New to yoga? 10 things to expect at your first class...

Yoga  can be an intimidating, but here are 10 tips on what to expect & how to be open to the experience.

Lots of different body types & ages.  

You may walk into your first yoga class and see people from all walks of life, ages, & body types.  A good teacher will enable all students to benefit from a yoga practice by providing options throughout class that suit different levels.  There are several variations to each pose, so they can be adapted for bodies with injuries, restrictions, & health conditions.  Many regular yoga students continue to practice well into their 70s & 80s & beyond.  Children also benefit from practicing yoga because it requires focus, coordination, & fosters an increase in self- confidence.   Moving the body & breathing feels good, which is why it benefits all people.  

Knowing left from right.

As a teacher I regularly confuse the left & right sides of my body, so don't be surprised if you get confused too.  Your teacher might say, ‘raise your right arm towards the ceiling,’ and your left arm shoots up.  This is totally not a big deal, as depending on the day, most people – including frequent practitioners – have a moment like this at least once during a class!  The more you practice, the more you will start to think of direction as you move. Don’t worry if it takes a while, most of us are still working on it!  It doesn’t matter in the  grand scheme of things whether you moved the left arm instead of the right in a yoga class.

Unfamiliar movements

One of the main goals of yoga is to remove stagnation from the body.  We spend a lot of time in our lives sitting, standing, & lying down, so once we add an arm up here and a twist there it all starts to feel a bit unfamiliar.  Even things we could easily do when we were eight now seem vastly out of reach, but the beauty of yoga is that it helps you restore & increase your flexibility.  A good yoga practice will take you through a full range of motion for your joints and muscles.  It is through repetition that the body starts to transform and change. Stick with it, one session won’t be enough to make the unfamiliar feel familiar.   You will initially have to embrace being out of your comfort zone. Just like a journey around the world, you are on an adventure to learn yourself.  This may not seem like a tall task, but trust me my friend, it is monumental!  Humans are complex, and once you peel back a layer there is another waiting underneath.  

Breathing exercises

Many people don't even notice the fact that they are breathing.  When you become stressed, your breath usually tightens and becomes more rapid, causing tension in your body.  Yogic breathing exercises help to slow down the breath, make it more even, & allow you to be less affected by tension.  In yoga, your breath is considered your energy source or prana.  Modern yoga has become focused on the poses, especially in social media, but traditional yoga practices are completely centred around the breath.  The consistent practice of yoga enables you to harness the breath and therefore the mind.  Your teacher might ask you to sit or lie down to do a breathing exercise that might sound like  'inhale for  1..2..3, exhale for  1..2..3.'  You may also be asked to simply sit or lie quietly and focus on the breath.  Even if the breathing exercises feel really difficult (controlling the breath takes years) stick with it and keep an open mind.  Once you start becoming aware of your breath you will be shocked at how much tension you were unnecessarily holding.  Also, if you suffer from anxiety, depression, or  stress,  breathing exercises can be a useful tool for alleviating them.

Feeling stiff, achy, dizzy, self conscious

Slow motion burpees & backbends are most likely not in your everyday vocabulary, so you may have moments of feeling a bit dizzy or even sick when you try these things for the first time.  You may have thoughts & emotions come up around feeling not good enough, being self critical, or that your body is 'not meant' for this.  These thoughts are perfectly normal and will subside the more you let the benefits of the practice sink in.  We are often goal oriented when it comes to physical activity, & a practice like yoga which emphasises the journey rather than the endpoint can make us feel out of our depth.  One of my teachers likened yoga practice to learning a new song on a new instrument.  First you must learn to fully use the instrument (body) before you can fully express the melody (practice).  Cut yourself some slack.  Even as a teacher and regular practitioner of yoga, my muscles often feel stiff  first thing in the morning.  One of the reasons I practice yoga is to keep up my level of mobility & flexibility.  Range of motion must be maintained or it is lost, so work with what you have and it will steadily increase with time & repeated practice.  

Feeling emotional

It is impossible to practice yoga without having an emotional reaction. Some people return to class over and over because it makes them feel good, others find it a form of therapeutic movement to help calm the mind and reduce stress.  Many people find that yoga helps to balance out the emotions and feel a greater sense of control and expression.  You may feel like laughing or bursting into tears! The whole spectrum of emotions can be felt within one class.  Some may not feel much in the way of emotional release.  The beauty of yoga is there is room for everyone to be fully themselves in every moment.

Sweating

There is a misconception that yoga is just light stretching, no exertion or effort.  This is not true – yoga is challenging!  Depending on what type of class you attend, you could burn up to 700+ calories & be drenched in sweat!  As with other physical activities, it's about the effort you put in.  In a safe yoga practice you will gently push yourself to new boundaries and then breath there. Over time, the boundary recedes. There should be no forcing involved as this will not give you the benefits of yoga.  In order to find balance in the body,  one must work to mirror flexibility with strength.  This takes years to cultivate, so for your first yoga practice just focus on breathing and doing what you can.  You might even feel sore the next day!

Many styles to choose from

Yoga has a vast background, and many styles share similarities.  It is best to start with a beginners class or ask a teacher if a class would be suitable for you.  Explore styles and find teachers you like!

Some of the most common styles you might find at a studio include:

Ashtanga (a vigorous, set series which might be challenging to a complete beginner )

Vinyasa flow (dynamic - suitable for most beginners unless specified level 2, 3, advanced, etc.)

Kundalini (movement, breathing, meditation, & mantras – expect talk about energy & harnessing it)

Yin Yoga (a slow, calming style suitable for those with injuries, health conditions, & pregnancy. great for stress reduction too!)

Iyengar (vigorous style which develops strength, flexibility, and endurance with precision – think props & lots of alignment instructions)

There are tons of other styles and methods! Finding a teacher you like is key, so hunt around.

**always speak to the teacher before class if you have a condition he/she should know about

Silence is LOUD!

Depending on how a teacher starts & ends a class you might find yourself sitting for 5 mins in seated silence, lying on your back for some gentle stretching, or lying down & breathing for an extended period of time.  You might open your eyes to peer around to see what everyone else is doing.  You might wonder if anyone else is finding it as hard as you are to not fidget, talk, or run out!  Most people find it difficult to sit or lie still for several minutes without doing anything.  We are very used to filling our moments with browsing, watching, doing.  Yoga helps us to let go of the need to constantly 'do' something.  There is a physical practice and then a silent still practice in almost every class.  Some days you might wonder if your mind is defective as you try to sit still and every part of you feels uncomfortable.  Or you might wonder if anyone else is finding it hard to not think of the next meal and what they might have. These are all completely normal and are part of your journey to get to know your mind and yourself.  

Getting hooked

Your first yoga class might leave you thinking 'where has this been all my life!?' If you embrace the unknown and give it your all, you may find you actually enjoy yoga.  The more you practice, the more you will feel the benefits  You might even find that class becomes the highlight of your week, the place you work on your 'stuff' & the place you make friends.  In my experience, people come to yoga for some form of self healing, and when that journey starts, it's hard to imagine life without it.