So you’ve decided to start doing yoga. Well done. Practising yoga can have a world of benefits to the body and mind, helping to release tension and stress, build strength and flexibility, tone the muscles and relieve minor pains and problems.
Here is The Centre’s tips and advice to help you feel comfortable and confident when starting your first ever yoga class.
Yoga is not just an exercise to help you keep fit and in great shape, yoga is also an inwardly contemplative, relaxing and meditative ritual that promotes peace of mind and helps to release the stress from your day. For this reason, it is recommended to come to your yoga class on time if not a couple of minutes early to allow time to set up your mat and prepare your mind and body for the class with a couple of minutes of contemplative silence before the lesson begins.
Although there are many different forms of yoga – some of which will make you sweat, some of which will not – it is advisable to wear comfortable clothes that allow you to move, twist and stretch your body at ease. Yoga pants have become famous lately, but trend setting aside, form-fitting leggings, trousers or shots are a great option. Pair these with a loose fitting shirt and a sports bra that won’t move around too much during the exercises. If you feel the cold, layering is a good idea to keep you warm at the beginning and the end of a class. Yoga is always done barefoot so don’t forget to remove your shoes before you begin.
Most professional yoga schools like The Centre will provide all the necessary props for you, however as you progress on your yoga journey, you might like to invest in some props of your own. The first thing to get is a good quality yoga mat. The Centre also provides straps, bricks, blocks, cushions and blankets and you can buy special non-slip yoga socks for the colder winter season.
The best time to practise yoga is on an empty stomach to allow your body to move and twist in all the positions unhindered and unrestricted. Try your best not to come to the class with a full stomach, as the heaviness of the food and the energy your body will use to digest, will be a disadvantage to both your body and your mind. If you are starving before the class, nibble on something light such as a banana, an apple or some nuts.
Unlike many sports and exercises, it isn’t advised to drink water during the class as this will cool you down and reverse the heating effect that the practise has had on your body. Yoga is all about building up an inner fire through breath and movement and by drinking water, you will extinguish this fire. However, drinking water is not forbidden, especially before and after the class when you are encouraged to drink as much as your body needs.
Many yoga classes begin or even end with a session of Sandskrit chanting or a couple of rounds of Oms. Don’t be scared off by this sacred ritual, if you don’t feel comfortable you can just sit in silence and absorb the enegy and vibration of the sounds. If you don’t know the words, don’t worry. Everyone else in the class will have their eyes shut and will already be focused on the class and their own chanting. They won’t notice you aren’t singing.
Yoga is as much about the breathing as it is about the movements and focusing on your breath deepens your focus and mindfulness, as well as your practise. There are some special breathing techniques linked to yoga such as the "ujjayi" breath, or the “kali” breath. Don’t be freaked out by these techniques, they are easy to learn and although you might feel embarrassed at first, you’ll soon notice that everyone takes part and taking part will only improve your yoga and help to release tension and create heat in the body.
Yoga is split into a number of different styles and variations such as Hatha, which is a gentle style of yoga that is great for beginners and Vinyasa which means flow and is slightly faster and more advanced than Hatha. The teacher will call out the movements, instructing the class as you go. If you don’t understand the instruction, don’t worry, either look around and copy the regulars or watch the teacher who may well be demonstrating the pose for you while they teach. Don’t be afraid if your teacher comes around and adjusts your position mid move, this is a normal way of ensuring your alignment is correct and will help you learn the right way to do the move. Don’t push yourself, listen to your body and remember getting into Child’s pose is always an option of you are feeling pain or you can’t manage to hold a certain position too long.
At the end of the practise, you’ll probably be guided to get into the final sivasana pose. Although this might just look like everyone lying down for a quick rest at the end of the session, don’t get up and leave, because this pose is actually as important and as challenging as the others. Sivasana (or corpse pose) helps you’re body to acknowledge what you have done in the class, and encourages the mind to relax, relieving you of all the remaining stress, strain and tension from your day.
Many yoga teachers will place their hands in the prayer position to the point between their eyebrows. bow their head and say Namaste at the end of every class. This is the Sandskrit word for “The light in me, sees the light in you” and is the teacher’s (and the yoga tradition’s) way of thanking and honouring you for the shared energy. The answer to this is to copy your teacher’s movement and reply by saying Namaste yourself.