Yes, I’m implying that your first class will inevitably be at least a little bit awkward. Take my first class for example…
I don’t know about you, but in 2010 I was feeling 22. I had just moved to a new country where I knew literally no one and had no idea what I was doing. Granted, the country was Canada, but there were still challenges. Like opening a new bank account (ugh!) and getting used to people being way nicer to me/not understanding my sarcasm, and drivers stopping their car when I tried to jay walk…that kind of tough stuff.
Anyway, I was a bit of a lost puppy when I suddenly stumbled into my first yoga class.* I walked into the pristine-looking studio and shyly asked which classes were going on.
A willowy, ethereal women in her 40s whispered, “A vinyasa flow class starts in 5 minutes.”
Vinyasa flow? That sounds innocent enough. I’m sure it will be chill. Hey, I’ll give it a try!
“Sounds great – how much?”
“Are you new to the studio? If so, you can purchase a new studio special of 30 days for $30. It’s the best deal we have.”
Is this a trick? Will I be committed to a monthly payment that’s impossible to cancel? Should I ask her that? Probably, but I don’t want to seem like a greedy American. Eh, who cares – that sounds like a sweet deal.
“Yeah sure, why not?”
I tiptoed into the large, sunny classroom with shiny wood floors as students from the previous class streamed out, decked out in every shade and pattern of Lululemon. I glanced down at my loose running shorts and baggy, cotton t-shirt. Since my exercise experience to date consisted of team sports, gym sessions, and running, I thought this ensemble was par for the course. I shrugged and found myself a mat before heading to the back of the empty classroom.
As the spaces filled up, a young, bubbly teacher glided into the room and welcomed us to class. With two messy pigtail buns and tan, toned arms, she was the very image of a hip, athletic Vancouverite. She chatted about snowboarding and skateboarding injuries and spoke in a confident, scratchy voice that suggested she also loved loud bands. She probably had a cool name like Lennon or Zoe. Let’s call her Zoe.
This chic does yoga? She seems too hardcore. Aren’t we just going to roll around on the floor and stretch for a bit?
The start of class is a blur, but I know for sure that I was confused and struggling. How did everyone already know what to do? What did Zoe say? What did that girl do? Well there’s no way I can do THAT! When do we sit down again? Why aren’t there clocks in here?!
Before I knew it, I was super sweaty. My t-shirt kept flipping up around my face and I had to keep stopping to try to tuck it in, which I knew looked ridiculous but seemed to be the only way I could still manage to see my feet in downward dog. I had no towel, so I kept untucking said t-shirt to wipe off my face. Any sweat I didn’t catch made a slippery puddle on my mat that I tried to avoid at all cost.
Suddenly Zoe was squatting at my side, her hand on my back.
“Why don’t you take a moment in child’s pose?”
“I’m fine! This is great!” I said with a smile that was 100% fake and probably looked strained.
“Just take a moment in child’s pose. Or maybe grab some water?”
Do you remember the yoga scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? The one where Kristen Wiig basically begs Jason Segel to stop moving before he hurts himself and others? Well, my situation was almost identical. In case you need a reminder, the video is below. ~2:20 is where it gets eerily familiar…
I did as I was told and slunk over to the water fountain. I then stepped into the bathroom and did a triple take when I looked in the mirror. My t-shirt was a brand new color from all the sweat, and was streaked with mascara. As was my face. Writing this, it blows my mind that I wore mascara into a hot yoga class but what can I say? I was 22 and had no idea what I was in for. No wonder cool, calm, and collected Zoe was worried about me…I was a hot mess!!
If you’re wondering why I ever went back to class, the answer is: I saw potential. Not in myself, but in my connection with yoga. Amidst the sweat and confusion, I found aspects of the practice that intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. I did it all wrong and still managed to love yoga. But I’m here to make the transition smoother for you 🙂
What did I learn from all of this? How can you make your experience WAY better?
Newbie Yogi Tips:
Take a beginner’s class
- Well that seems obvious, eh? But a lot of people want to go to the fast and “exciting” classes right off the bat, and I get it. I work at a desk all day and I love a hot, sweaty, fast-paced class. But I needed a solid foundation to fully understand and enjoy those classes and keep myself safe. Even if you’re young, fit, or generally awesome at all things, go to a beginner’s class if you’ve never been to yoga. It will involve a slower pace, more instructions, and give you a solid base to move on to more advanced classes. This doesn’t make you lame; it makes you smart! Almost all studios offer introductory classes that might be labeled “beginners,” “basics,” “fundamentals,” or even the somehow-still-scary sounding “Level 1.” If you’re not sure which class will be best for your first time, give the front desk a call and find out. I don’t think you need to take these classes for too long if you don’t want to, but they’re definitely the way to start.
Dress the part
- By that, I mean wear clothes that will help you feel good during class. Most of the time this means tighter fitting but stretchy clothing that allows you to move, wick sweat, and won’t drape over your face during every forward fold or down dog. Yoga shorts are a thing, but I usually find that pants or at least capris are the most comfortable and keep your mat from getting too sweaty. For restorative or yin, clothing can be looser. And note: your clothes don’t have to be expensive – you can find reasonably priced yoga tops and pants at most department stores.
