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11 Tips to Help You Feel at Ease at Your First Yoga Class

By , SparkPeople Blogger
September is National Yoga Month, so there's no better time to summon the courage to give it a try. You've heard all about how yoga can help increase flexibility, decrease stress and even relieve minor back pain. You've dispelled the myths that all yogis are human pretzels who wear skimpy clothes and patchouli.

Now it's time to find a yoga studio or a class at your gym and head to class.

In my classes, I always try to approach new students before class begins to ease any apprehension they might have and answer questions. Here's a primer to help you feel right at home on the mat! While yogis are known for their kindness and compassion, no one wants to make a fitness faux pas!

Yoga is practiced barefoot, so be prepared. There's no need to get a pedicure for the occasion, but I like to give my feet a quick rinse before class, especially if they've been cooped up in closed-toe shoes all day. You spend a great deal of time focusing on gripping your feet, spreading your toes and evenly distributing your weight over your entire feet. Sweaty, dirty feet stick to yoga mats, and if you have lotion or cream on your feet, you can slip.

Wear whatever shoes you'd like to the class, but take your shoes off before entering the yoga room. Most studios have shelves for shoes either just inside the door or in the lobby. At a gym, most people take off their shoes as they enter the room.

Comfort is important during a yoga class. You'll be spending a good deal of time bending, stretching and twisting your body, so you'll want to wear something that will stay put. You will want to avoid clothes that are so tight that they impede breathing or make it difficult to move. Shorts and loose shirts often move around and expose too much skin, while skintight running tights make it hard to move your body. Opt for cotton or sweat-absorbing microfiber fabrics. Longer sleeveless tops are a good choice, as are form-fitting pants or cropped pants. Ladies, wear a sports bra, as a regular bra will slip around too much during your practice.

Yoga is a quiet, contemplative activity, and students are discouraged from talking throughout the class. The teacher will describe how you will transition from pose to pose and offer encouragement throughout. In addition, you might hear long, complicated-sounding names like Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog) and Virabhadrasana (warrior). Teachers often include the traditional Sanskrit names of poses, but most beginners classes will use the English names. In addition, you might hear the words drishti (gaze), bandhas (energy locks), asanas (poses), among other Sanskrit words. If there is a word you don't understand, feel free to ask the teacher about it after class.

A yoga class often begins with a few minutes of relaxation and meditation to prepare your mind and body for your practice. This might be in the form of deep breathing, a chant of "om" or some visualization exercises. So that you don't miss this important aspect or disturb others who are trying to focus, try to come to class about five or 10 minutes early. You can chat with the teacher, warm up with a few stretches (though you will warm up during class) and get settled on your mat.

Yoga classes last between 45 and 90 minutes. Most beginners classes are shorter, while advanced classes are longer.

As with any physical activity, the breath is very important in yoga. The first time you hear people breathing during yoga, you might think that a snake is loose in the room. The traditional breath, called "ujjayi" breath, is slow and even inhales and exhales through the nose. The back of the throat is constricted slightly to create a filter for the breath and generate heat. The audible breath is used as a "moving meditation" throughout the practice. Focusing on the sound and cadence of the breath helps calm your mind, especially during more difficult poses.

When you encounter a pose that is challenging, focus on your breath and imagine breathing into the part of your body that feels discomfort. It will help you build endurance.

While there are a variety of different philosophies and styles of yoga, classes can be broken into two basic groups: hatha and vinyasa. Hatha is a generic term that has come to mean gentle yoga. A hatha class is usually good for beginners, and there will be breaks between poses. You will return to a neutral, restorative seated or standing pose between more difficult poses. Vinyasa means flow, which indicates that a class will have fewer resting poses. You will transition from pose to pose, with no actual rest. Each pose will be held for a certain amount of time (5-8 breaths is common) before you move on to another pose, often using a series of movements called sun salutations to transition.

