Yoga can be intimidating. Walk in to a class filled with bendy, twisty, super in shape people with designer clothes, personalized mats and a language of their own. Throw in the Sanskrit, chanting and occasional harmonium and it can feel like walking into an episode of The Twilight Zone.
My first few yoga classes were unsettling to say the least. Incense, strange musical instruments (the harmonium), lots of Sanskrit chanting and a little bit of over-sharing were what met me. But with some encouragement, I kept going back and today, I’m comfortable in that environment, chanting, Sanskrit over-sharing and all, even if I don’t always participate.
I thought about what might have made my entrance into this world a little less traumatizing, and I’ve written a brief Beginner’s Guide to Yoga to (hopefully) help others with the transition. I’ve broken this down into three sections; Entering the class, During the class and Leaving the class.
Entering the class
- The Yoga teacher will be friendly; genuinely friendly, it isn’t a mugging or a con.
- The funny smell tickling your nose is incense, it’s supposed to calm your energy; it still makes me sneeze.
- The front of the room is for the people who want to be seen typically; beginners are better off moving to the sides; it’s a great vantage point and the whole class won’t be looking at your butt.
- Grab props (blocks and a blanket especially) if available, and if the teacher recommends anything else, grab that too; props are your friend.
- Introduce yourself to anyone who isn’t meditating or face down in some odd looking stretch. This is a community environment (most of the time).
- Don’t take it personally if someone you try to strike up a conversation with ignores you; Namaste!
During the class
- Don’t compare yourself to others in the class – some of them have been going for years, and looking around to see who is better is just going to distract from the purpose of yoga, being in the present.
- Be kind to yourself – yoga can be challenging, both physically and emotionally, accepting that every day is different and working to your best for that day is the best thing you can accomplish.
- Leave the outside world outside the door – for whatever time there is in class, forget the outside world and connect with yourself.
- Don’t worry about the sanskrit or the chanting – whether you choose to learn the sanskrit or develop/have an interest in chanting, neither is required for yoga.
- Yoga (unless otherwise stated in the class description) isn’t religiously affiliated. It promotes good, nice, friendly things (except for that person that ignored you in #6 above); you are not required to shave your head, get an Om tattoo or anything else that doesn’t feel comfortable.
- Be prepared to sweat. Yoga is hard work and uses muscles most beginners either forgot or didn’t know they had in the first place.
After the class
- Give yourself a minute before jumping up and running out. The first few classes can be very tough, and a good savasana can make you loopy in the head.
- Talk a moment and talk to the instructor; especially if the class felt comfortable to you. Learn to tell what makes a good class for you so you can find others like it. It’s also good to occasionally experience classes you don’t feel so good about so you know what to avoid.
- Ask questions about the teacher, the studio and other classes. Especially if you liked the class and the feel of the studio.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is your friend, especially if it’s a hot yoga class.
- Be ready to be a little sore later.
- Don’t take it too seriously – yoga is about personal growth and improvement. The most authentic and wisest people are also the funniest in my opinion. Laugh at yourself, laugh for no reason, laugh when you fall and laugh when you soar. Like Om, laughter is a universal sound. You don’t believe me; try not laughing when a baby starts giggling uncontrollably.
Yoga is different from other forms of exercise in many ways. It also has a number of similarities. My best recommendation is to go in with an open mind, ignore whatever is just too weird at the moment, be kind to yourself during the class and have fun. Worst case, someone looks at you like you are a barbarian because you eat meat. Best case, you find a new fun way to build your mind, body and spirit and quite possibly, make a new friend.
Fear of the unknown is a terrible reason not to do something. Not liking it after you’ve tried it is perfectly fine; you tried it. I have yet to find a yoga studio that kidnaps innocents out of the classes for brainwashing and robe fittings; at least they don’t do it on the first day. So try it out. You might just like it.