Wednesday, August 03, 2005

First Yoga Class Etiquette 

I've taken a few yoga classes over the last few years, and, after going through the process a couple of times, I have a few words of advice for people just starting a yoga class, whether they've never taken one at all or are just new to that class/instructor:

* One assumes that, by signing up for yoga, you generally know about it, much like you would if you signed up for any other fitness class. You've probably seen a little yoga on tv or in magazines, especially the basic moves. Yoga is about stretching, flexibility, and determination. Don't be surprised when it calls for that. Sun Salutation (see below) is a basic set of moves, not an attempt to kill you in the first class.

* If you are unable to do or hold a particular stance, whether it's too difficult or you're not flexible enough, it's perfectly ok not to do it, to do it as far or as long as you can and then stop, or to do an alternate move which the instructor will probably offer as a matter of course. Good alternatives are Mountain Pose, Downward-Facing Dog, Child's Pose, or Corpse Pose. If you focus on a controlled breath, you're still working out.

* Keep in mind that others may be more skilled than you, but it is a practice and you will get the hang of it. Even those people probably have a sticking point that challenges them and they are definitely not judging you. 3 years later, I still can't do a proper forward fold because of tight hamstrings and I probably never will, but I keep working on it.

* When choosing an outfit, keep stretch and comfort in mind, but also try to imagine what will happen if you have to turn upside down in it. If your shirt comes off or your shorts are too revealing, you'll need different clothes. This is true for women and men... running shorts are never a good idea (see Friends episode 3.13). This includes underwear--thongs do not cut it.

* Don't eat too close to class (2-3 hours before), but also don't starve yourself that day. If I haven't had enough sleep the night before or didn't eat lunch, 20 minutes of a 1 hour class is enough to do me in. You'll start shaking during balance poses and get upset with yourself, which defeats the point of class.

* You will probably be frustrated when you start, for at least a couple of months while your body gets used to the moves and the pace. Be patient with yourself and the teacher. However, after a while, if you find yourself more aggravated at the end of the class than before, try a different class or instructor.

* Yoga classes are peaceful and partially focused on meditation and overall balance, inner and outer. Try not to do anything that might ruin the practice for another person, such as breathing too loudly (it's not Lamaze), talking, leaving your phone on, etc.

* Unless the teacher is being unreasonable, do not protest or argue about a move. Unreasonable would be like requiring decidedly advanced moves in a beginning class or spending over half the class in an inversion or twisting set of moves. I have experienced those, and they are not pleasant. In that case, either return to a comfortable pose or leave quietly. If you must, shoot the instructor a dirty look and do your best. But do not loudly exclaim, "You've got to be kidding!!", burst out laughing, scoff, etc. It creates a bad environment for everyone else.

* Be aware of your state of body and mind before and during class. If you realize that you can't complete the class because you don't feel well or have your mind too muddled by something else, it is ok to quietly leave at any time. A headache will probably get worse, not better, due to increased bloodflow to the head. If you're thinking about too many other things, you will never make it through the balance portion of class.

* When you pick a spot in class for your mat (it really should be a mat, not a towel because they scoot and bunch up), take a reasonable amount of space for yourself (you should put your arms out and not touch the next person), but not too much, especially in a crowded class. Be mindful of those around you.

* Control your movements and don't overestimate your abilities. If you know you can't do a shoulder stand, don't attempt one in the middle of the classroom where you might fall, hit someone else, or disrupt class with your display. Don't fling your arms and legs around, and don't push yourself too far in the beginning of class so that you can't finish without falling over. It's not a race.

* Finally, the instructor may come around and assist people into the correct form of the pose. Don't be offended if it's you--without a mirror, it's nearly impossible to get every move exactly right, and you may not realize you can actually stretch a little bit deeper.

For more information, pose encyclopedia, advice, and more, visit

Sun Salutation

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