New to Yoga? This post is dedicated to you.
After taking six months off from the physical yoga practice, I'm starting all over again. From the beginning. A clean slate.
And you know what? It feels fucking amazing. It feels so good to be back to the beginning.
Do you remember a moment where you've seen something for the very FIRST time that took your breath away?
Maybe it's the view of the sunset from your new front porch.
The view from a summit you've ascended for the first time.
Maybe it's the first time your lover ever smiled at you.
The first time your new born child gazed into your eyes.
That feeling, that moment. Incredible.
This is how I feel about being back to the beginning with the physical practice. Because whenever we approach something with a beginner's mind, we are so much more open to possibilities. There's less attachment and we are less jaded about the experiences as they arise.
So if you are someone who’s never practiced yoga and are interested in taking your first class, I can’t help but feel super thrilled for you.
Undiscovered terrain can both be exciting and terrifying at the same time.
Recently, my husband’s co-worker sent over some questions about attending his first Bikram yoga class. Naturally since yoga is my LIFE, I immediately wanted to send him as much advice as I could, but I also did not want to overwhelm him.
In the end, I only addressed his immediate questions, practical matters like what kind of mat to practice on and what to wear, but I also added two more tips to help him feel healthy throughout the class.
So if you are thinking of starting off your new year with your first yoga class, this post is just for you.
Good luck, enjoy it and if you have any additional questions about the practice let me know in the comments below.
1. Why YOGA?
Ask yourself why are you interested in yoga and what are you looking for in a class.
Is it for stress reduction, meditation or increasing your strength and range of motion?
If you are constantly on the move and need a little down time, a restorative class may be what you need. Some people feel that the only way they can relax is by "working hard" physically, but you may just surprise yourself with a gentle yoga practice.
Better yet, choose a variety of classes to try out. Most studios offer an introductory rate for the first week or 30 day period. Check out the schedule and highlight various classes that may work for you and drop in on them.
Notice how you feel after each practice. This will provide the best feedback for which direction you may need to take your practice for now until you're more familiar with yoga.
2. Ask for recommendations.
Ask your yogi friends for recommendations on where to practice. If you know someone who's been practicing for some time, ask them which teachers, classes and studios they recommend.
You may find that chatting with your friends will also help you address tip number one and help refine your choices on where to practice.
3. Do find a beginner friendly class.
If you are selecting a class based on recommendations, ask if the teacher is adept with working with new practitioners. This is especially helpful if you have any pre-existing illness or injury that needs to be taken into consideration during practice.
4. Know what to bring.
Once you've selected a place to practice, find out what you need to bring. Some studios provide mats and towels, while others may not.
My personal recommendation is to bring your own mat, especially if you plan to keep practicing. It's more hygienic and will be useful to have on hand once you establish a home practice. If you plan to take a hot yoga class (though I don't recommend hot yoga as a place to start for complete beginners), a towel for your face and hands is also useful.
5. HYDRATE. HYDRATE. HYDRATE.
Don't just hydrate in the few hours before class. Make sure you drink enough water every day, throughout the day. Some teachers may also advise students to not drink water during practice, so coming into class well hydrated will offset any headaches, dizziness and keep your energy level stable throughout class.
In general, making sure you are hydrated is beneficial whether or not you decide to practice yoga. If you're not already doing this, make sure you do drink enough water in the days leading up to your first class.
6. Don’t eat at least 3 hours before practice.
This is easier if you are planning on practicing first thing in the morning, like at 6 a.m. If however you are practicing later in the day, it's important to manage your meal times. Imagine the twists, forward folds, backbends and other positions you will be putting yourself through on a full stomach. It's not a pleasurable feeling, I can attest to it from first hand experience.
If you are practicing later in the day, keep portions in mind based on your metabolic constitution. This means if you tend to feel full for a long period after a big meal, cut your portions down. However if you tend to feel hungry every couple of hours, make sure that you do eat enough to carry you through till after practice.
If you must eat something, a light citrus snack, like an orange or grapefruit an hour or two before may be taken if absolutely necessary.
But what if I'm planning on just taking a restorative class in the evening?
Even if you are not planning to attend a hatha class it is as equally distracting and uncomfortable to do a restorative practice with a full stomach. This is also true for meditation.
Side note: I practice quite early in the morning however when I was pregnant, I was more flexible about this. If I woke up hungry, then I would eat an orange or a light piece of toast about an hour before practice.
7. Arrive early.
Usually you will need to sign a waiver form at most studios, pay for class and orient yourself to the space.
Plan to arrive about 15-20 minutes before the scheduled class time to allow some buffer time to sign in and set up your mat. It's also good to arrive early and introduce yourself to the teacher before class. Let them know you're new and ask them any questions you may have prior to starting.
Most likely if a teacher knows you're new, they'll make sure to give you a bit more attention during class and work with you on their cues and alignment.
8. Focus your drishti.
The dristhi is the gazing point in the practice. The two most common gazing points are the tip of the nose and the tips of the fingers in standing postures.
When you're new, you may be tempted to look around and see what other students are doing. This can be even more confusing as some students may be modifying poses based on their needs.
Do your best to tune in to what the teacher is saying and bring your focus inward to your own breath, to the sensations and mind chatter that may arise. When we do this, we are cultivating mindfulness and the art of attention. This is challenging if your gaze is constantly shifting outward to the external environment.
Don't worry about doing everything right the first time. Most teachers will also come over if they see that you need help.
9. Take a rest.
There's really two parts to this tip. Our bodies are incredibly intelligent. If something does not feel right to you, take a rest. This may mean that you take a pause in standing postures or come down into child's pose to take a break. It's super acceptable to opt out of something when you need.
If you follow tip number 7 and struck up a convo with your teacher before class, they'll most likely offer some modifications to help you stay in the flow.
The second part to this is the final rest at the end of practice.
This is definitely my favorite part of every practice, so don't skimp on it. If for any reason you absolutely need to leave early before the end of class, make sure you take a rest. Lie down and take savasana and rest for at least a few minutes or until you're body feels settled.
One other tip is if you do need to leave early, set your mat up by the exit so you don't have to disrupt other students while you're packing up to go.
10. Don’t give up.
It takes time to find the right teacher and the right practice that fits your needs. In the west, there are so many different ways the tradition of yoga is taught. Don't let one negative experience dissuade you from finding the right practice for you.
Enjoy the experience for whatever it may be. Be gentle and remember that you're trying something new. It takes a certain kind of courage to explore the unknown and here you are doing it!
Good luck and let us know how your first time yoga class goes for you.
May all beings be happy and free.