If you ever need a break during the class, you can take child's pose, which is a restorative pose. Kneel on the floor, spreading your legs if need be, sit your hips onto your heels and extend your arms either overhead to stretch the length of the back or alongside the hips, to stretch across the top of the back.

Many contemporary yoga classes are accompanied by music. Some teachers might choose Sanskrit chants as their soundtrack of choice, while others might choose hits from the radio. Music is not played during more traditional yoga classes, when students are encouraged to listen to and focus on their breath.

Many teachers begin and end yoga classes with a chant, most commonly "Om." Feel free to join in the chant or listen quietly until you feel comfortable. This is another way you start to quiet and focus the mind during a yoga class.

Yoga teachers are trained to adjust students to keep them in proper alignment, help them go deeper into a pose and try out a pose they might not feel strong enough to attempt on their own. Don't be surprised if your yoga teacher is more "hands on" than other fitness instructors you've encountered. Teachers are usually pretty good at gauging a student's willingness to be assisted/touched. If you feel uncomfortable with hands-on adjustments, feel free to let your teacher know.

There are no designated water breaks during class, and traditionally students are discouraged from drinking during class as it extinguishes the "fire" you're trying to create through your breath and movement. You might notice many students never stop to take a drink and others stop to towel off and get a drink periodically. Bringing a water bottle to class is acceptable, and drink as much and as often as you need, especially during hot yoga classes.

At the end of each yoga class, there is a time for rest and reflection. Teachers might lead a chant or guided meditation, and they will encourage you to relax your mind and focus your attention. It's tradition to sit in a crossed-leg position with your feet on top of the legs (lotus pose), but find a position that makes you feel comfortable.

(While you might feel like your "workout" is over, you should stick around for the final relaxation poses. If you need to leave class a few minutes early for whatever reason, notify your teacher before class and leave before Savasana begins.)

Eventually, you will make your way to your back, arms and legs resting comfortably at your sides and your palms facing up. You'll close your eyes and focus on relaxing. Try to lie still and clear your mind. This pose, called Savanasa or corpse pose, is a very important part of any yoga practice, as it allows the body to rest and rejuvenate itself. When it's time to come out of Savasana, your teacher will quietly tell you to wiggle your fingers and toes.

Make small movements, then roll onto your right side in a fetal position, keeping your eyes closed. Return to a cross-legged seated position, then listen to your teacher's final instructions.

Traditionally, the hands are brought to the heart in a prayer position, then brought between the eyebrows and finally overhead. Bow your head to the floor, keeping hands in prayer just in front of you. You'll hear your teacher say "Namaste," and you repeat it back. "Namaste" means "may the light within me honor the light within you."

Now you're all set for your first class! In honor of National Yoga Month, many studios are offering a week's worth of classes for free. Find details here.

Are you ready to try your first yoga class? What questions do you have about yoga? If you have been taking yoga for awhile, were you nervous when you took your first class?

