How Beginner Yoga can Make or Break a Practice (and Tips to Ease You onto your Yoga Mat)
I just finished teaching a yoga class. I was a sub for a teacher I’ve known for a few years, who, like many others, was part of my own journey to become a yoga teacher. The class was in the same gym where I took my first public yoga class, ever. Oh, “full circle,” you saucy minx!
So, I walked into the very familiar studio, began to get myself ready to teach the class, and my gaze fell to the spot I first sat in as a student. That day, so many years ago, I did not roll out my own mat. Instead, I borrowed a used mat from the gym. Before my first yoga class began, I remember sitting on that borrowed mat, wondering what I should do until class began. I did not want to play with my phone, I wanted to be open to whatever this new experience held (or, I wanted to just get it over with). I was familiar with yoga from a steady home practice, but there was no waiting for a class to begin in my room: either I just got moving or the video immediately began.
Suddenly, I had yoga anxiety.
More people began to wander in, unrolling or placing mats. Undressing, attaching headbands, beginning to stretch out. I cautiously sat there, observing from the periphery, how to act before a yoga class begins. Not a lot of people see the value in those key moments before a class, and how intimidating they can be. It can be just as bad in any other group fitness class, any sort of group orientation. Perhaps I should have buried my head in my phone (no judgment!) but I wanted to see how the other people changed from a person into a yoga student.
Frankly, I also did not want to stand out from the group.
Not a lot of Yoga Foundations or Yoga Basics (beginner yoga) classes address that part of the practice. In fact, I cannot recall any discussion of pre-class etiquette in any class, at any time. I have read a few “first time to yoga” pointers here and there, and eventually, I just made up my own rituals. It seems obvious that one way to ease yoga anxiety is to allow people a chance to ask questions in the moment, where yoga is supposed to take place.
Beginner yoga classes break down postures and poses and allow you time to focus on your breath and movement at a slower pace. They do not tell you that you probably should take off your socks, or that rolling out a mat with a loud slam on the floor can be disruptive to a person who is quietly meditating next to you. They do not point out that you can stretch, or not stretch, or lay down, or do a headstand, or do nothing before class begins. Beginner yoga classes are about the classes, the postures, the breath, and not necessarily those moments of adjusting from being a person into a yoga student.
These are all things that can be enough for any student to decide never to return to a yoga class.
Beginner or Yoga Foundations classes also do not really mention meditating, or why some people just sit in silence before a class. Beginner classes do not often discuss what to wear to a yoga class (loose shirts can cover more skin, until you are in downward dog, for example). Beginner yoga classes may joke about the little noises (pfft) our bodies make at the most embarrassing times. Yoga foundations may help us feel our way through a posture sequence, slowly and with intention. Those classes also leave out a lot of reasons to keep coming back, and ways to make things easier – like doubling your mat if your knees are sensitive to the hard floor, that all teachers have different opinions about every posture, or that not all yoga teachers love every aspect of yoga.
I do not like Kale, an essential part of yoga if you believe the beautiful yogis gleefully chewing on the leafy madness in their awe-inspiring, #yogisofinstagram poses. I also really do not like Bound Revolved Crescent Lunge (because WHY?), but I’m learning to appreciate it. Kale will never have my heart, and you can also not love parts of yoga.
Perhaps the most important thing any yoga class can ever mention, no matter how much experience you have, your injuries, aversion to sweat, or whatever may challenge you to continue practicing is to come as you are… anxious, fidgety, and perfectly imperfect.
Here are a couple of other things to keep in mind when you practice yoga outside your home:
- Do not let the magazine and Instagram yogis (yoga practitioners) scare you away. None of them started out like looking or bending their bodies like that. We do not have photo filters, perfect lighting, or an ocean backdrop in our yoga studios, classrooms, or community yoga spaces. What we have are people who love yoga (or at least tolerate it), who do not care what you look like, and who are just there to BE.
- You may feel like being at the back of the classroom will keep you out of the limelight, but remember it is more difficult to see an instructor at the front of the room if you are not right there. Plus, in many yoga classes, the “front” of the yoga space rotates along all four sides of your mat. You may start out facing the “stage” of the instructor (who will likely be moving around the class once things get rolling), and find yourself gazing at the butt of the person to your right or left.
- Oh, yes, we get up close and personal with our neighbors’ body parts sometimes (wide legged forward fold). We hold hands or touch toes. Sometimes we sing. Do not let that scare you away, either! Most of the time, we are so in the moment of “what am *I* doing?” that we do not really notice anyone else. If anything makes you uncomfortable, you do not have to do it. If something does not feel right, you can stop.
There is no religion in yoga. Yoga teachers say a lot of weird things about the Universe, or “send your breath” to a body part, and we also mention muscle groups or various teachings by spiritual leaders. I taught a class once that spoke of Maya Angelou. Nobody is trying to change your spiritual, religious, or none-of-the-above perspective.
- Also, you can keep eating meat, binge drinking, smoking, etc. Some yogis follow strict guidelines, most do not. Yoga probably just keeps most of us from going over the edge (we really are all there because we’re crazy) with our various vices. The more you do yoga or any exercise, the more likely you are to cut back or quit some of your less-healthy habits. It isn’t a requirement.
- In any yoga practice and/or class, it is your mat and your rules. Any yoga teacher will understand discomfort, either mentally, emotionally, or physically. Teachers can offer you suggestions, alternative postures, or assists to help with that discomfort, or they can allow you space and time to figure it out on your own.
Yoga creates physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional discomfort? BUT, BUT… INSTAGRAM!
Yoga heals the body, mind, heart, and spirit. That will always create discomfort because we are humans who feel physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. People generally jump on a mat for the physical practice, and that is a perfect place to keep your yoga practice. For some, that physical practice leads to an exploration of yoga – the different styles, the history, the theories of yoga. For others, there can be an emotional component to the practice that is cathartic. Yoga teachers often say that the hips hold stored emotions, and after a hip-opening series, you may understand what that means as soon as that savasana song (or silence) hits home.
We do not do it on purpose… but maybe we do it a little bit on purpose.
There is a reason yoga has survived for a zillion years, and why it continues to invade all parts of our lives. Yoga is the yoga pants of the wellness world. Soft, flexible, resilient, giving, ubiquitous, and everywhere you look. When you are ready to test out your yoga pants, know that even as you sit on a mat for the first time, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. You do not have to have all of the answers, you do not have to like kale, and you can truly just hang out and breathe through the whole class.
Ready to jump into a beginner yoga class? We have several Yoga Foundations classes in Sterling or Herndon VA that are perfect for those who are new to yoga. Learn the foundations and basics of yoga, ask questions, and get amazing advice (if we do say so ourselves!).
Chelsea D. Snyder has been regularly practicing yoga for over 8 years and began teaching yoga in 2016. Chelsea is also a Reiki Master (2012), author, marketing consultant and business owner. [See Chelsea’s Class Schedule]
Are you new to yoga, thinking of trying out a class, and have questions you need answered?
Yoga teachers, what else would you want brand new students to know before class even begins?