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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I am thrilled to have found this article (by accident I might add) as I just signed up for a beginner yoga class a couple of hours ago and much of the information in this article corresponds with what the instructor and I were discussing. I guess it was fate that brought the article to my attention and I'm really meant to try Yoga! Report
I'm ready....what a great way to a yoga spark :] Report
Wow! Very informative. Thank you! Report
This was a great primer on yoga classes. I have wanted to sign up for a class, and you just encouraged me to do so. Thank you. Report
I have always wanted to try yoga. This was a great article; thanks so much for writing such a thorough explanation of what to expect!

A while back, I bought a sticky mat and Bob Harper's yoga DVD. I think it's about time to drag it out and give it a try! Report
Great article I love Bikram Yoga!!! Report
Yoga improves flexibility and balance, so it doesn't matter if you already have those things - but it takes time and practice, so while it is hard at first, it does get better. But you have to keep at it several times a week. I started with videos and couldn't get into it. I tried a few classes, but the teachers were not very good and it was not enjoyable. But I stumbled into a class at my gym with a new teacher and she turned it around for me. I found that I didn't enjoy the videos because I was not doing some of the poses properly (which is why I think it is good to try both, a dvd can't see what you are doing and tell you it's wrong). And once I found a good teacher, I enjoyed going to class. You need a teacher who lives and breathes yoga - it makes all the difference. Report
Good article! It affirms my best experiences with yoga, and helps explain some of the less positive moments. Report
I try yoga on the Wii and it's hard. Maybe because I'm not flexible or over weight. Maybe once I get some of the weight off I will try again. I know right now it's too hard for me to bother. But people who do do it, love it. Report
This is my 4th year doing yoga. I started when I was on sick leave because I was looking for something to do indoors that was physical. I really enjoyed it and I was surprised. Now i am hooked I go 2x a week and feel so much better after class that I keep going even on the nights I have to drag myself there. I had tried it in my younger days and did not enjoy it. I think 99% of it is a good fit between the student and the instructor. I suggest turning up before or after class to speak with the instructor first to find out what to expect during their yoga class. Report
you did not mention bathroom breaks. elderly folks and very overweight folks often have bladder leaks. this can be very embaras. wear protection or do the exercises at home first to see how you do. Report
Five years ago, yoga was not a part of my fitness regime, mostly based on a lot of misconceptions that I held as well as reasons such as not being flexible enough, maybe when I lose weight, etc. I had taken pilates and was discouraged by that just because I felt it was too hard.

When I joined my gym, I took a BodyFlow (Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates) class and I really enjoyed it. As stated by DOWN2SEXY, this isn't a competition with the next person. It's about listening to your own body and what it is capable of doing, but also challenging yourself. I've noticed my posture improving and I am also gaining much needed flexibility and strength, using my body as resistance.

Thank you, DOWN2SEXY, for some of the clarification on misconceptions. Report
Yoga classes made me feel stiff, clumsy and irritated...lots of people love it, but it's not for everyone. Report
Over the years I have taken many Yoga classes. Don't for a minute think it is wimpy. Absolutely not. You also don't need to start out flexible. That gets better with time. As does your strength. Just make sure you get a really good instructor. Love it. Report
This artcle makes me glad I never tried yoga! Report
It was good reading the feedback here since I am considering taking my first yoga class at the YMCA. A special thanks to DOWN2SEXY for sharing your experience and all your information and clarification of some of the myths regarding yoga. It was very encouraging. Report
I recently started taking classes, in May. I LOVE IT! Although my belly and "the girls" get in the way of doing some of the poses, I give it my best and really feel stretched and energized after class. I just resigned for another ten weeks! Report
I did yoga in college, a few years ago, and absolutely LOVED it. Then they discontinued the program at the college, and the city area around wasn't one I wanted to venture into to find a studio.

