As a yoga teacher, I experience the ebb and flow of a yoga practice in Boston. As we sink deeper into the winter months and often with the start of the New Year, yoga studios see more students as many start taking yoga classes. While there is no ideal time to start, a wonderful resolution to make at the beginning of the year is to do something healthy for your body and mind. Yoga is one of the best ways to do that.
Sometimes people are unsure of what to expect. With all new things, the best place to start is with the first step. Information will help also, so here, in the spirit of providing you with some helpful information about starting a yoga practice, are some general tips:
Check out the studio before you go. Read their schedule, check out their class types and figure out what class you’ll attend. If you’re unsure of names of the classes, call the studio for information or email them. Sometimes to the untrained eye, class titles can be confusing. All studios should provide a description so this is helpful to read. Also, if there are beginner classes, start there. You’ll get more support around how to do each pose, how to modify each pose and you’ll be surrounded by people who are just starting too.
Go early! Do not walk in 5 minutes before class. All studios will require you do some kind of set-up to get you into the computer and sign a waiver. You’ll also need to pay and unless you’ve brought exact change, it will take a few minutes to do the payment piece. You don’t want to hold up the start of the class by arriving 2 minutes before and you want to give yourself plenty of time to do the transaction at the desk, get set up in the room and relax before class begins.
Don’t bring your gym mat. Rent one or buy a yoga mat. Mats you use at the gym for sit-ups, or your wife’s pilates mat are not meant for yoga. Their thickness and spongy texture will make balancing hard and they’re usually not long enough to hold your whole body. Rather than going out and buying one, just rent one. Most studios wash their mats so you do not have to worry about cleanliness. If you are really concerned, buy an inexpensive one to start.
Wear comfortable clothing but leave your baseball cap, baggy short and loose fitting top at home. You’ll want clothes you can move in, but something that is close fitting. You’ll be upside down a lot and moving from standing to the floor. A big top will constantly fall over your head and be distracting; a hat will be too hot.
Put your mat in the middle or back of the room. This is not to make you feel “less than.” It’s just easier to see the teacher, the students in front of you and have a sense of balance when you’re in the middle or back of the room. Right at the front, you have nowhere to look but the front wall and it’s often harder to see the teacher.
Grab a block or whatever props are in the studio: All studios have blocks and straps (or should). Take one of each. If there are wood or cork blocks and foam blocks, take the cork. They are heavier and will give you better support. Blocks are used in certain poses to rest your hand on, so you can press down more firmly. If there are blankets, take one of those. The teacher will explain how to use it and when.
Keep a beginner’s mind: Try to let go of any performance expectations in class. Just focus on doing your best. Try to forget about what others are doing and focus more on your experience.
Keep the basics in mind: In each pose ask yourself 3 things; Am I breathing? Can I feel my feet on the floor (or, in the floor poses, can I feel the floor solidly underneath me?) Am I resting my eyes at one point or am I looking around? Resting your eyes in each pose at a focus point is both relaxing as well as grounding.
Rest when you need to in Child’s Pose: If the teacher has not had you do this pose and you’re not sure what it is, here is a description: Put your knees down, big toes together, knees spread to the outer edges of the mat. Rest your head on the floor, with your arms reaching straight forward and take a few breaths. Join back into the movements of the class when you are ready.
Resist the urge to leave early: Even if you feel challenged beyond belief, rest and stay in the room. A huge part of yoga practice is acknowledging that you do it your way, every day, keeping in mind that the best you have to give is all that is expected.
A few more final thoughts: If you have questions after class, ask the teacher. Also, if you did not like the class, try it once more. Resist the urge to judge the experience based on one class. If you still don’t think it’s a good fit, try another class or another studio. Resist the urge to spend a lot of money on clothes and equipment. None of these things are necessary for a healthy yoga practice. Keep an open mind and recognize that you are only a beginner once, so enjoy being brand new! Yoga is something you can do your whole life.
Once you start practicing yoga, the only thing you’ll regret is that you didn’t start sooner.