“Eeek! I am new to yoga. What can I expect at my first class or private session?”
We do gentle yoga, which focuses on stretching, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques. Most of the class time is spent stretching; these are the specific yoga postures (or “asanas,” pronounced “AHH—sah—nahs”) that most people imagine when they hear the word “yoga.” We start with easy poses, and you are guided through each one. If a posture is too much or uncomfortable (i.e. maybe you have an old injury, knee pain, recent surgery, or just have tight hamstrings), we modify it to fit your body. If you want more challenge, we can do that too. Yoga is about making it your personal practice. For more on the types or styles of yoga that influence our classes here at AHA Yoga, please see our descriptions here, “What types of yoga do you teach?” Schedules can be found here, “Yoga classes in Lake City, FL.”
You do not have to be flexible—improving flexibility and our overall ability to move can be (but does not have to be) one of your goals, so you do not have to already be there. If you are flexible, great; if you are not, that’s great too! The size of your body does not matter; you do not have to be skinny. If you are, great; if not, that’s great too. You do not have to look like a supermodel; if you do, great. If you don’t, that’s great too. And if you happen to be a supermodel, though you are more than welcome to attend, at least be kind to the rest of us mortals.
So, what do you need to be aware of before class?
- Wear Comfortable Clothes. These clothes do not have to be fancy or expensive “yoga” clothes. Wear anything comfortable that allows you to stretch and move. T-shirts or tank tops with Gym shorts, Leggings, bike shorts, or even sweatpants are fine. Ladies, since you will be bending, you probably do not want to wear anything too low-cut if it is loose.
- Most yoga is practiced barefoot! At AHA! Yoga classes, please leave shoes at the door. This helps keep the floor clean–and we are often lying on this floor while breathing deeply, so keeping it clean is essential. Bare feet also help stability, body awareness, and balance. If you tend towards cold feet, of course keep your socks on, but please be aware of your balance and gripping. In general, we also do not recommend “gripping” or “yoga socks,” as it is actually a good thing to develop this strength, awareness, and balance yourself. But if you find these help you, go for it.
- Avoid eating for at least two hours before class. Or even three, if possible. If you practice yoga on a full stomach, you might experience cramps or nausea, especially in forward bends, twists, or inversions. The process of digestion can also sap your energy and make you feel lethargic.
- WE PROVIDE YOGA MATS, but bring a yoga mat if you have one. Most people like to bring their own mat. But, we also provide them for you; they are kept clean and we have mat cleaner on-hand too. We also provide blankets, straps, blocks, and eye pillows; all these props make your practice easier and more fun.
- If you sweat a lot, bring a towel. We do keep the room air-conditioned, but towels might be helpful, especially if you are nervous.
- Turn off your cell phone or electronic devices. Yoga practice is a time to check-in with your inner state and be fully present in the moment. This is why it is such a stress reducer, so please respect this in the yoga room and for your own peace of mind. Of course, if you have a family or business emergency, and need to keep it on, just let us know.
- Create an Intention. To help you focus in class and to stay positive, dedicate your yoga hour to a certain intention. This might be something simple like becoming more aware, compassionate, patient, healthy, strong, or skillful. You might choose to focus on your breath or a specific body part. It might even be to focus on your love and hope for another person.
- Be confident! You know your body best, not other students, or even the instructor. Be proud of yourself for adding yoga as a healthy habit. Getting to the mat is half the challenge! Congratulate yourself for being open. Most people who have ever tried yoga have been nervous at first, including the teacher. Your instructor loves what she does, has been well-trained, and wants to share yoga with you; there is no icky judgment. This is a safe space.
What do you need to be aware of during class?
- Go at your own pace. Feel free to go faster or slower than instruction, and add movements that your body wants, no matter what the teacher says.
- Practice at your own level, balancing challenge with ease. If you are suffering or in pain, you are not doing yoga. Pushing or straining to keep up with or look like others is a bad idea; it creates stress, resistance, and injury. You will make more progress if you take a compassionate attitude towards yourself—that is yoga gold! Work from where you are, rather than where you think you should be.
- The goal is improvement, not perfection. This is another way to emphasize your own practice at your present ability level. This changes day to day. It does not matter if you once could do a particular movement, and now you can’t. Work with what is going on with your body today, now. With practice, you will improve both your movements and your self-acceptance.
- Let your instructor know about vulnerabilities and injuries. Avoid working any part of your body that is inflamed. Be gentle with parts of your body that are tired or over-worked. Skip poses you cannot or should not do, or ask your teacher for a modified version or even an alternate posture. For more on safety, see our posts here and here.
- Stiffness. Always warm-up before stretching. When you first get to class, avoid bouncing while doing warm-ups. After warming up, if you cannot get into a pose entirely (i.e. touch your toes), your instructor will give you a modification or alternate choice. Always feel free to ask for a modification, prose, or alternate pose, or even sit that one out. Remember, there is not more enlightenment if your fingers happen to reach the floor in some fancy pose.
- Hyper-flexibility. Some folks think that those who are hyper-flexible do better yoga or do not need it. The truth is that hyper-flexible people also benefit from yoga, and they have challenges too. If you are hyper-flexible, a point of attention is often the area around joints; the work is to stabilize those hyper-flexible joints to prevent injury not just in yoga practice, but throughout your life. The awareness created through yoga actually helps prevent the injuries to which hyper-flexible people are prone, especially as they age.
- Stay until the end of class. Though it is often hard to carve out time for yoga, please stay until the end of class. Some students want to leave during final relaxation because it seems we are not “doing” anything. Yet this is often the most important part! Yoga is a holistic practice. The stretches and moderate exercise we do in yoga bring blood away from organs and to skeletal and muscular extremities. Relaxation brings the flow of blood back to your organs. It is also great practice for reducing stress in your life outside of yoga class. Final relaxation helps your body and mind integrate the benefits of all the poses you just practiced; this is crucial for healing, balance, and equilibrium. Peace of mind is yoga.
More on yoga, safety, and specific health conditions here.
What do you need to be aware of after class?
- Stay hydrated. Drink water or herbal tea after class. Try to avoid energy drinks, sodas, and Starbucks. Of course, this is easier said than done, but try!
- Breathe. The best thing yoga can do for you outside of class is to remind yourself to breathe deeply and take life in with patience and steadiness of mind.
- Smile!. Whatever you did or did not do in yoga class, congratulate yourself for a job well-done! The awareness yoga encourages is wonderful for your physical health, and can also help you cultivate gratitude and joy.
Check out this amazing blog, from Yogacara Studios in Whistler, Canada, “What Yoga Teachers Want You to Know.”
And, give yourself permission to take it easy! See this fun article, by Lizzie Brooks of Yoga International, “4 Things You Can Do in Yoga Class (Even If You Think You Shouldn’t).”