You’ve emerged from your first yoga class, sweaty, half asleep, sore, yet somewhat satisfied, and you’re probably thinking “I will never go back to that kooky-talking, Lululemon-clad sweat fest ever again!” (don’t worry, we’ve all been there!) Or perhaps you found solace in the silence of savasana (the part where you finally get to sleep). Whatever it was, your first time, much like in anything else you’ve ever tried, was more than likely filled with confusion and self doubt as to what to expect, what to do and how to do it.
That’s why it’s great to go back to basics and be reminded of the fundamentals once in a while. And this is exactly what Team Sporteluxe did, along with the thirty participants of our Don’t Sweat It! Yoga Series in partnership with Rexona Clinical Protection. The 4-week challenge started with a basic beginner class at Sydney’s premier boutique fitness studio Flow Athletic, and reminded us all that there is beauty in simplicity.
With that in mind, here are a few essential yogi tips to keep in mind for your first (or next) class:
There are quite a few stigmas associated with yoga. Yoga instructors always hear newbies lament about their lack of flexibility, skill or overall understanding of the art, but it’s important to remember that everyone started somewhere. Chances are as a beginner, the first time you walk into a studio will be intimating.The truth is, unless specified, a typical class will be accessible to all levels, and your mat is a sacred space where no judgements are made. And more often than not, everyone is too busy focusing on their own practice to worry about you. So look around, but don’t feel bad about the 70 year old in a headstand.
At the beginning of class you should always let your instructor know of any injuries or conditions you may have. They are there to guide you and offer modifications for injuries or for those who simply not strong enough (yet!) to achieve the pose, so make the most of their help. Most importantly, be kind to yourself, and take breaks when need be. Some of the most knowledgeable yogis have been known to do most of the class in Child’s Pose or on their knees. One of the key elements of yoga is not performing for your ego, but being able to connect your mind with your body, or in other words, tune in to what suits you.
Be sure to always bend your knees in forward fold, Down Dog, Boat Pose, or anything in which your hamstrings or lower back is involved. If you’re stretching to reach the floor and your back is hunched, that’s a big no-no in the yoga world. You’re here to do good to your body and work with your spine, not against it. By bending your knees, you create space by flattening the lower back, which in turn relaxes you and prevents injury. You will eventually work up to straightening your legs as your muscles relax and flexibility increases, but that’s a gradual process, so be patient!
Some active yoga poses can be quite detrimental to your joints if the correct alignment isn’t applied. Your instructor will usually instruct you to engage your “bundas”, which in Sanskrit literally translates to “lock”. These locks simply involve a contraction of the muscles around a joint. In simple terms, pulling your belly button towards your spine engages the core muscles and protects the spine by locking the lower back muscles. Activating the thighs prevents the knee joints from bearing too much weight (hence the toned thighs and abs you can get from a regular practice!). Don’t be floppy in your poses (unless told to do so), and you’ll be sure to have a safe practice.
Here’s a little tip – when going from high-to low plank (seasoned yogis may know this pose as Chaturanga Dandasana), shift forwards onto your toes, relax your shoulders away from your ears while keeping them level and parallel to the mat as you lower to the ground, elbows close to your body. Dumping your shoulders will put too much pressure on the rotator cuffs by hyperextending your shoulder blades. In other words, keep your back muscles and core activated while broadening through the chest (smile with your collarbones!). Bend your knees until you feel you have the sufficient arm, core and back strength to lower all the way down in one long, luscious exhale.
If you’re going to remember anything at all out of all this, it’s this one. Being mindful and adopting the right breathing technique is the best thing you can learn to do for your practice. “Ujayi” breath, (literally breath of victory in Sanskrit) is a simple technique that calms the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the raspy sound you may have heard from your neighbour as they exhale. How to do it? Upon your exhale, pretend your trying to fog up a mirror but keep your mouth closed. You should feel a very subtle constriction in the throat.
You’re here to feel better and have fun. Even during the toughest of positions, smile! Your body will thank you for it. Although yoga is a work-in and a way for you to create space and let everything go, don’t get caught up in the moment. It’s important not to strive for perfection or get frustrated if you can’t do something. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and with your buddies. Much like in surfing, the best yogi out there is the one having the most fun.