Best Practices for Your First Yoga Class

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Millions of North Americans practice yoga in some form or other. But there are many people who haven’t yet tried it. If you’re going to attend your first yoga class, you’ll want to bring an open mind, a peaceful heart, a mat, and an awareness of yoga etiquette.

Yoga etiquette?

Yes. Just as there are general rules for swimming laps at the local pool (don’t hit the feet of the person in front of you, even if you’re faster) or for track running (slower runners to the inside, please), there are some basic guidelines to follow if you’re trying a yoga class for the first time.

Based on my experience as both a yoga teacher and a student, here are my top five “dos and don’ts” for a first-time yogi. A little bit of etiquette will make your first class peaceful for you and those around you.

DO

Arrive early. There are always details like paperwork or payments to take care of. Give yourself enough time to fill out any forms, get a tour of the studio and, if necessary, change into your yoga clothes. If you’re early, you’ll also have more choice over where you place your yoga mat.

Introduce yourself to your teacher. Since it’s your first class, let the teacher know your fitness level and any injuries or medical conditions that may affect your yoga practice. Your instructor can’t offer modifications or adjustments if he/she doesn’t know your physical issues.

Keep electronic devices out of the studio. Nothing breaks the zen of a yoga class like the chime of an email alert or the trill of a cellphone. If you’re early for class, spend a few minutes in silent contemplation instead of checking email or posting to your social networks.

Be aware of your neighbour. Some classes can get pretty packed and there may be poses that involve arm or leg movements off the mat. Be aware of how close you are to the person next to you. Nobody likes a foot in the face, no matter how relaxed they are.

Clean up after yourself. If you’re borrowing or renting a mat, studios often require you spray and wipe it down afterward. If you’ve used props like blocks, straps or bolsters, be sure to put them back where you found them.

DON’T

Wear jeans. This may seem obvious, but, believe it or not, I’ve had people show up to class in jeans (with a belt) and a T-shirt. While you don’t need to be wearing the latest yoga fashion, comfortable workout clothes will allow you to move freely and without restraint.

Step on someone else’s mat. In a yoga studio, stepping on another person’s mat is akin to trespassing. If you need to cross to the other side of someone’s spot, go around his/her mat. There’s a saying: “Your mat is your island.” Respect the mat.

Comment on how each posture feels. While most instructors will encourage you to observe and express the way your body feels during your practice, it’s not an invitation to provide a running commentary to the rest of the class. If a yoga pose doesn’t feel comfortable, alert the teacher quietly or ask about it after class.

Take an advanced class if you’re a beginner. Just as you wouldn’t go out and run a marathon before you train for a 5 km race, it’s not a good idea to take an advanced yoga class before working through some beginner sessions. You may pick up the practice or style of yoga quickly, but let the instructor guide you if that’s the case.

Compare yourself to other yogis. Yoga is not competitive! Just as there will always be people who are taller or shorter than you, there will always be yogis who are more or less flexible and stronger or weaker than you. During the class, focus on your own body. If the person on the mat beside you is going deeper into a lunge than you, there is no sense in risking injury to push yourself beyond your level of comfort and capability.

So, now that you’re up to speed on the best practices for a first-time yogi, go out and get your zen on!

Annabel Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer, runner, yoga and Pilates teacher and a mother of two young children. Her online yoga, Pilates and meditation studio is at http://www.annabelfitzsimmons.ca

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