I've tried the yoga classes offered at my gym, and they're all too advanced for my fitness level. I found that I spent more than a third of the class in child's pose, trying to get my breath back. Once I lose some, I'll definitely get back into it. I loved how I felt after a class :) Report
Thanks for the terrific article. I've been practicing yoga for 20+ years, and I'm always encouraging people - people of all shapes and sizes and levels of fitness - to give yoga a try. This is a great piece, more than the usual "wear comfortable clothes, bring a mat and an empty stomach" kind of information studio websites provide.

With the right teacher, everyone can get benefits from yoga. If any of you are nervous about trying, I suggest a hatha or Iyengar based class instead of the more rigorous power, flow or hot yoga classes. Hatha and Iyengar focus more on alignment in each pose, and the teachers will provide instruction on how to adapt the poses using modifications and/or props.

While I was typing this a thought popped into my head that a good follow up to this article may be one on the different types of yoga.

Have a great day! Report
Thanks for this article. Wish it was written around the first time I tried yoga. Gotta say, it's not my favorite way to work out, although I appreciate the concept of yoga. I gave it a few honest tries last year and just did not enjoy it. Maybe I would if I went to your class or my friend's class in Columbus!! :) Report
This is awesome!!!! What a way to help us poor scared, nervous "afraid of being inducted into a cult" group of people. (of which I know I am NOT the only one. This was a super article.
Okay, now I HAVE pull out that yoga dvd and try it. Report
I would like to try yoga but not in a class setting. I'd would have to learn the basic first before i would feel comfortable joining a class. Report
For those of you who believe you are not flexible enough to do yoga, I want to offer my story. When I first started yoga, my joints and respiratory system were under attack from an undifferentiated autoimmune disease. Many days I was barely able to move. I had almost no grip strength left in my hands and sometimes experienced total muscle failure in the large muscles of my legs. Had I not started taking yoga classes when I did, I would probably be bedridden by now.

Yoga does not require one to be flexible - it creates flexibility where there was none before. I have never encourntered an asana (pose) that could not be modified to accommodate excess weight or limited range of motion. Level 1 (beginner) yoga classes do not incorporate very challenging poses like headstands, etc. Most, if not all, the poses at this level involve having both feet. or both knees, or your bottom grounded firmly to earth. I encourage you to give yoga a try...ESPECIALLY if flexibility (or balance) is an issue for you. The idea is to move your body only as far as your body wants to move.

Yoga is not really a competitive sport. You don't have to try to bend as far or stretch as much as the person on the mat next to you. Your focus should be on what your body is doing, not on anyone or anything external.

For those of you who are concerned about the spiritual aspect of yoga, I want to make it clear that yoga is not a religious practice. This is a common misconception. Even the "prayer" mudra, is a Western misnomer. In Sanskrit, it is called anjouli (spelling?) mudra and it is intended to draw energy into your heart.

As for the chanting, in the 10 or so years that I have practiced yoga, I have only had one class where the instructor invited us to chant...and it was just that - an invitation. If a student did not want to chant, then that student remained silent. Chanting has a physical purpose of connecting with and moderating the breath. It also assists in clearing the mind of unrelated thoughts and helps the yogi focus and concentrate. If chanting "om" is uncomfortable to you, you can either choose not to chant at all - or you can substitute a word or sound that is comfortable to you.

Specifically to the person who was offended by the meaning of namaste - you are taking the interpretation as anti-Christian and it is anything but that. If you believe that Christ is your light and that His light shines in you, then would it not be His will that you honor His light in yourself and in others? The spiritual aspect of yoga is not religion-specific. It is about being in touch with the Divine, whatever form that takes for the individual. The spiritual aspect of yoga does not teach a specific religion. It opens one's heart to deepening his or her faith.

Most Westerners do not realize that the asana practice (which is what yoga classes primarily consist of) is only one of eight limbs of the practice of yoga. In the East, beginning yogis start by learning moral behavior toward others, then progress to moral behavior toward themselves. Only when they have mastered the morality limbs do they move on to the asana practice. The teachings that come after that have to do with pranayama (controlling the breath - yoga classes also touch on the basics of this), focus the mind and senses, concentration, etc. The ultimate purpose of yoga is for the mind, body and spirit to be as healthy as they can possibly be and all working together for the wellness of the individual. The most common translation of "yoga" is "unity."

