Ten things YOU need to know before your first yoga class
- Tell the teacher if you have any injuries, or if you are pregnant, or have any other problems you think the instructor ought to know about. You can talk to him or her privately before the class if you wish, or wait for the beginning of class when many teachers, if they see some new faces, will usually ask for this information. If you are pregnant, for example, or have a back problem, the teacher will want to know this and will slightly adjust certain poses for you to keep you (and if you are pregnant, your baby) safe.
- What to bring. You can bring a water bottle, a towel, if you think you might be sweaty, (some yoga classes are more aerobic than others – so find out if it is a beginning level class or an advanced level class). You can bring a mat (most studios have mats you can borrow but some people prefer to bring their own). There are usually blocks, belts and blankets at every yoga studio for you to use when needed.
- What to wear. It really doesn’t matter what you wear to yoga as long as it isn’t too loose, and that it can stretch with you as you stretch. I’ve noticed that most men wear baggy gym shorts and a T-shirt and most women wear some variation on a leotard for a bottom and often a blouse, t-shirt or leotard that isn’t so loose-fitting or too open or low-cut for the top. Remember it’s going to fall down or even fall up when the body is inverted for a pose like downward facing dog (see information on poses below).
- What to do when you arrive. Sign in, take your shoes off (you can wear your socks during class if you’re cold, but most teachers encourage you to take them off so your feet don’t slip on the mat.) Turn your cell phone off and leave it and your shoes by the door.
- Gather your props. There’s usually a closet or storage bin in the back of the room where the mats, blankets, blocks and belts are kept. When you get there, see what everyone else is taking. If everyone is taking a belt, it means the teacher often teaches with a belt. If everyone takes two blocks, take two blocks. But most teachers teach with one block and the belt is optional. And taking a blanket, unless the teacher tells you to, is also optional. It’s nice at the end of class to snuggle up under a blanket for the final relaxation period, but that’s totally up to you.
- You don’t have to do everything. This is the beauty of yoga. It’s not a competitive sport. Usually the teacher will provide different options for each pose (geared toward different level students). And they will say, while explaining the pose, if you want a little more challenge here’s another option for you. As a beginner, you may want to stop at the first option which is usually the easiest version of the pose. But if it’s going well and you feel like you are up for the challenge, continue adding the suggested options to further enhance the pose. But keep in mind: you don’t have to make it more challenging if you don’t want to. Don’t hesitate to give yourself a break at any time and just put yourself in child’s pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing. (This seems odd the first time you try it, but trust me, people do it all the time.)
- If you don’t understand what’s going on you can always ask. Not all teachers demonstrate every pose. Especially once they’ve been teaching the same group of people for a while. But you can always ask for assistance if you need it, and most yoga teachers will come over to you and give you an adjustment if he or she sees you aren’t quite getting it. I still get occasional adjustments in class from all my teachers and I find this hands-on form of instruction to be a very special aspect of yoga. (If you don’t want an adjustment you can always say, no thanks.) There are always one or two advanced students in every class who nail every pose perfectly. They are usually pretty easy to spot. When the teacher isn’t demoing a posture, I often look to one of these more advanced students for reference. Some teachers, while facing you in front of the class, will demo the postures using a technique called “mirroring” where they actually move the opposite limb from the one they are say they are moving. This is done because, when the teacher faces you, your mind tends to perceive his or her limbs moving in the opposite direction from the instructions, sort of like when you look in a mirror. So to compensate for this tendency some teachers use this “mirroring” technique. When it’s done well you probably won’t even notice it is happening. And when the teacher DOESN’T use mirroring (most don’t), you’ll notice your tendency to move in the opposite direction of the actual instruction. (Just listen to the instructions and you’ll always get it right.)
- You can always take a break. Besides taking a break when you’re tired and just want to rest for a moment (in child’s pose), you are also free to get up and get another prop that you might need, or leave the room to go to the bathroom. You’re not stuck in the class for the entire hour. (BTW, classes can vary in length from 45 minutes to 90 minutes.)
- Yoga Postures. Below are ten basic postures that you will be glad you know when you go to your first class.
- “Namaste.” After the five minute relaxation period is over at the end of the class, your teacher will undoubtedly put her hands in front of her heart and bow to you and say “Namaste.” (Nah – mah – stay) This is a common greeting in India, pretty much like saying hello or goodbye here in the US. Literally it means “the light in me bows to the light in you.” If you feel comfortable returning this gesture, after he or she says it, you can say “Namaste” back.
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