New to Yoga? What to Expect in Your First Studio Class
Hey Readers! I am so happy you are here! In today's blog post, I will give an overview of what you might expect when you go to your first yoga class at a studio. Just a heads up - the images used in this blog post come from the yoga studio I teach and practice at, Breathe Yoga Atlanta, in Cumming, GA. This studio is so inclusive and accepting of ALL students. In addition to in-person classes, Breathe Yoga Atlanta (BYA) also offers livestream and on-demand classes, so you can practice with BYA from anywhere in the world! Okay, back on track.
Yoga is a practice that everyBODY can do because there is truly is a style of yoga for everyone. The field of yoga is vast and spans a wide spectrum of options. Many people want to try yoga but feel nervous or intimidated about going to a yoga studio for the first time, especially students who are brand new to the practice of yoga. And that is totally understandable, as new places and people often make everyone feel a little anxious! The good news is - yoga studios are very welcoming and inviting to new students. In fact, yoga studios LOVE meeting new students and sharing the gift of yoga with them.
So, what is yoga anyways? Yoga is a mind-body practice that originated in India several thousand years ago. The practice of yoga typically includes meditation, breathing practices, and some type of physical movement (the intensity of the physical movement depends on the type of yoga and level of the class). The goal in yoga is to unite the body, breath, and mind. In its true form, yoga is a noncompetitive, nonjudgmental practice. Yoga is about accepting what YOUR body can, and cannot, do on a given day. In yoga, you learn to honor YOUR body by being kind and gentle to yourself, while also challenging your body to learn and grow.
Yoga is not about contorting your body into impossible shapes as you might see on social media or television. Yoga is also not about wearing the newest, most expensive athletic attire, as is sometimes depicted on television. And, yoga is not just for flexible or fit people (click here to read about common yoga myths). Yoga is different than most other forms of physical fitness because the emphasis in yoga is to unite the different layers of your being, and this is accomplished by acting in ways that feel authentic to you on a given day.
Prepping Your First Studio Class
Before you show up to your first studio class, search the internet for local studios in your area and check out the website for each studio. Most studio websites will describe their mission as it relates to yoga and wellness, list their current class schedule and upcoming workshops, and give short biographies of their teachers. I highly recommend that you read some, or all, of that information so you can determine if the studio is the right fit for YOU. While many core features of a yoga studio are similar, each studio will be unique and different in their approach to human movement, wellness, and the practice of yoga.
When you find a studio that resonates with your personal values, check out the studio's schedule and class descriptions (this is usually on their website). If you are not sure what class is best for you, try taking a gentle yoga class first. Gentle yoga is usually slower-paced with easier poses, and it is fabulous for beginner yogis. Another option is to take an all-levels flow class (sometimes called "Yoga for EveryBody"), as these classes typically offer modifications to make your practice easier or more challenging for your body.
Once you find a class that fits your needs, you will want to sign up in advance. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many yoga studios are limiting class sizes to keep students safe from the germies. Most studios allow online booking, either on their website or through a third party scheduling system (e.g. MindBody, Schedulicity, etc.). Many studios also have their own app that you can use to book your classes. If scheduling in advance is not your style, yoga studios usually allow you to "drop in" without booking in advance. The downside to this is that Covid or not, you run the risk of not being able to get a spot in the class. Some yoga class teachers and times book up really fast, several days in advance.
Many yoga studios offer a "New Student Special," where you typically get unlimited yoga classes for a span of time (often 2-4 weeks) for a very low rate (e.g. $49). Personally, I think this is the BEST option for new students because it gives you an opportunity to try classes from multiple instructors and at different times of the day. You might not connect well with one teacher but you might find that a different teacher/class is the PERFECT fit for you. You might also find you prefer the studio at a certain time of day (e.g. early morning versus evening), so the New Student Special gives you a chance to find that out.
If the New Student Special does not work for you, you can simply reserve your class spot by paying a "drop-in" fee, which varies from studio to studio (e.g. usually $20-30 for the class). Often the "drop in" fee is the most expensive option per class, but it does give you an opportunity to experience the studio without spending too much. Yoga studios do offer other options as well, such as class packages (e.g. 5-, 10-, 20-class packages) and recurring, monthly memberships (typically costing around $109 - 140 per month), but these are usually purchased once you know the studio is the right fit for you. Many yoga studios now also offer livestream classes (where you practice from your home or elsewhere), in addition to in-person classes, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, most studios now sell online-only memberships, where you usually get unlimited access to livestream classes. Online memberships generally cost around $30-40 per month.
Most yoga studios supply yoga mats and props (click here to read more about yoga props) for in-person classes. However, you might want to check with your studio prior to your first class because some studios are not sharing any mats or props during the COVID-19 pandemic. If your studio is not sharing mats and props, you will need to get a yoga mat for your practice. Most yoga studios sell yoga mats, so you could buy one at the studio. Or, you can purchase yoga mats from sporting goods stores (e.g. REI, Dicks, etc.), athletic apparel stores (e.g. Athleta, Lululemon), Amazon, Target, and many other places. The prices of yoga mats vary quite widely, with some costing as low as $15/mat and some costing $100 or more. Personally, I have found that the more expensive yoga mats are LIGHT YEARS better (re: stability, slippage, size, and cushion) than the inexpensive mats. Plus, the more expensive yoga mats last much longer than the inexpensive ones.
Regarding attire, definitely wear something that you can easily move around in. Yoga pants, a sports bra (if applicable), and a relatively fitted tank or tee are generally good options. Yoga is typically practiced barefoot, as bare feet can really help to improve your balance. Some yogis wear "sticky socks" (e.g. Barre-type socks) for various reasons (e.g. sweaty feet that make gripping the yoga mat more challenging), but most people practice without socks. If you do feel that wearing socks is a must for your body, then I definitely recommend wearing a pair of sticky socks, as these socks are meant to grip the floor/mat so that your feet don't slide around too much.
