“The practice of Yoga brings us face to face with the extraordinary complexity of our own being.” – Sri Aurobindo
The time is almost upon on us, the close of another year and 2019 on the horizon. Usually at this time of year we review our past goals and start to consider the adventures that lay ahead. We contemplate making resolutions focussed upon finding more space and time for ourselves. Usually these are exercise focussed, placing emphasis on our post festive bodies. Too often viewing ourselves with a critical eye. Often, this motivation triggers the internal determination we hold to explore something new; find a new class, a trend, an opportunity to have some fun but how long does this last when the reality dawns of leaving the house on a cold, early February evening?
There’s something about yoga; a pull, a force that keeps me coming back to the mat. Irrelevant of how cold those early mornings or evenings are, importantly I want to spend time on my mat. It’s my space, my small section of self-care that I have become to rely on after 12 years of practice. But I had to start somewhere and not surprisingly it was a cold winters evening when I walked into my first yoga class as a complete novice. I had no idea what to expect. There’s a lot going on in a yoga class; there’s all the breathing and the moving, not to mention the etiquette of mat space and allocation. Where do you start? The road to that first yoga class can be a tricky one to navigate.
There are now many online platforms which offer a variety of online content meaning we never need leave the house, and for some this option can seem much more accessible for many reasons. But, if you do want to venture out, find that community and roll out your mat amongst a friendly group of yogis, here are a few pointers to support you on your journey;
Type ‘yoga’ into the Pinterest search bar and you’ll very soon come across the saying ‘yoga class helps me calm down after the stress of getting to yoga class on time’ and actually there’s a significant amount of truth in this. Just giving yourself space and time for arrival at the class provides such a huge benefit. Squeezing in a yoga class to an already full weekly schedule can be quite a challenge, so savour that time and make it yours. Arrive 10 minutes early, turn off your mobile phone, settle on your mat, maybe even just lie down and catch your breath.
Here you want comfort! There’s nothing more frustrating than a loose t-shirt finding its way into your mouth in downward facing dog, the breathing here can be difficult enough. By saying this however, I certainly don’t suggest everyone needs to be in their very best Lululemon slim-fit tank and stylish leggings. I am purely a comfort type of girl and believe me no slim-fit anything is going to make me feel comfortable in some yoga postures, and I really don’t want to be preoccupied with how high the vest is riding up either. Just wear what makes you comfortable, that can be your very best 80’s inspired leotard, or an old t-shirt with a knot in the bottom (to combat the tummy flashing). No fancy clothing is required, its comfort all the way…
My advice – use all the props! Now I love props but it’s taken me a few years to fully appreciate their use and purpose within a yoga class. Oh I’ve been there at those very first Ashtanga Yoga classes that I attended; I wanted to reach my toes and touch the floor and thought that anything less wouldn’t make me a yogi. Today, I prefer an open chest, a freedom to bring the floor up towards me rather than over reaching and collapsing in a pose. I want to find space and freedom within my breath and body and yoga props find that space for me!
- Pre-Class Food
Try and avoid food, particularly a full meal, before a yoga class. I am not a nutritionist so don’t suggest to provide you here with a pre-class fuelling regimen worthy of a pre-Olympic training schedule, but I’m well aware of the necessity for comfort during practice. During your yoga practice your body need not be preoccupied with digestion, it is also quite uncomfortable to practice on a full stomach. So, grab a healthy, nutritious snack an hour or two beforehand but most importantly make sure that you are, and remain, hydrated.
- Compassion and Self Care
Yoga is a beautiful tool for connecting the mind and breath with the body. A flip side to this can be that we can become preoccupied with the aesthetic of the body and stumble into the wasteland of self-criticism; why can I not touch my toes… find balance in tree pose… look like that in that pose? The mind may try to grab our attention, guide us from our breath towards a running dialogue on another yogi’s practice in comparison to our own. When practicing with compassion we offer ourselves a sensitivity and understanding of our own challenges and limitations, a tenderness and kindness with our bodies, not overreaching or applying force and pressure to achieve a posture, this can result in injury and harm. After all, Patanjali’s very first observance in his 8 limbs of yoga philosophy is indeed Ahimsa – the practice of non-violence. Live your yoga with your own body, have fun and enjoy the process of exploring it.
- Ask for help
We are all students in this wonderful world of yoga, so if something’s not quite working for you, or you have no idea where that left leg and right arm are supposed to be, then just ask. Everyone’s body is different, one posture or teaching cue does not fit all. Now, I’m very aware of the quietness, peace and calm of a yoga class and some people may find it intimidating or inappropriate to ask a question in the middle of a flowing sequence or pranayama breathing exercise, but your question is still important. If you’d like a little more discretion, or one to one tuition, why not wait until the end of the class (if that suits), give the teacher a wave and ask that question you’ve been meaning to ask since you first walked into the room.
Walking in to a yoga class for the first time can be daunting for many, many reasons but actually understanding what the teacher is saying is not something we’d expect to struggle with at most other group exercise classes. Many yoga teachers use the language of Sanskrit during their practice and teaching, this is because it is the ancient language of India, the origin of most of today’s western yoga practices. From Bandhas to Asanas it can get very confusing! Do we actually need to know and use all this? Well, to practice in truth with the philosophy of yoga it is respectful to practice with sensitivity and understanding of this ancient tradition but as for your first class then just simply, listen. If your teacher does use Sanskrit in their teachings then ask them questions, learn the importance and build an acceptance and understanding of this beautiful language.
- A Community
Cultivating a sense of community within a yoga class can often become a natural part of the process of attending the same class every week. When you’re flowing through sequences of breath and movement, breathing through shaky arms in downward facing dog or willing yourself to hold that balance in Warrior III, you can’t help but give a shy, reassuring smile to your neighbour on the next mat. So, go forth and share those smiles…. You’ll be making friends and falling out of tree pose together in no time (well that’s if you want to).
- Don’t skip Savasanna
It can be a strange concept to accept initially; lying down on a yoga mat after 50 minutes of sweaty vinyasa flow to rest and relax…. What?… where else would you enjoy a post work-out lie down? But settle in guys because this one is the best and don’t be tempted to skip it. It may look like a little nap, and it’s ok to take one here by all means, but it’s actually a fully conscious pose aimed at nurturing a totally relaxed state. The hard part is usually moving to go home afterwards..
Finding a local class at the start of the new year is not in itself a particularly difficult thing to do, most social media feeds these days can quickly take you to a class in most towns; whether it’s a yoga studio or community centre, but how do you know if that class is right for you? All yoga teachers have their own specific style, a niche and focus within their teaching, some of which can be quite mystical and baffling for those new to practice. For the most part experiencing different teachers is a great place to start; shop around, see what fits your style and preference, because eventually there will be a pull and it’ll keep you coming back to that mat for years to come.