Inspired by this article on how to find the right yoga instructor, I started writing some tips for those new to yoga. Parts 1, 2, and 3 covered deciding what you’re looking for in a yoga class, how to find a class in your area, and tips for a successful first yoga class. Now we’ll move on to making the most of your yoga class.
- Speak up.
Don’t be afraid to talk to the instructor! When you arrive early for your first class, let the teacher know of any concerns you might have. Tell her about your lower back pain or your bad knee. This will help the instructor a lot! If the yoga teacher knows that there’s a brand-new student in the room, she may teach differently, choose different poses to teach, or describe the poses in different ways. She may keep an eye on you to make sure that your alignment is right, so you don’t do anything that will hurt that bad knee. Good communication with your yoga teacher will reassure you, help her plan her class better, help her help you better!, and make the class a better experience all the way around.
- In any yoga pose, try to be comfortable and steady.
In all of the Yoga Sutras, this is pretty much the one thing that the sage Patanjali had to say about physical poses: be comfortable and steady. And yet this is something that most yoga instructors don’t think to mention. If you are unsteady, wobbling all over the place in a yoga posture, you’re not going to be doing anything valuable for your body, and you’re more likely to cause yourself an injury. Yoga is about finding the middle path: not doing too much, and not doing too little. In any pose, you want to find the spot where you are steady but still working hard. If a pose makes you wobbly, it’s okay to take an easier variation of the pose, drop a hand or knee to the ground, or just sit down and rest.
- Pay attention to your breath.
Your breathing is a key indicator of how you’re doing in a pose. Nice steady deep even breaths? You’re doing fine and could maybe push a little harder. Quick shallow panting breaths? Something may not be right – you may be doing too much in a pose, or you might need a rest. You should strive to keep your breath steady and even. Focusing on your breath gives you a barometer of sorts of how you’re doing in your practice, and it gives your mind something to focus on. Of course, in a more athletic style of yoga class, you may end up breathing harder, but continue to be aware of your breath, and know what the difference is for you between hard working breathing and needing a rest.
- Understand the difference between discomfort versus pain.
It’s normal to feel discomfort during yoga class, especially as you bend in ways you might not have bent in years, and as you discover muscles you never knew you had! Stretching it out can be uncomfortable. However, there’s a difference between discomfort and pain. Yoga should never hurt you. If something genuinely hurts, then stop doing it and take a step back: maybe your body isn’t ready for that pose or that variation, or maybe you just need a rest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your yoga practice – take care of yourself!
- Adjustments: okay or no-go?
The yoga instructor may ask if she can touch or adjust you during the class. Be honest about how you feel about this. Being adjusted by the yoga instructor can be really helpful in understanding the correct alignment of a pose; however, it’s okay to say no if you don’t want to be touched, and the teacher should just give you verbal instructions instead. If the instructor adjusts you in a way that hurts at all, tell her right away! This can be scary, but don’t be afraid to speak up. In general, a teacher’s adjustment should be helpful, such that when she gets you in the right spot, you go “Oh!” and things click into place.
- Try lots of classes – and don’t give up.
If you go to one yoga class and you don’t like it, try another class. This is the #1 most important thing I want to say in this post, so I’ll say it again: If you try one yoga class and don’t like it, try another yoga class. If you have a bad or uncomfortable experience, that’s a shame, but it doesn’t mean that yoga isn’t for you – it just means that that one class or that one teacher isn’t for you.
Maybe you were looking for a beginners class but the vinyasa class fit your schedule better – then you find out that, yup, you should be learning basics just like you thought! So try to make time for the beginners class. Or maybe you went to the beginners class but the teacher moved too fast. Try another class with a different teacher, or try another yoga studio. Remember that yoga studios are independently owned small businesses, so the style of yoga taught, the schedule, and the pricing scale will vary greatly from one studio to another – what you can’t find at one studio might be present in abundance on the other side of town.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve talked to someone about yoga and the person says, “Yoga? Oh, I tried that once. It wasn’t for me.” Or “That yoga class was okay, but we kept falling asleep, so I don’t think we’ll go back.” (Yes, seriously.) Remember that one yoga class does not represent all the variety that’s available. If you have a genuine interest in yoga, try lots of different classes so you can get a sense of what’s out there!
I truly believe that yoga can be beneficial for everybody. That’s why I’m training to become a yoga teacher! I hope that this series of yoga tips for beginners has been helpful for you. (Anything I didn’t cover? Just ask!)