- Also, take off your socks. The studio will probably ask you to remove your shoes, but be sure to take off your socks so that you don’t start slipping and have to remove them mid-class. Not a big deal, but most yogis don’t wear socks, so it will help you to look like a pro.
Bring a water bottle and hand towel
- If you’re in a proper beginner’s class, you won’t be NEARLY as sweaty and messy as I was above. But it’s always nice to have a small towel just in case you do get your sweat on, want to pad your knees, need an extra strap, or want to cover your eyes during savasana. And a water bottle, because hydration.
Ditch your phone, but not your sense of humor
- Unless you’re on call or have some concrete, important reason for keeping your phone at your side, just turn it off and keep in your bag. There’s nothing worse than phones lying around the room. It’s distracting, and in crowded classes a phone is pretty likely to be stepped on or have water/sweat dripped on it at some point. Also be sure to turn it on silent so that it doesn’t go off in class. This seems super obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I hear people’s weird alarms chirping away during savasana.
- In general, yoga is a quiet space. Unless you’re taking Hip Hop Yoga on a Friday night, the vibe will probably be chill and calming, so students are generally quiet during class and reserve chatting for before or after. That being said, if your teacher makes jokes or asks questions – laugh/answer him or her! We don’t get a lot of direct feedback as we’re speaking, so if we say “do you guys want to try that again?” or make some witty remark, your feedback, smiles, and laughs are welcome! I personally like my yoga classes to be more light hearted, and I will probably try to make you laugh or at least smile at some point.
Om-ing is optional; savasana isn’t
- Two things often happen at the end of a yoga class that can intimidate newbies: a collective Om or 3, and savasana. Om is a sacred sound that teachers often invite their students to join in on to “seal the effects of the practice” or “feel the vibrations in and around you.” Oms can be weird. When I first started practicing yoga, the “I was raised Catholic and this is weird and I’m scared” side of me decided to opt out of Oms. I liked to listen, but chose not to join in because it didn’t feel authentic and I just didn’t get what was going on. There are many schools of thought on this of course, but my recommendation is to assess this for yourself. If it makes you uncomfortable or makes you feel like you don’t belong in the room, there’s no need to bust out your best Om right away. Maybe at some point it will feel natural and become part of your practice (as it did for me)!
- Barring any emotional or physical crisis, you should stay on your mat through savasana, also known as “final rest.” If this term and the whole idea of laying down with your eyes closed for 5-10 minutes scared the bejesus out of you, you’re probably someone who could probably benefit from the experience. This isn’t an optional take-it-or-leave-it component of class; it’s arguably the most important part of class, particularly if you’re interested in the non-physical aspects of the practice. I get that it can feel odd or even anxiety provoking, but it’s a foundational aspect of yoga and important to give it a try. In fact, it’s usually my favorite part of class because it’s so hard to find time for quiet rest in this day and age (KIDS these days, amirite?!). Do yourself a favor: stay for savasana so you can slow down and soak up the amazing feeling of having moved your body and quieted your mind.
- Side note: You might also fall asleep. That totally happens. I wouldn’t try to fall asleep as the idea is to be restful yet awake, but almost everyone has nodded off in savasana. It’s no big deal, but it is a sign that you could use some more sleep!
It’s okay to look around
- Once you become a more experienced yogi and familiar with the poses and sequencing, it’s important not to look at what others are doing so that you’re not comparing your body or your practice to anyone else’s. But it’s my opinion that during your first few classes, it’s okay to look around the room when you’re confused about what’s going on! As long as you’re primarily listening to the teacher, of course. I’m guessing most people aren’t naturally fluent in Sanskrit , so even if you’re listening intently (which you obvi should be), you still might get confused at times. You might also not be familiar with a lot of the anatomy thrown around (what’s an IT band and do I have one? Where’s my sacrum – is that different from my tailbone?). If you don’t know what the teacher is talking about, many people in the room probably will and it’s okay to take a few cues from them.
Go with a friend
- Chances are, the reason you’re coming to class in the first place is because a colleague, sibling, or friend suggested/forced you to go, but there are benefits to this scenario. Going to class with someone who knows what they’re doing can alleviate the little stressors like knowing where the blocks are kept or how the mats are laid out. It’s also nice to have someone you know to glance at when you’re confused (see above). Solo is great as well, but friends can help make your first class less mysterious.
Don’t be afraid to date around
- If you don’t love your first class, try another variety. Try another teacher. Try another studio. If you’re truly interested in yoga, try your best to be open and test the waters; don’t base it all off of one experience. Every teacher has their off days, and you won’t mesh with everyone’s personal style of teaching. That’s okay! Don’t discount yoga all together. Give them another shot or see what else is out there.
Have any additional tips or hilarious newbie stories (who doesn’t…)? Share in the comments below!