Survive and Thrive in Your first Yoga Class

 

Photo by Katherine Egli

Monique Parker with friends and clients of Taos Yoga Therapy. Photo by Katherine Eglie

by Monique Parker

Yoga not only helps you feel better physically, it also contributes to overall well-being, such as stress reduction, increased self-acceptance, and overcoming fear—including the fear of trying something new. Following are some tips to help you not only survive, but thrive in your first yoga class.

Feeling like a newbie around experienced practitioners

I took my first yoga class in the early 90s when I was living in the Caribbean. Upon entering the studio, any nervousness I felt was exacerbated when I discovered the teacher deep in meditation and one of the students standing on her head. The class hadn’t even started, yet they already appeared to have been practicing for hours!

During the class the teacher directed us into exotic and foreign sounding postures that were unfamiliar to me. I sheepishly copied the other students, who looked serene balancing and twisting with perfect poise. I felt self-conscious, as if everyone was watching and secretly judging me. As a result, I pushed myself too hard and found myself competing with the other students.

After over two decades of practice (and teaching), here’s some things I’ve learned about being a novice:

  • Give yourself permission to be a beginner. Even your teacher took her first class once.
  • Most students aren’t looking at you, but are preoccupied with their own poses: breathing, muscle engagement, and alignment. As your proficiency increases, the more inwardly focused you will become.
  • Don’t compete with others. Yoga is an individualized practice; everyone is at different levels of fitness with varying physical issues.
  • Overexertion is the antithesis of yoga. When you push yourself into poses, the body reacts by creating tension.

Studio etiquette: How not to be a jerk on the mat

Just as there are rules on the slopes, such as skiers in front of you always have the right of way, there is “Yoga Etiquette”. As a new yogi, in the throes of developing self-awareness, you may inadvertently be insensitive to your fellow practitioners. Here are some guidelines that will help you from disturbing the peace:

  • Remove shoes before entering class—yoga is practiced barefoot.
  • Chitchat outside the studio.
  • Avoid snapping your mat as you roll it out and/or unnecessarily cramping your neighbors.
  • Arrive on time. Late arrivals are a disturbance.
  • Refrain from wearing strong scents: perfume, hairspray.
  • Turn off your cell phone. Yoga classes are device-free zones.
  • Wear appropriate clothing.
  • Don’t walk on other peoples’ mats—they may be made out of thermoplastic elastomer, but to others they are sacred spaces.

Practicing self-acceptance like a seasoned yogi

When you engage in a new activity there is a learning curve—that period of time where you acquire new skills, comprehend new lingo, and experience your body in a new way. It takes time and can be frustrating.

Your yoga instructor may offer modifications or adjustments. This isn’t a critique. It’s a way of teaching you the proper and safe way of executing a pose for you at this time. If constructive criticism hits a nerve or you become defensive, accept that you cannot learn anything new without first making mistakes.

Seasoned yogis make practice look easy, not because it is, but because self-acceptance is a steep mountain slope.