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MICHALNIE 4/20/2021
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PLCHAPPELL 2/23/2021
Need more yoga in my life Report
PATRICIAANN46 9/29/2020
Thank You.................. Report
MUSICNUT 9/16/2020
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
I am just beginning to discover the joys and benefits of yoga. Such a beautiful practice. Report
Thank you Report
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Thanks Report
These are good tips. Thanks for the helpful information. Report
Thank you Report
Challenge for me is actually doing a class at all so in 2019 do a class. Report
Generally, I don't go to classes as it is too far to travel. Report
Great info! Thanks! Report
Great info! Thank you! Report
Great information! Report
Thanks! Report
I've never had an desire to try Yoga. Report
this is a great article & so helpful for me while I contemplate starting yoga I do some yoga moves such as bridges etc as part of my physical therapy time but this clear post will be very helpful to start a proper yoga practice Report
Great article! Thanks for the tips! Report
good info Report
Interesting. It did put the ideal in my head but really not ready for it at this time. Report
I've never done yoga I mite have to try some of these.. Report
Don't forget about the flatulence......... Report
I attended classes from someone for a couple of years, but ended up leaving because she merged her religious beliefs into the class. Report
I have had knee replacements on both knees - this restricts many of the poses, as I found out when I tried a beginners' class. It hardly seems beneficial if I have to skip many of the poses. I was offered 'chair yoga', but I can't imagine any benefits in that. Report
Great information. Wish I had read this before my first yoga class. Report
This was great- I took my first yoga class a couple of weeks ago- wish I had read this first, however, it definitely cleared up a few "huhs?" that I had from class!! Report
Thank you so much for this article. It addressed several things I was curious about. Report
Great post - thanks! I've been doing yoga on my own w/ a dvd but am ready to go back to the classes at the gym. Report
I would love to take a yoga class. I've even found a studio close by, but with kids and everything else it has been difficult to arrange... I will get there someday though. Report
Just had my first yoga class in quite a long time tonight. Some of the poses were held a long time- I think a lot of the class had trouble keeping pace. I'm hoping either the instructor brings it down a little,or I adapt fast! Report
I appreciate the positive feedback on my previous comment.

In reading through the posts, something else came to mind and that is the subject of yoga's impact on one's balance. My personal experience has been that it benefits not only one's physical balance, it also has had a positive impact on my life balance. That is, yoga has helped me balance career, home, self, relationships, etc. I think that is because it has helped me learn to focus on one thing at a time and to release things over which I have no control.

Just wanted to note this positive effect along with many other benefits I've derived from my yoga practice. Report
Thank you for the great information about Yoga. In reading some of the other replies, some people are soooo defensive over a practice that is basically helping/stretching your entire body. I took Yoga classes after work, by an instructor who was both an R.N. and certified Yoga instructor. She was wonderful. She helped me with the poses, and having back problems, I must admit some were more difficult for me than others. She encouraged me to go into a relaxed position during the difficult times, and CONCENTRATE ON BREATHING. I need to get back into a Yoga class very soon! Report
OM....I have been teaching Classical Hatha Yoga for 35 yrs...in '74 yoga was thought of as a "cult", which it is not...it is not a religion, unless the individual wants it to be....yes, there are "gurus" (teachers) & "followers" of these gurus if that is your choice...it never was mine. Do love ritual. Did meet several Gurus, found them to be interesting. Before the "certification" phase, which yoga is in now.....the path to teaching was the following: After 12 yrs of study w/a teacher, if they saw you had potential, then you could teach, 12yrs vs. a several week seminar is a big diff., one then was considered to be part of the "linage" or style of yoga learned. i.e., Ashtanga, Integral, etc. When yoga came to the USA, back in the 60's, only the classical yoga was taught "classical hatha yoga"....there was no power yoga, no hot yoga, flow yoga..... However, it has evolved; as it should...so that now there are more choices. My lineage is Integral Yoga, Swamiji Satchidanda the founder of this style of yoga,,,mind you, the asanas (postures) were all the same, some twicking here & there. But w/the name given by the particular "guru".

I started teaching after 6yrs of practice...(teaching was never my intention). These past 35yrs has been wonderful...learned so many things, esp., that I am responsible for what happens to me....that sometimes life gives me challenges to be seen as learning expereiences....yes, there is emotional/physical pain,,,but w/awareness of whatever is happening in the moment, helps me not to be "lost" in the emotion, also to "descriminate" re: what or who is genuine or not......love to teach "newbies". To see the changes in attitude, flexiblitly & awareness, these are like "pearls" to me....I'll be 69 Oct 5....was planning on retiring this year.....however, now am teaching Yoga for Skeletal Health....(check out Sara Meeks on line) safe for Osteopenia & /Osteoporosis. I will be passing on the "torch" starting this fall. Will continue to teach till.....

