Have you been inspired to try a yoga class but aren’t sure what to expect? Before attending your first class, there are some tips that are helpful to know to ensure you have a great experience. Have a read of the five insights below to give you an idea of what class is going to be like and how you can prepare.
1. Arriving a bit early: Teachers love when students show up 10 or 15 minutes early to get their props and set up shop before class begins. It is often distracting to the teacher and other students to have someone come in late, moving around and setting up when class has already begun. Try arriving a bit early to class. This will give you time to set up your mat, ask the teacher what props are needed and introduce yourself if you are new.
2. Shoes and socks aren’t necessary: Unless you are a professional yoga teacher or lifeguard, you probably spend most of the day in your shoes. Being barefoot feels unnatural to some people, but when you enter a yoga studio, it is common courtesy to slip off your kicks so you’re not tracking in outside dirt. Bare feet help you find a stable, balanced connection with the floor which is essential for standing and balancing poses. While shoes are a bit cumbersome, socks are slippery and don’t give you much traction. Working barefoot can also help strengthen and stretch the muscles of the feet encouraging the maintenance of arches.
3. Movement Modifications: Freaked out by all the hyper-flexible individuals who seem to live in the shape of a pretzel 24/7 while simultaneously posting on Instagram? Do not fear! Most yoga students (and yoga teachers I might add) are not hyper flexible. Those teachers that are quite bendy should make sure to demonstrate poses appropriate for the ability level of the class. If poses are inaccessible to some students (and if you are concerned you may be one of these students), don’t worry! Modifications will be given and you won’t be left behind. There is always a modification or a different pose that can give you similar benefits to the full expression of a pose. And FYI, if you are uncomfortable in a pose or simply don’t want to do it, that’s ok too. Taking Downward Dog or Child's Pose, no matter what the rest of the class is doing, is often suggested as a supplement to a pose you are uncomfortable or don’t feel up to doing.
4. What to Bring: The good news here is that most yoga studios do not require you to bring anything for class except yourself. Students tend to bring their own mats but often, studios provide these. Any other props such as blocks, straps, blankets or bolsters should be provided by the yoga studio. If you feel you may get sweaty, bringing a towel and a water bottle is a good idea.
5. What to Wear: Really loose, baggy clothing is not appropriate for yoga. That being said, you don’t have to wear spandex! You want to be able to move easily and be comfortable. Also, the teacher needs to be able to see the alignment of your body. If you are not aligned correctly, you may injure yourself. Often, teachers will come around and give adjustments to make sure you stay in proper alignment. Most importantly, you want to feel comfortable and confident, so make sure you wear something you feel good in! (Kmart has some great, affordable yoga clothes for both men and women)
6. Disclose any injuries or pregnancy: Yoga teachers should ask every student whether they have any injuries or are pregnant prior to the commencement of class. If you have an injury that is personal and need to it disclose with the teacher, I would suggest arriving early and doing so. If you have any mobility issues, let the instructor know so they can move you into modified poses that may be more appropriate for you. If you are pregnant, the teacher wants to do everything possible to ensure you and your baby stay safe. They will offer modified poses based on the stage of your pregnancy to ensure you have a comfortable and safe practice.
It is so important to remember that if you are attending a beginner’s class, you are not the only person there who has never done yoga before. Don’t worry if you aren’t very flexible or don’t feel confident. Just keep the above tips in mind and you will start off your yoga journey right!
Understanding the origins of a timeless practise
There are so many different types of yoga infiltrating the health and wellness market these days. Every time I peruse my favourite wellness websites, I see something new. It’s nothing other than overwhelming and confusing. So where are these new ideas coming from?
New ideas come from market demand. If someone wants it, and money will pay for it, the service pops up (sometimes out of nowhere). New styles of yoga like the ever popular SUP yoga (stand up paddle board) seem like an adaptable and innovative way to practice whereas the newly invented Beer Yoga seems like a bit of a stretch. Whether these new trends are here to stay is another question. One type of yoga that has been around for the ages -and is commonly misinterpreted- is still making its mark: This is Hatha Yoga.
Back to Basics
Hatha yoga is often explained as a slightly easier type of classical yoga that is good for beginners. Ahh! Cringe! This is very incorrect…so incorrect that I struggled to type it. Since the traditions of Hatha yoga have been popularised in the west, they have been taken lightyears away from their original context.
You see, Hatha yoga is any type of yoga that is based around postural work or asana. It is the ‘exercise’ part of yoga. There are a variety of different types of Hatha yoga, mostly stemming from the yogic scholar, Krishnamacharya.
Krishnamacharya taught a myriad of successful yoga gurus including Indra Devi, TKV Desikachar, BKS Iyengar and Patabi Jois. He created and popularised Ashtanga yoga in the West and his students went on to create and popularise other types of yoga.
Any type of physical yoga practise centred around the asanas is a branch that has extended off the tree of traditional Hatha yoga.
Hatha yoga is traditionally practiced not as a form of physical exercise but as a means to prepare the body for higher possibilities by controlling and taming perceived energy flows within the body. It is understood as a step in the process for preparing the body for meditation. This aspect of Hatha yoga has been taken out of mainstream yoga in the West. We do not view spiritual enlightenment as on par with the physical (body) nature of health and wellbeing.
Yoga is like any other commercial product: It is organic and adaptable to consumer wants and needs. This is simply the nature of the world we live in. In some ways, it is a shame to lose the true philosophy of the Hatha yoga practice, but in many ways the it is still benefiting those who do it.
There are many claims that Hatha yoga has a variety of health benefits. Some obvious physical benefits are increased strength, flexibility and balance if done regularly. Other benefits that have been empirically studied are stress reduction, improved overall physical fitness, management of chronic conditions and increased self awareness.
It is important to remember that Hatha yoga has become highly commercialised and a variety of untested and unscientific health benefits (physical, mental and emotional) are sometimes touted for marketing purposes. Knowledge is power and conducting some simple desktop research before attending your first classes will give you more realistic expectations of the benefits of Hatha yoga compared to untested and sometimes fanciful marketing claims.
Quite obviously, if you are doing something you enjoy, you will get physical, mental and emotional benefits from it. Just trying something new like a yoga class gets you out of your comfort zone opening your eyes to new possibilities. This is a cause for a pat on the back!
So there you have it, a crash course in Hatha yoga that I hope you found insightful, practical and enlightening (no pun intended). If you are interested in some empirical studies and the science of yoga, this article titled The science of yoga - what research reveals is a great place to start.