I’ve been practicing yoga for years, but even I know that yoga can be especially daunting for the uninitiated. Being new in a yoga class is like entering a new dimension—to boldly go where no non-yogi has ever gone before. But here’s where you’re in luck: I’ve come up with a guide of how to handle yoga class like a certified yogi. Or, rather, how NOT to—the mistakes that lots of newbies make that you should decidedly avoid. Consider this mishmash a list of pet peeves and also general life pointers. And for those of you who do yoga regularly—definitely let me know if I’ve missed anything in the comments!
Mistake: Keeping Your Shoes On
I’m a self-professed shoe addict, so I totally get that the perfect pair of sneaks can pull a whole gym look together… but that stops at the door of your yoga class. There’s a strict ‘no shoes’ rule in all yoga classes. You’ll have your hands, feet and entire body on and off the mat at some point throughout the class, and you don’t want to drag the street into the studio and roll around in it. If you worry about the safety of your beloved shoes, stash them in your gym bag and tuck them away in the cubby (almost all yoga studios offer this space).
Mistake: Keeping Your Cell Phone On
Picture this: You’re deep in your savasana when a familiar ring tone starts blaring. Hey, it’s happened to the best of us… but even so, the shuffle of shame to your bag as everyone’s zen bubble bursts around you is pretty excruciating. Save yourself the agony and turn your phone completely off. Or, better yet, don’t bring it to class at all!
Mistake: Letting It All Hang Out
A yoga class is full of twists, standing forward folds, straddles, inversions—I’m talking a ton of movement. This may sound counterintuitive, but tighter clothes actually leave more to the imagination than baggy ones. That’s because with baggy clothes, you stand a better chance of them slipping or falling or gapping—basically, an invitation for anyone to look up your shorts or down your shirt anytime you go into Downward Dog or Happy Baby. And while we’re on the topic, don’t forget the sheer check, either. Some yoga pants can be a bit, ah, translucent when you bend over—so I’d recommend the ‘bend over’ check before you shell over your money for any new pants.
Mistake: Comparing Yourself to Everyone Else
You’ll only ever be a beginner once, so enjoy the journey young Jedi! It’s easy to walk into a yoga room overwhelmed with the abilities of others around you. You’ll only get yourself into trouble through comparison, though, because that often leads to jealousy—and that might make you tackle poses that you’re not ready for. Try to flip the coin by seeing inspiration instead. You can learn so much by observing other peoples’ talents. Trust that if you apply yourself and show up regularly your practice will thrive.
Mistake: Being an Attention Monger
Easy with the drama! It’s important to focus on your breath and connect to the moment, but do what you can to avoid the ‘look at me’ show. Dramatic sighs, loud exhales of breath and breathing that can be heard 2 city blocks away is overboard. My teacher always taught that your breathing should only be loud enough for you to hear on your mat. Remember yoga is a personal practice and just because you’re having a bad day and feel the need to sigh it out doesn’t mean the rest of the room wants to share in that experience.
Mistake: Losing Track of Your Personal Space
Many popular yoga classes will pack their students in like sardines, which can mean you might be mat to mat with other students. This means you need to up your spatial awareness as you flow through your poses. There’s a strong likelihood that you’ll smack or get smacked, but you can decrease those chances by keeping your movements within the island of your mat. I’m a huge fan for challenging yourself and stepping outside of your comfort zone, but when it comes to kicking up into poses, if you’re in close quarters to someone else—be thoughtful! The last thing you want to do is fall over onto someone else mat (or body) and cause a domino effect. Trust me, I’ve seen it and it’s not such a pretty sight!
Mistake: Packing Up Early
Savasana is the final pose of a yoga practice, and it involves lying on your back for about 5 minutes to absorb the practice and calm the mind. This is a pivotal part of the practice followed by a meditation or closing words from teacher to keep you in the right mindset from the rest of the day. I understand that people can’t always stay for the duration of the class, but please, PLEASE don’t decide to leave in the middle of everyone’s rest. It is crazy-making to watch a student nosily roll up their mat, collect their stuff (which generally insinuates bag ruffling and keys jiggling) only to—wait for it—slam the door shut on their way out. Are those 5 minutes really going to make or break your schedule?! I dare say you’ve missed the beautiful message of yoga at this point. That everything is exactly as it should be, there is no rush and you’re right where you need to be. If you must leave class early, tell the teacher at the beginning of class, make time for your own savasana, set up near the door and leave before savasana as to not disturb the class.
How does Kate Hudson stay so fit even with a crazy schedule and two children? In the December issue of Harper’s Bazaar, the 34-year-old actress revealed that hot yoga, SoulCycle, and dance are all part of her fitness routine.
Hot yoga—also known as Bikram yoga—involves a series of 26 postures, or asanas, performed in a studio heated between 90 and 105 degrees at 40 percent humidity. If getting bendy in a steamy room sounds super challenging, that’s because it is: A new Duke University review of 76 yoga-related injuries found that Bikram was commonly linked to injuries, along with Pranayama (a style focused on breathing control) and Hatha (an umbrella term for physical yoga practices).
Hot practice in general wasn’t necessarily to blame. The study suggests that these specific postures could be the culprits, since they were associated with the most injuries: headstands, shoulder stands, and lotus position. The most common injuries were musculoskeletal, including fractures, ligament tears, and joint damage.
So should you abandon challenging poses entirely? Nope. The researchers simply suggest avoiding these tricky positions if you’re a beginner, and once you do attempt them—especially headstands and shoulder stands—you should have your instructor gently guide you into the posture.
The scientists also note that Bikram-style yoga tends to be competitive. But remember, yoga is about your body and your personal practice, so just because other people in your class can do a headstand doesn’t mean you have to do one, too. Do what you can, at your own pace, and do it for your well-being!
Editor’s note: We recognize that headstands and shoulder stands aren’t part of the 26 Bikram postures, but the point still stands: don’t strain to do things that you’re not capable of doing, especially if you’re a beginner.
PUBLISHED: NOVEMBER 14, 2013 | BY LAURA TEDESCO
Women’s Health Magazine