Your First Yoga Class
We've all been the new kid at school. You don't know anyone, the room is unfamiliar and it's just plain awkward. I can't rewind the clock and be your classroom buddy, but I can spare you the terror of your first day at a fitness class. This is a post I'll do on various classes over coming months, and I'm happy to take all requests and suggestions!
I'm starting with yoga because it's something everyone can benefit from and it's widely available. I practice once or twice a week to stretch my body and relax my mind. There's nothing holding a one-legged balance pose for 60 seconds to make you be in the moment! I used to treat yoga as a work out and push myself as far as physically I could, but I've changed my goals lately to identifying areas of tension and trying to release them. Yoga is also my go-to exercise on holidays, as it's a perfect way to lengthen my body after a long-haul flight. Joining a class overseas is a unique and fun experience too! Am I selling it?
Most yoga classes are 60 minutes, with dimmed lighting and wooden floors. You'll likely start laying down before warming up with sun salutations (see terminology below), various poses, and ending with five to 10 minutes of 'shavasna' (meditation). There are many styles of yoga, which may or may not be specified ahead of time. Gyms tend to have generic yoga which is then determined by the instructor. The main styles are:
- Ashtanga & Vinyasa: the most vigorous styles. Prepare to get hot and sweaty, with faster moving sequences.
- Hatha: this refers to the physical practice of yoga (rather than mental) but typically indicates a classical, more gentle approach.
- Yin & Restorative: these styles are becoming increasingly popular as people seek deep muscular release and mindfulness. Poses are held for longer, with emphasis on stretching and relaxation.
- Bikram: yoga with the heat cranked.
In some classes, your teacher will perform 'adjustments' and gently guide you into place. If you're not comfortable with that, just let them know.
Ready to take a class? Here are my tips!
1. Before You Leave Home
DO NOT MOISTURISE. You need to grip the mat, not have a personal slip and slide! I've used a 24 hour moisturiser in the morning and still had my feet slide down my legs in an evening class.
Speaking of feet, yoga is a barefoot activity. There's no need to get a pedicure but you may be less self conscious if your toenails aren't setting Guinness World Records for length. If you're prone to foot odour, bring some talcum powder. Do NOT try and hide in socks. You'll probably slide and hurt yourself, and a good yoga instructor will ask you to remove them anyway.
It's best not to eat at least an hour before class, although I find I can have a raw ball 30 minutes prior without any problems if I'm starving. Bring water and a towel if you're inclined to get sweaty.
2. What to Wear
Stretchy but fitted clothing is best. You can do yoga in a t-shirt and leggings, but remember you'll be bending over and a loose shirt will slide right over your head. It's easily solved by tucking your shirt in, unless you wear a cropped shirt like I did once on a laundry day. Never, never again.
I recommend doing the 'sheer' test before leaving home. Put on your yoga pants, stand with your bottom to a mirror and bend over. Take a look behind you - if you can't see anything, neither will anyone else in your class. Consider bringing an extra layer for meditation when your body temperature will cool right down.
Half the reason I love yoga is because I can wear flip-flops to the gym!
3. On arrival
Whether you do yoga at a studio, beachside or at the gym, chances are you'll do some paperwork. Arrive 10 minutes early so you have time to put your belongings away and set up/collect your mat. Let the instructor know this is your first class and advise of any injuries or pregnancies, so they can give extra tips and modify any poses. Get a spot somewhere in the middle. Advanced yogis will probably be in the front row so you can follow them, while being close enough to see the instructor.
A yoga mat is essential but most places will let you borrow or rent one. If you want to buy a mat, they start from about $30 but I'd wait until you've done a few classes. That way, you'll have a better idea of the thickness and length you prefer.
Some teachers will offer blocks to assist with some poses, along with straps for stretching. Grab them at the start, and then you can decide during the class whether to use them. As I've mentioned, bring water and a towel if you're doing the more vigorous styles.
Originating in India, most yoga pose names are in Sanskrit. Don't worry, I'm not fluent either! Many pose names have been adapted for Western practice. Here are the most common terms you're likely to hear during your class:
- Downward dog: One of the foundation poses in yoga. Hands and feet on the mat at least one metre apart, with your bottom in the air like an upside down "V." Over time, your heels will touch the ground.
- Child's pose: a resting pose with knees and toes on your mat, chest on your thighs and arms stretched in front. A great option to do anytime during the class.
- Sun salutations: a flowing sequence involving downward dog, lunges, some planking, upward dog and mountain poses. Usually repeated at least four times (twice on each leg).
- Warrior poses: a set of strengthening poses, with Warrior 1 facing frontwards, Warrior 2 your chest and hips face the side, and Warrior 3 a bit like a one-legged aeroplane.
- Shavasana or "corpse pose": meditation. The cool five minutes at the end where you lay down and relax your mind, letting your body absorb the work you've just done.
6. The next day & beyond
Prepare for hamstring hell. Your wrists might be a little sore too. But mostly, you should feel stretched, peaceful and inspired to return! What did you enjoy most? Or what did your body respond to? Google hamstring stretches if you need to. Otherwise, give yourself a high five yogi!
QUESTION: What do you love most about yoga?