I was inspired to write this post so that the brand-new yogis aren’t quite so intimidated by their very first yoga class with me, but then I realized that the message here is really for ALL participants…
What Should You Expect at Yoga?
* Remember that this post is about MY classes in particular; there are a lot of parallels in other classes, but you might find something different there.
1. Expect to work hard – your muscles might shake, you will probably break a sweat, and you might even be a little sore the next day. All of that depends on your fitness level, and the intensity of the particular class, but I can promise you that my classes aren’t just “easy stretching.”
2. Expect a welcoming environment, but not necessarily one free of all distractions – my class is NOT one where the door gets locked the second the class begins, where the only sounds you hear will be waterfalls and birdsong, or where you must wear Lululemon (and look spectacular in it, even while your feet are wrapped around your head) to participate. Those classes are lovely, or at least they CAN be, but it’s not what my classes are about: I want to share the gift of yoga with all people – especially the newbies who are just learning to love it! Most of my classes are taught in local community centres and schools, where we sometimes have to move tables or desks out of the way, and frequently hear traffic or bouncing balls from the gym next door. One of the most important yoga principles is learning to focus on your own breath, and the sensations in your own body, instead of dwelling on outside distractions.
All of that being said, please try to minimize any distractions you might be bringing to the yoga environment for others! Turn OFF the ringer/vibrate function on your cellphone. If you forget and it rings, please don’t awkwardly pretend it’s not yours while everyone else looks around uncomfortably; just get up quickly and switch it off – people sometimes forget, and we will forgive you for that.
Try to make it to class on time, but if you must be late, please come in as quietly as possible. Close the door softly, lay out your mat quietly, and move into the pose we are working on. There is no need to announce why you are late – that only distracts the other participants from their own practice.
3. Expect a variety of body types and levels of practice – people often say to me that “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” And I always tell those people they are EXACTLY who should be taking yoga! You don’t need to be flexible and strong to take yoga, you just need the desire to become MORE flexible and MORE strong; and the more frequently and steadily you practice, the more strength and flexibility you will begin to see in your body. I provide various levels for students to progress at the rate best suited for them. As a student, you must pay attention to your own body and honour the place it is in. So what if you currently must bend your knees to touch your toes? So what if you must take Child’s pose instead of downward dog sometimes? So what if handstand isn’t part of your current practice? We call it YOGA PRACTICE, not yoga perfect. Yoga is about making improvements, NOT about being awesome.
4. Expect to challenge yourself, but remember to listen to your body – just as in the previous note, I want you to honour yourself and your body…but I also want you to work to improve. Often we confuse discomfort with pain, and it is imperative that you learn to tell the difference. That 80’s fitness slogan “No Pain, No Gain?” Total garbage. Pain is not a good thing! Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong, and you should stop or ease up immediately. Please honour that, both in my class, and in life.
Discomfort is very different. Discomfort is your legs shaking in Chair pose, or your shoulders burning in Downward Dog, and it is a good thing…a VERY good thing. Discomfort means that you are making progress and getting stronger. Improving our selves and our bodies is never easy; in fact doing so is hard work, which takes effort and dedication. Challenging poses will become less challenging the more we work at them; if we simply stop because challenging poses cause us discomfort, then we will never get stronger, we will never become more flexible, and we will never improve. Learn to breathe through discomfort, and reap the benefits of challenging yourself.
5. Expect to hear some Sanskrit – those funny words you hear me repeating over and over? Those are Sanskrit terms for poses, and they will eventually become familiar to you. You might even begin to know them well enough to use the Sanskrit words yourself. But don’t be daunted by the foreign language; I also use the English terms along side the Sanskrit ones, and I will always DESCRIBE what I want you to do, so I promise that you will be able to figure it out. And there won’t be any tests!
6. Expect a relaxation component – at the end of practice, we always “seal in” the hard work we’ve just done with a relaxation component. You will lie on your back with your eyes closed, legs falling open toward the outside edge of your mat, and arms stretched out at your sides with palms facing up. This pose is called Savasana, or Corpse pose. I will turn the lights down low, and talk you through the beginning of Savasana. Then, we will all be quiet and you will focus on your body and your breath – usually for 3-5 minutes. Eventually, I will invite you to move up to a seated position, and bring your hands into “prayer position” for us the say thank you – to ourselves, to each other, and to God, to the Universe, or to life in general (whichever is most agreeable to you). The term we use in yoga is “Namaste,” which simply means “the light in me greets the light in you.” It is customary for the yoga teacher to say Namaste, and for class participants to repeat the word back to the teacher.
7. Expect to get hooked – if you REALLY let yourself be in the moment , one day you will experience the highs that yoga has to offer. For many of us, the most difficult part of yoga is turning off our minds and focusing on the moment at hand. We can be distracted by others in the class, outside noises or smells, worries about our “to do list” or our family, and even our own feelings of limitations and weakness. BUT if you can set all that aside for the duration of your practice, focus on your breath and your body, and really just be in the moment, that feeling of lightness and strength will find you, and you will be hooked forever!