Arriving to Your First Studio Class
Most studios ask that students arrive about 10-15 minutes before the class starts. This is especially important if it is your first class at the studio, as this gives you time to sign any waivers and other paperwork. Yoga studios typically have a reception area, where students are checked into class and retail is sold. There will typically be a person (sometimes it's the teacher) that will check you into the class when you arrive.
All studios have a spot with cubbies or shelves (could be in the reception area or might be elsewhere inside the studio) for students to place their shoes, purse, phone, etc. Don't worry about leaving your items unattended. Yoga studios lock their doors during class, so your belongings should be safe. It is a general rule that shoes and cell phones are not allowed in the actual yoga room. Yoga is best practiced barefoot and cell phones are a distraction which goes against the main purposes of yoga, which is to work on being present and focused.
If you are borrowing a yoga mat and/or props, the teacher or front desk attendant can help get those items for you, and he/she can show you around the studio (e.g. bathrooms, water, etc.). Once you find a spot in the yoga room, you can interact with other students or you can sit or lie quietly on your yoga mat until the class begins.
Taking Your First Studio Class
If you are new to yoga, or if it has been a really long time since you last practiced yoga, there is likely to be a lot of new terminology and movements for your body. For starters, yoga poses, referred to as "asanas" (AH-suh-nuhs"), all have names in Sanskrit, the so-called language of yoga. Some teachers use these names when teaching, but they typically say the English names too (e.g. down dog; forward fold). It also takes time (usually a few classes) to get used to following the instructions from the teacher (e.g. pivot on your right heel; step your right foot through between your hands; etc.), just like it would with any novel motor task. But, just like with any motor task, your brain and muscles adapt, learn, and get better at it over time. Another common issue with new yogis is wrist pain and discomfort. There are certain yoga poses (e.g. table, down dog, etc.) that place a lot of weight onto the wrists. Most new yogis notice that their wrists may be a little sore in the beginning, but as the muscles in the wrists, forearms, shoulders, and core get stronger, this discomfort usually goes away almost completely.
The general sequence of an all-levels or gentle yoga class typically includes the following components, with the details of each component being highly variable between classes and teachers:
Starting with some type of centering, which often includes breath work (known as "pranayama" in yoga). This portion of class usually lasts about 5-10 minutes, and helps to focus the mind on the body and breath for the rest of class.
Gentle warming movements come next. These movements often include simple, dynamic stretches, which prepares the muscular, skeletal, and nervous systems for the work to come. This portion of class usually lasts about 10-20 minutes.
The main course follows next. This portion of class includes the main sequence that the teacher has planned for class. The main sequence usually includes poses, or asanas, that are more complicated from a strength, biomechanics, and/or motor planning perspective. This portion of class usually lasts around 20-25 minutes.
The cooling and stretching portion comes next. In this section of class, the body is slowly brought into relaxation via various stretches and gentle movements, sort of the opposite of the warming portion of class. This segment of class typically lasts about 5-10 minutes.
Resting pose follows after the cooling section. In resting pose, also known as Savasana (Shuh-VAHS-uh-nuh), the goal is simple - just rest. No work or effort is needed in this pose. The student simply lies on his/her back, in a comfortable position for about 5-10 minutes.
The final portion of class is the ending ritual. This usually involves 1-2 final stretches or gentle movements, bowing the head, and verbally sealing the practice with the word "namaste" (which means that the pure, beautiful light within me sees and honors the pure, beautiful light within you).
After class, you may choose to wipe down your mat with cleanser provided by the studio. Then, you can put shoes/socks back and retrieve your belongings. This is also a great opportunity to ask the teacher any questions you might have from class.
After Taking Your First Studio Class
You will likely notice that your attention and awareness is much better after your yoga class. Yogis typically report feeling more opened, relaxed, settled, and calm after their yoga practice. Your muscles might feel a little sore over the next 24-48 hours, as you will likely have moved your muscles in novel ways. But not to worry, this is simply part of how your muscles, bones, and nervous system respond to new stimuli. A lot of yogis also report improved sleep on the day of their yoga practice.
It's also possible that you will come out of your first class feeling like you could not do many of the movements cued in class. That is totally normal! Most people feel like "WTF?!" in their first couple of yoga classes. But, after a few classes, your movement system will begin to adapt and get better at executing the different movements. So, don't give up! Keep coming back to your mat and trying again for the next class because the psychological and physiological benefits of a regular yoga practice are numerous.
Starting your yoga journey at a local studio is such a fun and exciting time, but it can also cause some worry and nervousness since it is new and different. Know that you are not alone. Most new students are a little anxious before trying a studio for the first time, just as most humans feel nervous when trying anything new. Take some time to search the internet for local yoga studios in your area, and then take a little more time to read the information on the studio's website. Once you find the right fit for your personal values, book your first class either by paying a "drop in" fee or purchasing a New Student Special. Arrive to your first studio class a little early so you have time to sign paperwork and get situated in a spot. Take the yoga class with an open mind and let go of any expectations on what the class should, or should not, be. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally during and after your class. And do not give up if you feel super confused after your first class. Keep coming to more classes because over time, your muscles, bones, and nervous system will motor learn and get better at the various poses. Happy yoga-ing! Thanks for reading!
**Please note - all the images used in this blog post were taken from the yoga studio I practice and teach at - Breathe Yoga Atlanta, in Cumming, GA.
As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of neuroscience, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about your yoga practice, please consult with your physician, physical therapist, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga sessions with me, Jackie, you can book services on my website ("Book Online" from the menu at the top of the page), or you can email me at email@example.com for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!
~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT