Friday, September 26, 2014

5 ways to approach a new yoga class

About 4 years ago, I decided to try something new: I enrolled in a rowing class. Where I live, there's a river through the middle of town, and a center with boats alongside, where they offer 8-week classes.  To qualify for the class, I had to take a swimming test at a local pool, to make sure I wasn't going to drown if we accidentally got dumped in the river.  I don't swim well, and it was a self-regulated swim class. I had to approach a teenage "lifeguard" and tell him to keep an eye on me as I swam and then treaded water for 20 consecutive minutes, so that he could sign off on a little form that I would later turn into the rowing school.

I don't know if the kid watched me treading water, because I spent the entire time staring at the big clock on the wall, and concentrating on not drowning, but I did "pass" the test, and proceeded to register for the rowing class.

The reason I think of this story is because now, even years later, I can easily recall now uncertain I was, driving to the first rowing class. Was I wearing the right clothes? Who would be in the class? Was I supposed to bring anything?  Would it be hard? When I parked my car, I sat for a moment and considered not even going inside the building.

And I also laughed at my insecurities, because I thought, "what is with me? I get up and teach yoga every day to strangers and feel perfectly confident about it!"  In the end, the class was great, I made some friends, and learned the fundamentals of rowing: enough so that I can appreciate it when I see someone else doing it well.

What I learned is how trying something foreign to you can be so uncomfortable, and I really learned first hand to appreciate how difficult it can be to enter a new world where you don't know the customs (proper attire?) or quite what is going to happen to you.

So for those of you approaching a new yoga class, here are a few tips:

1. Look into it.  Go to a class recommended by a friend, or that you've read about online.  Maybe you've met the teacher and they seemed like someone with something to offer.  There are many classes and styles and teachers out there, so choose one that seems like it might be in the ballpark of what you're looking for.  Choosing a class or a yoga teacher is something I could dedicate several posts to, but in a nutshell: for your own sake don't make a random choice; do a little investigation about what you're getting into.

2. Eat lightly and avoid eating at all for a couple of hours before class; likewise I minimize distraction and focus on the subtle energy by instructing students not to drink water during or right before or after class. Wear clothes you feel comfortable in.  Come ready to focus your whole attention on the class.

3. Introduce yourself to the teacher.  Usually a yoga teacher would approach you if you're new in class. If they don't let the teacher know who you are and if you have any concerns or issues you're dealing with.  They will be glad to know, and can modify what they are teaching to support you, and/or offer modifications and variations that may work for you.

4. Especially if you've been to other yoga classes: follow instructions.  Cultivate patience if you've heard another way to practice a pose from another teacher, and follow the directions you're being given in the moment.  By entering the class you've made an agreement to trust that teacher and try what they suggest (within reason) for the duration of that class. If you don't trust the teacher, you're probably in the wrong class.  Also, different teachers may describe a different activity or pose differently depending upon how it falls in a sequence, their experience and lineage, or what they are focusing on in that particular class. It's not that there is necessarily a right or wrong way to "do" the pose, rather there are different ways, and the teacher is suggesting to do it in the way that is appropriate for the time and situation at the moment.

5. If you do come with a friend, avoid side talking, in favor of focusing on your own experience in class. Distracting your friend will detract from their yoga practice, and yours. The benefit you derive from the practice comes in proportion to the degree of focus and attention you can bring to your own experience.

These are all simple things, but good guidelines to keep in mind when trying something new.
An open mind, patience, consideration and kindness to yourself and others, and alert observation will serve you not only in yoga class, but in any aspect of life.