My advice: Stay away from teachers who want you to look like them. Teacher should be sensitive to each students capabilities...She/he should not use class time for their own practice.......try diff styles, find the one that feels right for you,and if it still not comfortable, maybe this is not the right time. Follow your "gut feeling". if uncomfortable, give it chance, sometimes it is our own limitations that stop us.....Let teacher know if you have injuries, etc.,,,,Yes, there are rituals; chants, mala beads (worry beads), candles,chakras,(When I taught at the "Y", I would leave this part out, not everyone is ready for this).. However always end w/a prayer for world peace at end of class: my closing is the following: Lokha Somosta Shikinu Babantu. "May the Universe be in peace and harmony" Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, "Peace, Peace, Peace....
Jai Bavguan "Victory to the light within" or Good Night, Safe Ride Home, etc.

Personal benefit of Yoga: have bronchial asthma...so the pranayams (breathing technique) were and still are most beneficial (do not have a hunched back, which could results from labored breathing... was 5'-2 1/4' am now 5'-3", benefits of stretching / holding postures.. flexibility, more then some younger students! Have lost capability to do some of the asanas i.e., headstands, turtle, plow (for now, had arthroscopic surg (knee)) to name a few,,,but that is not the case for everyone my age....and the point is not to do the perfect posture, but to be aware of what is happening within.....

May you be safe, may you be at-ease, may you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be healthy, may you be aware, & free from suffering.......Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti Report
Good article. I have to admit I am getting educated. Respect and learning are good things.... Always enjoy sharing and learning from people who know more than me. That is the beauty of Blogs! Yoga was and still is for me a great way to get back to myself and have a mental and physical period of relaxation and strengthening. God Bless America and enjoy Yoga. It is a rewarding, self reflective, physically healthy activity. I have multiply yoga DVD's and have had personal yoga training and gone to group yoga classes. All are good and worthwhile, but do start easy. You won't be sorry if you pursue it. I am still a novice but love the mental and physical results of practice. Report
I really appreciate what DOWN2SEXY had to say. I am sorry for the negative comments by some people who seem to be closed to the diverse ways a person can benefit from "Yoga" exercise.
Language is an art that is always in flux. Sometimes I hate that. Everyone uses "lay" when the proper form is "lie". Where the heck did the term "google it" come from? But the fact remains; language, words, terms all change. If a person desires to follow the way of more traditional forms of Yoga then they have all the freedom to do that--good for them. If they want the benefit and enrichment from doing the positions without attaching Hinduism on to it they have all the freedom to do that. That is my personal approach. I have received so many benefits from my "Yoga" practice; most of which are directly physical and I also sense beautiful (and sometimes painful) moments of spiritual enlightenment from it as well. It's a time of reflection on the whole of who we are as spiritual, human beings away from the distractions of our overly busy lives. This is a wonderful thing. If people can discover this down at their local athletic club, Y, church, hospital...wherever! Then we should all rejoice because it is all Good!
Maybe the name will change. I have been attending a class called "Centergy" which incorporates a lot of "Yoga" poses and "Sun Salutations" with some Pilates exercises. It's quite lovely. This world needs more lovely and less pointy-fingered religion--for sure!
Thanks for reading. Report
Yoga is wonderful and these tips are great. I would like to add to the one about touching because I've had at least 3 to 4 different yoga teachers over the years and only 1 that got on my nerves for touching. I don't mind a teacher who helps me adjust my pose, but don't dare touch me when my eyes are closed and I'm lying on the floor at the end of class. That, for me, is a violation of trust. Even after asking him to not touch me again, I just couldn't relax in his class. Report
I am a Kundalini Yoga & Meditation teacher. I received my certification 11 years ago and have been practicing for about 14 years. I did this thinner, heavier and every weight in between. Yes, the poses are wonderful for flexibility and keeping the body limber, but for me, it has always been about the breath and the spiritual components. In my classes, we do use mantra, we chant in almost every class. I use the terms "divine", "the infinite", etc. I do not use the term "god" because not everyone believes in the traditional Judeo-Christian aspect of diety. I prefer to lead my students to think of the divine in whatever form/spirit is right for them. Yoga is great for weight loss beyond the poses. The breath exercises can also be used when dealing with the inevitable cravings that occur when making the change from junk to healthy eating. Yoga teaches you the power of the breath, the power of the mind, the power of the spirit - hence the word yoga, which means union - union of body, mind, and spirit.
Namaste! Report
I began doing Yoga soon after I started my Sparkpeople program and found it to be (and still do) an extremely helpful part of my fitness routine. I have not only experienced a strengthening of my core and greater flexibility, my level of personal peace is greater. Since judgement, comparison and finger pointing of any kind does not fit in with the teaching of Yoga, those that insist on creating fear do not typically appear in class. In reading the previous posts that express fear and condemnation, all I can say is even "they" would not even be judged. All are welcome and encouraged to be at their best. Breathe.....it's good for you. Report
I am overweight, just 5 feet tall, and have arthritis. I took yoga classes for several months and just had to quit. My attempts were laughable, but no one was laughing except me. The teacher gave me props to use, and tried to make things easier. But, truthfully, I just couldn't do it. Lying on my back to 'relax' at the end of class was almost impossible. I don't even lie on my back in bed! I would be so happy when that time was over. Our class was on the second floor, and I found it very difficult to even make it down the steps at the end. I'm sure there is something better for me, but I don't know what it is -- I'll keep looking. Report
A year and a half ago I was the most clumsy person without much balance. In that time losing weight has helped tremendously, but yoga has brought me a sense of balance. In the beginning of each new session our yogi tells everyone not to compare yourself to others as everyone is different. The other nice thing about our class is that it's free to ask questions. It's not a 'quiet' yoga class which helps new people become comfortable with everything.

