Your first yoga class: what’s the worst thing that could happen? By Meg Jackson
You’ve watched it on websites. Perhaps you’ve seen people do it on social media. Maybe you had a go at it when you were on your own one evening.
So why haven’t you actually been to a yoga class yet? Even if you’re dipping a toe into the bending and breathing water by doing some at home alone, it really doesn’t compare with the experience of being in a class.
For a start, you get to receive direct instruction from a teacher. They’ll be able to see exactly what you need to work on, help you understand what you’re trying to feel in your practice, and even if they can’t magically transform your ‘dying swan’ into a ‘soaring crow’, at least they may offer a word or two of encouragement.
Added to that is the simple experience of doing your practice with a group of like-minded humans. There really can be a goosebump-giving surge of energy when breath gets synchronized and, even if it’s just for a split second, the whole room feels like it’s effortlessly moving as one.
But you probably already know all that. So what’s stopping you from going? I’ve put together a little list in the hope I can persuade you that if (or when) any (or all) of these happen, it’s not the worst thing that could happen to you.
The natural expulsion
First of all – farting happens way less often in yoga classes than people think it does. Yes, there are certain poses which can encourage the unexpected exit of some gas, but trust me, it’s not as if every time someone flexes around their middle it’s like a 21 gun salute going off.
Admittedly, sometimes it happens. But here’s the thing: no one cares. Genuinely. The bad news, or good news depending on how you look at it, is that you are going to be the person who is most aware of it. As long as you’re not announcing it to the room, or elaborately wafting it onto your neighbour’s mat, there’s nothing to worry about. And besides, if you’re in a big class it’s going to be really tricky to pin it to one person.
The little bit too deep savasana
Ask people who go to a yoga class what their favourite bit is, and most will say something about when their teacher makes them hold warrior pose for ages until their thighs burn and they get a deep insight into their own spiritual existence. Then ask them to be honest, and they’ll say it’s the bit when they get to lie down at the end.
It’s called savasana and one of the translations of its name is ‘corpse pose’. You’re supposed to let it all go (not quite everything – see above) and allow the energy of the practice to dissipate through your body. We’ve all been in a class where we’ve relaxed a little bit too much and you suddenly realise that you’ve woken up – whether with a snort or not, it’s tricky to tell. But just like the farting issue, if there are enough bodies in class it’s going to be hard to tell who made the noise. And should anyone say anything you can perhaps suggest that you worked hard, hence why you needed a little nap. So there.
The miserable meditator
Quite a few yoga classes will incorporate a period of sitting in stillness; either as a guided meditation, or an opportunity for you to find feelings of peace and quiet within yourself. Yoga is ultimately about being able to connect with the permanent sparkly stillness inside us, so it’s an important part of your whole practice. But what if sitting still makes you feel more angry than angelic?
Make sure that you’re comfortable – there are props in yoga studios for a reason. So if you are only able to easily sit with bolsters and blocks propping up your aching limbs, do it. I pretty much guarantee there’ll be at least one person who looks at you longingly because their knees and hips are screaming at them and they’re too proud to admit it.
The wardrobe malfunction
Clothes can do funny things in a yoga class. Seemingly supportive bra-tops are suddenly letting your boobs slide around like oiled chicken fillets in a bag. Those shorts which were perfectly suitable whilst you were standing, are now cutting into places you didn’t know you had. So for immediate management, take a quick trip to the changing rooms to have a strategic re-organisation if needed.
You’re going to be putting your body into shapes that it probably doesn’t get into on an average day, so do a little practice run before you wear your brand new kit to class. Make sure things aren’t so baggy they suffocate you in a downward-facing dog. Check if anything gets a little revealing when you twist and turn. And please please ask your honest best friend, or trusted family member, to see if your seemingly robust tops and bottoms go see-through when they’re stretched and/or sweaty. Trust me – it happens. This teacher’s eyes have seen some things they can never un-see.
The unintentional assault
It’s wonderful that yoga is incredibly popular in some areas of this fair land, but it can mean that yoga studios squeeze students in tighter than vegan sardines in a biodegradable tin. As a consequence it’s all too easy, whilst caught up in the loveliness of breathing and moving, to make accidental physical contact with your neighbour. If you’re lucky it’s just hand smacking hand in a sun salutation, if you’re not so fortunate it’s head into buttocks in a wide-legged forward fold.
One of the joyful benefits of yoga is that it helps us to learn to be in our bodies, and develop a good sense of where things are in relation to other things. So try to be aware of what’s going on around you – not so much that you’re distracted, but enough to be considerate to your fellow students. And a quick smile and a mouthed ‘sorry!’ is all you need to do if it happens.
The confidence kicker
Sometimes it’s an instant realisation – other times it might only be once you’re a little way into the practice – when you realise: you are the least bendy person in the whole room. Your peripheral vision is telling you that everyone else in the room is sailing through their asana like swans on a lake, whilst you’re much more Bambi on ice.
It’s a cliché, but everyone really did have to start somewhere so even those ‘swans’ were probably Bambi once and, here’s the truth: what you’re doing on your mat is the last thing on their minds. (Or at least it should be.) Do your best without letting those negative voices drive you into poses which at worst are going to hurt your body, or at least damage your ego. If, at the end of the class, you really did feel like you were totally out of your depth, have a chat with the teacher. They’ll be able to advise you as to whether there may be a more suitable class for where your practice is at the moment, or if you were being too hard on yourself.
Whatever happens, when you set foot onto a yoga mat, know that you have already done an exceptional thing; you have carved out a chunk of your day to do something for yourself. Making this commitment to feel healthier (and maybe a bit happier) with yoga is awesome. Whether you parp your way through the practice, accidentally assault with your asana, or snore your way through the savasana, don’t think for one moment that you’re the worst. You’re officially the best.
Meg Jackson is the founder of Real Life Yoga – a movement to help real people bring a little (or a lot) of yoga into their lives. Join her classes in south London, her workshops around the country, and (coming soon) retreats around the world. Oh, and you can buy her clothes too. Find out more: reallifeyoga.net