A Rookie's Guide to Yoga

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Happy National Yoga Month!

Maybe the announcement of Yoga Month on your Facebook feed, your current training plan, or your desire for some R&R has recently sparked your interest in yoga.  Maybe you’ve been thinking about trying it out for a while, but, oye, stepping into that room with a bunch of flexible people in tights makes you nervous, because a. you don’t wear tights and b. “flexible” is not one of the adjectives you’d use to describe yourself.  Don’t worry!  I’ve got you covered!  Here’s what to expect during your first yoga class experience:

What you’ll need:

  • Comfortable clothes you can move in. I personally prefer high waist-ed capris or leggings and a longer tank so they stay in place in down dog.
  • Sticky mat. There are tons of fitness mats, but sticky mats help keep your hands and feet in place (and avoid that unintentional split!)  We have sticky mats for sale at the RFC and many yoga studios have them to purchase, rent, or borrow.
  • Open mind. Whether you’re trying your first yoga class or anything new, keep your expectations to a minimum.  In line with SAS’s mantra of “Be Curious,” I like to think “What if I tried and loved it?”
  • Water bottle filled with water. Many studios don’t allow anything except water in the classroom. Be safe until you know and just fill that bottle with water.
  • Optional towel. Many studios supply them.  Be sure to check before you go, especially if you run hot.  A small hand towel will do.

What you won’t need:

  • Shoes and bags. Yoga is practiced with bare feet.  It’s etiquette in many studios to remove your shoes prior to stepping into the classroom and leave your bags outside to maximize floor space and keep the classroom neat to foster relaxation.  Bring only what you need into the studio and keep valuables in your car or locked in a locker.
  • Cell phone. It. Can. Wait. And if it truly cannot (you’re on call for work), let your teacher know and silence your phone so you don’t disrupt others.  Ideally, though, turn your phone on silent and leave it in your bag or car so you can avoid the distraction.
  • Lotion. Try not to apply lotion to your hands, knees, or feet a couple hours before class.  If you do, be sure to wash your hands well just before class to remove any oils so your hands will stick to the mat.
  • A full stomach. Yoga is excellent at aiding digestion between all the folding and twisting, and therefore, it’s not advised to eat 2 hours before you practice.  If you need a pre-workout snack, choose something light and easy to digest.  On that note, be sure to use the restroom prior to class.

Set yourself up for success by:

  • Arriving early so you have time to check in, set up, and use the restroom without feeling rushed. Note where the teacher is set up.  Though tempting to set up in the back of class, ideally, choose a spot where the teacher is clearly visible in the middle or front of the class.  I know, you don’t want to feel like everyone is looking at you, but trust me.  They aren’t.  They will be too focused on what they are doing to notice anyone else.  It will be a lot easier to follow if you can clearly see and hear the teacher.
  • Introducing yourself to the teacher and let them know you are new to yoga. This helps both you and the teacher.  The teacher will be sure to include more beginner-friendly cues and also check on your form a bit more throughout class.

Finally, here are few things to expect:

  • Strange – or – Sanskrit words. Not all teachers use Sanskrit, but some do.  Sanskrit is an ancient Indic language and the language of yoga, therefore many teachers will use the Sanskrit pose names in class, but many also don’t.  Often it depends on the teacher’s training, preference, and the class setting.  All this to say, expect to possibly hear another language, but know that the teacher will guide you into Adho Mukha Svanasana in English, or the language of your location, too!  We don’t chant “om” at SAS, but you may encounter and pre and post class “om” in a studio.  This beautiful chant is wonderful way to center and connect with your body, your class, the room, and the world.  Sure, as a newbie, skip it if you’d like, and just enjoy the beautiful music of the room.
  • Sitting, standing, laying down, moving, and intentional breathing are all part of a typical yoga class. Depending on the class description, you may do more or less of each of these components.  For example, a “flow” class might start laying down for centering (a.k.a. focusing, bringing your attention to yourself, and letting go of the rest of your day), move to seated warm up with attention brought to your breath, followed by a standing, moving sequence of poses, and end again with more breathing and laying on your back.  “Flow” simply means you’ll flow through yoga poses, often with your breath.  In Restorative Yoga, you will have very little movement and a lot more propped up sitting and laying on your back, side, or belly.  Be sure to check out the class description so you’ll know a little more about the flow of the class.
  • Props.  Blankets, bolsters, blocks, straps, eye pillows, and even chairs may be used in class to aid in form, lengthen your arms or legs, assist in making poses more available or comfortable, or help you relax. Your teacher will specify what you need for class, but if she or he doesn't, at the very least, grab a blanket.  It may come in handy later as a knee cushion, pillow, or even as a blanket when you feel cool at the end of class.
  • Hands “at heart center” or “in prayer position.” This is not to pray, unless you want to of course, but a gesture that signifies to seal or sign and helps us bring our attention inward.  Often, hands at heart center is accompanied by “Namaste” at the end and/or the beginning of class.
  • "Namaste." The teacher and class may salute one another with a “Namaste” which is an Indian greeting that means “I salute the divine in you from the divine in me” or “I salute your spirit from my spirit.”  Again, as a rookie, say it if you’d like, skip it if you want.

Now you’re ready!  Grab your yoga mat and hit up a class or two or more! Not sure where to start?  Check out your gym’s class schedule and local studios.  SAS Employee in the Cary area?  We’re proud we provide SAS Employees with yoga daily at the Recreation and Fitness Center.  Check out the class schedule!

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About Author

Amanda Pack

Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator

Amanda received her Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Passionate about health and fitness, Amanda worked in the fitness and wellness industry for 6 years prior to joining the Recreation and Fitness Center team in 2011. At the RFC, she enjoys sharing her passion with the SAS Community through personal training, group exercise instruction, teaching yoga, and coaching recreational endurance athletes. A wife, working mother, triathlete, and yogini herself, wellness is an important theme in both her personal and professional life. Amanda is registered through Yoga Alliance as a 200 hour Yoga Teacher (RYT200), certified in personal training and group exercise instruction through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and is an IRONMAN Certified Coach.

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