I hope those of you who are hesitant to give yoga a try will step forward in courage and take a class or two - or rent a DVD from the library and give it a shot in the privacy of your home. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. Report
I'm not flexible enough to do Yoga either, perhaps when some of the weight comes off??? Report
While this is not at all normal, because I have specific neurological issues causing balance problems, my yoga teacher suggested that I wear running shoes for the standing poses to increase my stability. Good teachers will help you modify poses to make it possible for you to get maximum benefit from poses you might not otherwise attempt. I love yoga, but more importantly, my body loves yoga! Report
I don't think I'm flexible enough to do yoga although i'd like to try. I would just feel too self conscious. Report
Ive been doing yoga and home for a while and have finally decided to start a class. The only one that works with my schedule is hot yoga, so I hope its acceptable for beginners.. Report
Always wondered about yoga and was told negative things about it. Then my sister started doing in a year ago. She seem to like it. The stretching and breathing seems ok ,but... I don't care for the spiritual part of it. Chanting ?
And.. Namaste" means "may the light within me honor the light within you." The only "light" I want in me is the Light of the Lord Jesus Christ. :)
I 'm not judging those who do it and enjoy it though. ;) Report
My first yoga class was decades ago, in a park, very casual and I loved it right away. Did not even think about being nervous it was so heavenly. Report
So Happy to have found this article. I have made Yoga Class one of my September goals and this quick little primer makes it much more approachable.
Thanks for the valued info.
im a senior and take yoga with pilates i find it very helpful and easier than standing and lying yoga Report
This was great. I would love to see more articles like this one! Report
I have been wanting to try Yoga for a while now......i know it is very good for your Body..and Well being..this Blog was great..with lots of good Info..thank you!! Report
I rented a yoga DVD (and eventually purchased a few) before I attended a class. It helped me feel more comfortable to hear some of the terms and get a feel for the poses in advance.

I suggest that if you are a bit hesitant, just start practicing at home first. Your confidence could be boosted, too! Report
Sounds great to me! I really want to expand my horizons...definitely something I am going to try after my marathon next month! Report
For beginners, I would suggest looking for a class called "gentle yoga." But don't let the name fool you. It can be quite a workout. Great for flexibility, core strength and balance. Also, if there adult night classes or community education in your area, yoga might be available at a lower cost than usual. If anyone had told me I'd be taking yoga at age 70, I would have told them they were crazy. But here I am! Report
I always like the idea of going to a yoga class, but just never got up the nerve to go and possibly tip over...until January of 2008! A local studio offered a free class with a food pantry donation, so I finally decided to try it since it was an "all level" class. I am so glad I over came my fear of trying it, because I love it! It is a great work out, great toner, and can really relieve stress after a hard day! I go almost every Monday night and try to make it to some of the special sessions my studio offers and I feel bummed if I have to miss class!

So I say, try a class! Oh and the yoga dvds are nearly as helpful to a beginner as attending a class because the teacher can adjust you if you are doing something incorrectly. :) Report
I took yoga a few years ago and liked it, but I'm finding it hard to take the time for it these days with all the other workouts I'm doing. What would help me tremendously would be to get someone to be my yoga buddy. Report
I hated yoga until I found the right style for me - hot yoga. Report
I took a few yoga classes during college, when they were offered for free, and I loved it. I can't afford to pay for classes now, but hopefully when I find a job I can find some yoga or dance classes to take. Report
I know I feel taller and so rejuvenated when I leave yoga class and I was one of the people who said they would never ever take a yoga class because it would be boring and I would not like it. I am so glad I tried it anyway although I am a little dissappointed this year because I believe I will be working at the time the class is going on that I had taken in the past. Report
I love yoga! It's more of a workout than a lot of people expect, but I walk out of class feeling like I am on cloud 9 and can conquer all! That's interesting about the water comment - I always wondered why I am one of the few who brings water to class. Sometimes I just need to quench my thirst :) Report
I would like to take a yoga class. Report
I would like to try yoga someday, just not ready yet Report