So you’ve signed yourself up for your first ever yoga class and now you’re hating yourself for doing it. Because what if the pro yogis judge you for being as stiff as a board or for not having a defined midriff like they all do?!
First of all, put your phone down and stop looking at Kino McGregor’s Instagram feed. Not all yogis put their legs behind their head like that! Mind you, she’s had over twenty years of yoga practice so she’s *way* ahead than most of us.
Secondly, yogis come in all shapes and sizes (contrary to what you may see online) so don’t worry about what your body looks like. Yoga doesn’t care if your abs don’t pop out or if you have cute thighs that rub together–it welcomes anyone who’s willing to show up on the mat.
So before you call up the studio to cancel, read up on these 5 things you can expect from your first yoga class and be encouraged! None of them involve dying so you’re going to be just fine. You might even get yourself hooked on the practice (happens all the time!)
1. You’ll be in a non-competitive environment
During class, people don’t look at each other to see who has better form in downward dog or who can hold their headstand longer. Students are taught to focus on their breath and fix their gaze at a certain point (differs per pose) as a way to ground themselves in the present moment. So no, your classmates won’t be staring at you or judging you. And yes, you can loosen up and enjoy yourself because you’re in a non-competitive environment!
You’ll find that yoga doesn’t even make you compete against yourself. It’s not about being stronger or more flexible than you were yesterday but rather about listening to your body’s limitations which change every single day. The importance of rest is always emphasized in yoga and how it’s completely okay to take a child’s pose (one of the best asanas you’ll ever learn) if that’s what your body needs.
Teachers are also trained to give out modifications per pose. This way, all students can move together while practicing at the level they’re comfortable in. There’s absolutely no pressure on you to do all the things the other more experienced yogis are doing. Plus, blocks and straps are usually provided to make certain poses more accessible.
2. You’ll breathe and move in ways you normally don’t
One of the best things about yoga, especially if you spend your days sitting behind a desk, is discovering all the different ways your body can move. There are several kinds of asanas, namely standing poses, forward folds, hip openers, backbends, twists, arm balances, and inversions, and you could be doing all of them in a single class (it’s a real sweat fest!) So prepare to work muscles you never even knew existed and lengthen body parts you haven’t stretched out in a while!
There’s also a lot of attention given to the breath during yoga–something we never really do on a normal basis. You might begin your class with a pranayama (breathing) exercise as a way to center the mind and get the body to relax more. Throughout the class, you will also be cued to inhale and exhale as you transition from one pose to another. Moving with the breath cultivates focus and mindfulness, both of which are useful practices you can take outside of the mat.
3. Your teacher will cue, demo, and adjust to help you get into the poses
“Tuck the tailbone under and knit the ribs together…”
“Pull your kneecaps up towards the hips and keep a micro-bend in the knees…”
“Move the shoulder blades away from each other and feel as though you’re facing your armpits towards each other…”
You might think your teacher’s a little extra for saying flowery things like that but they’re not just trying to sound all hip and cool. Pay attention to these instructions because they’ll help you 1) get into a certain pose the correct way, 2) engage the right muscles, and 3) protect you from injuries. Yoga is all about proper form, explaining why teachers come up with cues that are very detailed, specific, and sometimes accidentally poetic.
That said, it will take some time for beginners to fully understand and execute these cues. Which is why most teachers will demo the poses, especially if they know there are new students in class. The demos will come in extra handy if you’re naturally more of a visual learner than an auditory one. Teachers are also trained to physically adjust students with their hands to correct poses. So don’t be too surprised if your teacher gives you a gentle nudge in the right direction.
4. Yoga will meet you at your level
Yoga was born out of the religious traditions of India but it has evolved so much since then. Modern yoga meets the practitioner at the level they’re comfortable in. So on your first day of class, it’s perfectly alright to keep yoga purely physical and to continue to do so for the rest of your practicing days. It’s okay to show up to class because you want a stronger, more flexible body.
In the same way, it’s okay if you use yoga to declutter your mind, to stay focused, or to cultivate awareness. It’s okay if you use yoga to help you pray better. It’s okay if you use yoga to get closer to Jesus. Make your practice your own!
5. You’ll feel empowered, relaxed, and sore all at the same time
I can tell you right now that you *will* walk away from your first ever yoga class feeling like a strong, powerful, and majestic king/queen. Because not only did you put yourself out there and tried something completely new, but you also got through it like a champ. Yoga is pretty darn challenging (as you’ve probably realized after your 5th chaturanga), and the fact that you didn’t walk out halfway through the class is an accomplishment on its own!
You’ll also have one of the best nights of sleep ever because yoga has been scientifically proven to activate the body’s parasympathetic system. This “rest and digest” state lowers blood pressure, normalizes heart rate, enhances digestion, and just overall calms the body down. If that doesn’t sound like the most relaxing evening ever…
You will, however, also feel like you just got hit by a truck. This is totally understandable, especially after your first ever yoga class. As mentioned in #2, yoga challenges the body to move in ways you normally don’t so think of the muscle soreness as proof of your hard work and perseverance!