For the First Time...Yoga Class FAQ

Over the past two years, I have fielded many questions from friends and family members who want to try yoga but are concerned about how to start and what to expect. 

Grateful Yogi presents...

Yoga 101 FAQs: 

What type of class should I start with? 

I would suggest starting out with either a beginner class (or an "all levels" class if a beginner class doesn't fit your schedule). It is good to take several of these to get used to the way a class works, names of poses, and to see how the practice feels to you before stepping into a more advanced class. Some studios even require a few beginners classes before you can try anything else. This helps with safety, but also makes you feel more comfortable/confident. 

I heard it is, like, 130 degrees in the yoga studio. Am I going to pass out? 

Temperatures at studios vary, but let's go ahead and divide the studio population into three groups: Unheated, Warm and Hot. Unheated is exactly what it sounds like - no artificial heat beyond what a normal room would feel like. Warm is usually 80-95 degrees. HOT is usually 95-105 (or hotter). Humidity can be added as well depending on the studio. Why heat a room at all? Many practitioners (myself included) appreciate the fact that heat makes your muscles warm, so you can get deeper into poses. Additionally, it can flush out toxins from your body. The heat bothered me at first, and now I love it. I'm a WARM yoga kind of girl and I think 85 is a great temp. I actually get kind of cranky when I have to practice somewhere less than 80, but initially it was tough. 

Check the studio website or call to find out about temperature if you are concerned. Some studios add a note on their class descriptions as to the level of heat. 

Bring water. Hydrate. Hydrate before class. Hydrate after class. Hydrate all the time, regardless of whether you keep practicing yoga! 

So I get the water part but...what about eating? 

Try not to eat too close to when you attend a class. This is a physical activity. Most "people" (I am not actually sure who - experts? websites? studio owners? friends?) say 2 hours but to me that is a little strict. Think about how your body reacts to other types of physical exertion after you eat. Give it at least an hour to be safe and like all things, test out how your body does. The more you practice, the more you will get a sense from your body about what works. 

I'm nervous about everything. But mostly...the sweat. 

Important Note: You will think that you sweat more than anyone else in the whole world. Trust me when I tell you: this is not true. It is not even close to true. I have seen sweat. You will not be the sweatiest. 

BUT! Do bring a towel with you. Mats can get slippery as you sweat. And slippery mats are uncomfortable and can be dangerous. 

If you fall in love with the practice, there are mat towels that you can buy that are amazing for sopping up sweat, but for the first few weeks, a regular towel should do just fine.

Props - can be your best friend - at your first class - and ALWAYS

Can you explain what an "adjustment" is and an "assist."

Teachers will probably adjust you - either verbally or physically. Verbally would be: hey, put your foot here, or move this way. Physically, they might actually move you deeper or twist you further by touching your shoulder, arm, hip, etc.. It is always okay to say "no thanks" if it doesn't feel right or you are uncomfortable. It is also important to know that there is not a 100%, one size fits all "right way" to do a pose. I practice every day and I still don't take triangle pose the way that it often looks like in yoga magazines. I was born with hips that move slightly differently. So the purpose of an adjustment or an assist should be to help you feel the pose more fully based on your body. Good teachers will also be looking to make adjustments if they see that you might be taking a pose in a way that could be harmful to your body. An example of this would be tuning your knee in a way that could cause injury.  

I've heard that you don't breathe out of your mouth in yoga. What if I can't do that?

Ujjayi breathing is a common breathing style in yoga that involves an audible breath on the inhale and exhale, with lips closed. This is a skill that takes time to master, and is taught in many beginner classes. Like most things in life, it comes with practice. Do not worry about doing this in your first class. Listening to others around you is a great way to learn, though, so just being in class helps. 

My friend does yoga and she says that they pray and sing. I'm not sure about that.

Yoga - above all else - is what you want it to be.

It can be a purely physical workout. It can be a deeply spiritual practice. 

While I identify with yoga as a deeply spiritual part of my human experience, I frequently practice next to people who would put themselves all over the spectrum. The great thing about yoga is that you can decide as an individual how you want it to be for you. 

