicing in class, so if there's a pose you don't understand or aren't ready to try, don't be afraid to take rest in a gentle Child's Pose. This posture is always an option if you lose your connection to your breath during class. It will help you zen out and tune into your body's needs. Seeing a fellow yogi go into Child’s Pose mid-practice also shows that this person is in tune and listening to their body. Know that it is 100% acceptable to go into Child’s Pose at any point.

Kneel on the mat, toes together and knees apart. Sit on your heels, then lean forward and place your forehead on the mat while your hands are clasped behind your heels. You can be in this pose as long as you need to feel rested enough to join the rest of the class.

9. Be a beginner.

The idea of a "beginner's mind" means heading to your mat with no preconceived notions about what you can or can't accomplish or poses you can or can't do. A good teacher will provide instructions for how to modify poses, and it’s completely acceptable to skip a pose if it’s not working for you. You don't need to have a certain level of fitness or flexibility to try yoga. Remember, you can rest in Child's Pose any time you need a break. Any time you are trying something new, there can be judgment and expectation. Try to let go of that before you uncurl your mat. Yoga isn’t about competition or doing better than anybody. While you’re doing yoga, it’s just you and your mat that exist.

10. Trust the Teacher

Moving at your teacher's pace might be difficult. Regardless of whether it's feeling too fast or too slow, trust their choices for sequencing and do your best to stay on track with the rest of the class. Also know that some teachers will be more hands on than others. If you're not comfortable with touching or adjustments (meant to help you get into correct alignment and deeper into your posture/practice), there's nothing wrong with telling your instructor it isn't working for you. You will usually have the option to opt-out at beginning of class. You may also hear your instructor speak another language. Most likely the instructor is naming the posture in Sanskrit, or in Sankskrit, then translated in English (Not as confusing at it may seem). If you have any further questions, you can always talk to your instructor at the end of a class or the beginning of the next one. You could also talk to your instructor before your first yoga class so that you can discuss your concerns. Let your instructor know what pain or injuries you are experience before you start a yoga class.

11. Know That Yoga is Much More Than Fitness.

Yoga has a long and deep history that is often overlooked in the U.S. Yoga originated in the Indus Valley Civilization thousands of years ago, and before its transition to the West over a century ago, it was never considered just exercise. It's a philosophy of how to live well by transforming yourself and how you experience daily life with all of its ups and downs. Many yoga classes in America focus primarily on just the asana part of yoga. So while you may enjoy a class that's focused on giving you a great workout, and reap certain benefits, make sure you're not missing out on the holistic benefits of yoga. Check on the studio and instructor you choose.

Overall, Knowing beforehand what to expect from first yoga class and being prepared goes a long way in enjoying your yoga class experience. So enjoy yoga, and learn what it has to teach you. Give yourself the chance to be vulnerable and open yourself up to learning from everything yoga has to offer. Decide this decade, to authentically nurture your mind and body.

Still not sure? Check out 11 Basic Poses you can cover before your first class!

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