I can usually tell who the new students are in my yoga classes. They set up their mats on the edges of the room. They are constantly peeking their eyes open when everyone else has eyes closed. They fidget uncomfortably in savasana, and I can see their minds on overdrive, wondering when exactly the torture of lying still will end.
If this sounds like you, no worries. There’s a short learning curve to get acquainted with your yoga practice. To ease into group practice more smoothly, here are my 9 pieces of advice to get the most out of your yoga class.
- Set up where you can see and hear the teacher clearly. This is especially important in a class set up where everyone is facing one direction. If you’re hiding in the back corner, you can’t see or hear, and the teacher has a harder time seeing you to be able to offer adjustments and cues.
- Grab a block and a strap, whether the teacher specifically directs the class to do so or not. Props help with stability where you may not be able to reach the ground or to your toe. There is no shame in using props! Teachers will happily offer modifications as you work on your strength and flexibility.
- Ask for modifications. Some poses aren’t great for tender knees or wrists or backs. If the teacher offers a pose that isn’t working for your body, let he or she know. There’s always a way to find another variation or change out a pose to get similar benefits. Don’t stay in a pose that is hurting you.
- Practice from the front of your mat, not the middle. Sun Salutations and vinyasa flow sequences almost always start at the front of the mat so you have room to step the legs to the back, coming into either plank or downward facing dog. In a crowded class, if everyone starts from the front, there’s less risk that you’re “falling off” your mat and kicking the person behind you.
- It’s okay to look around. Until you get comfortable figuring out how to set up in each pose, use your neighbors as visual examples. Sometimes the verbal cues from teachers seem a little Twister-like (right foot on red, left foot on blue). But the more you get acquainted with your own body, the less you’ll need to follow someone else. Your focus will eventually become more internal. In the mean time, it’s okay to look around.
- Ask questions after class. Don’t hesitate to approach your teacher with questions while they are fresh on your mind. Teachers can help you look at how you’re set up in a pose and offer specifics. If you always wondered what a Sanskrit word was or what the meaning of chanting Om is, feel free to ask. That’s what we’re there for.
- Resist the urge to run away. I mean it. There will be many times as a new student that you will feel unbalanced, awkward, vulnerable or even on display. I assure you that everyone has those moments – even the most veteran practitioners. THIS is what yoga is for. To get past the discomfort and learn to be IN it, explore it and own it.
- Take child’s pose anytime. ANYtime, really. I see new students get discouraged when they are exhausted or perceive themselves too inflexible, and they don’t take any breathers. They try to power through minute 20 and then roll up their mats to leave early. You don’t have to do every vinyasa. And you don’t have to practice at 100%. You’re the only one who knows your body, so respect it when you need breaks.
- Be present. The opposite I see of new students are ones who allow the chaos of their minds to take them away from the practice. They’re off doing their own thing (worse is they pull out their phones – big no no!). Their attention is lost. But hey, you set aside 60, 75 or 90 minutes to be in the class. Just try to be in the here and now. Or lie down in savasana the rest of the time and focus on your breath.
Stilling the mind is hard work. Know that everyone was once a beginner, and we all have to start somewhere.