A teacher may ask you to bring your hands to heart center - in prayer. This is more to describe the pose and help you connect to breath than it is a prescription to pray. If this triggers you - another option is to cover your heart with your hands. 

You may here the sound of "Om" to start or end a class. Om is a chant, or mantra, and the best way that I can describe it is the sound of simply being. For me, it is a reminder to drop in and put aside everything going on in my head - and concentrate on the present moment. If you don't feel comfortable om-ing at first (or ever) - just listen. It can be a beautiful sound. 

You may hear the word "Namaste." This is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to mean: "the light within me honors the light that resides within you." If om is the sound of being, then namaste is the greeting of being - it is you telling your neighbor - whether stranger or friend - that you honor their being in the world, and their being in your present moment. 

You may hear chanting. Chants can be sung at the beginning or end of class - usually Sanskrit words and often call and response. This is another way of asking people to bring themselves into the present. The translated chants are often quite beautiful. At your comfort level, join in or simply listen. 

What is a prop? 

A prop is an item that helps you in a pose - the most common props are yoga blocks, straps, blankets, and bolsters (shaped pillows). I used to think that a student with fewer props was a more advanced student. This is not true in many cases. Props help our bodies get into shapes, and they help us with comfort while we practice. Bring on the props! 

I need to leave 5 minutes early from class to catch my train. Is that okay? 

This is a bit of a gray area, but my from-the-heart answer on this is: no. The final pose of a yoga class is Savasana. It is a pose that involves laying down, being still, and allowing your body to feel all of the work you have done. In the beginning, this pose might feel awkward and your mind might race. This feeling slowly dissipates as you practice more and savasana can often become one of the most blissful poses of your practice. Savasana is a quiet pose, and moving around to get your things, roll up your mat, and leaving the room can be extremely disruptive to other students and distracting to the teacher. 

If you must leave class early - leave before savasana. Do your best to stay. 

What else should I do when I get to the studio? 

Arrive Early
For your first class, I suggest arriving at least 15 minutes early. This allows you time to fill out waivers, navigate your way around the studio, lay your mat out, and take some deep breaths before class. 

Be respectful of etiquette - and know that it varies
All studios are different, but know that typically, you need to arrive before class starts to set up your mat, get props, and get settled. There may be a certain way that mats are lined up in a classroom, and depending on the location, studio, and class size, there could be 2 feet between mats or 1 inch. Yoga is a great place to practice follow the leader - take a glance around the studio to get a sense of what other students are doing. 

Two universal rules: Silence your phone. Be respectful of those around you. 

Introduce yourself and acknowledge injuries
When you go to your first few classes, definitely try and introduce yourself to the teacher, and let he/she know that you are new and if you have any injuries (particularly back/neck/shoulder stuff). For the first few classes as a beginner, the best place is actually middle or further back in the room - so that you can watch other people. This seems backwards, but the teacher doesn't normally stay in the front of the room - and you might want people to look at for a little help on where you should be/how you should look. 

Take breaks and breathe
When all else fails, or if you get into a tailspin in class: check in with your breath and breathe. Part of yoga is pushing through, but it is also knowing when to back off. It is always okay to take a break. If this happens and you need a rest - either sit in cross legged and just breathe up to your heart, or go into child's pose (one of the first poses you will learn). 

When in doubt during class, take child's pose, or simply sit and breathe. 

Trust yourself
You go to yoga with YOUR BODY. If a teacher asks you to do something that you know in your gut you shouldn't do - TRUST YOURSELF FIRST!!!! No yoga teacher can know your body better than you. Especially someone who met you 30 minutes ago! Say no politely. Be firm. If they don't listen or respect your request - leave. 

You might have firework explosions of bliss at your first class, but more likely it takes a few classes to know if it is right for you. I fell in love that first class but I didn't appreciate the love until months later. Sometimes, you need a little time to grow into it. 

What did I miss? What do you still want to know? If I didn't cover one of your burning questions about starting a yoga practice, feel free to email me at gratefulyogisf(at)gmail.com.