Overall, I can't imagine where I'd be flexibility wise if I hadn't braved out that first class.
Namase! Report
I am of the christian faith...I love doing the Yoga poses and understand the breathing is extremely important to our well being in all exercises... and would like to make a suggestion to those concerned with the religion aspect...If in a class where the chanting is going on... why not simply use that time to meditate and Pray. No one controls your faith and your thoughts... so simply turn all over to go during this time. Report
Thanks for the motivation to pull out my dusty Yoga DVDs Report
I have been to yoga classes in several different venues, and I have never encountered one that did chanting or made me feel at all uncomfortable in a spiritual way. Even during relaxation and meditation, only you know what you are focusing on in your own mind. I often repeat "God is Love", "Peace", or something similar in my mind during the quiet times. And I think of the "light" referred to in "namaste" as the light of Christ. You can fill in the blank with your own beliefs. Yoga has greatly increased my flexibility and strength, and I'm not even very good at it! It also helps me sleep better and gives me a wonderful sense of well-being. If you encounter a class that makes you uncomfortable, find another one! There are plenty out there. Report
THANKS!! My gym offers yoga and I've been too much of chicken to try it. With the start of national yoga month and this article,I think I'll give it a try!!! Report
THANKS!! My gym offers yoga and I've been too much of chicken to try it. With the start of national yoga month and this article,I think I'll give it a try!!! Report
I started yoga in January with my mum. We love it! We have actually signed up for two classes this year with the same instructor that we had in the spring. He is fantastic! So happy I tried it. Report
This article appeared right on time for me. I moved into a 55+ community almost 2 years ago. We have over 140 clubs and classes here, all free to the residents. I knew there was a yoga class, and wanted to join, but never got up the nerve. I have been using the fitness center and joined a water aerobics class, and I think I am ready to join the yoga class now. Thank you, Stephanie, for posting this article. I am always self conscious about starting new things, and you answered questions that I didn't even know I had. The snowbirds are flocking back to Florida, and the new class will start a few weeks. I'll be there. Report
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