As is well known in my group of friends, I love Bikram Yoga and I love how the heat really warms your muscles so you can experience deeper stretches into the poses. Bikram Yoga is not the only form of yoga available to practice. There are many different types of studios and many different styles of yoga to practice. So I want to help guide you into the right type of practice for you. It may be following along with the videos that will be posted daily on this blog, it may be going to your first hot yoga class at a Bikram studio, or finding a studio that matches your fitness level. In today’s blog post we’re going to discuss simply preparing for your first experience on an emotional, physical, and practical basis. The practical preparation will include an actual list of what to bring, how to dress, and how to eat before class. No one expects you to do everything perfectly, you will be welcomed as you are with no expectations. So let’s get started on the first steps towards a better yoga experience.
The Emotional Experience: Yoga classes have their share of hot bodied, flexible, beautiful people and if you’re like me, you are walking into your first class fat, winded, and filled with low self-esteem. To be confronted with those hot bodies wearing yoga wear, which is substantially less than you would wear to a gym and more like what you wear to a day at the beach, can be very harsh. Especially since at every studio I have ever practiced at is filled with mirrors that scream, ‘I SEE YOU, YOU FAT PIG.’ The reality is you are seeing yourself as you really are. At almost every studio I have practiced at over the last five years, the instructor tells the students to look at the mirror throughout the class and focus on yourself and to ignore everyone else.
There is an unwritten rule of privacy in a yoga studio. You may look quickly at others who are more experienced in the poses to make sure you are following the instructions correctly, but eye contact and staring at others is not ever the norm. The person you stare at is yourself and the person everyone else is staring at is themselves. You get to see yourself as you really are and that can have the power to wake you up from the life numbing slumber of your existence.
Yes, you–like me–fell asleep at the wheel of life and your body, like mine is a wreck and there it is in front of you in a mirror staring back at you. Questioning you, asking you what you are going to do about it? Suddenly you realize that no one else is looking at you, they are all looking at themselves having the same experience, or if they are the perfect people, they are looking at themselves, seeing their own flaws that go beyond the physical. Those perfect bodied people are also respecting you and the choice you made to change.
What you don’t see is that many of these people who appear perfect walked into their first yoga studio completely wrecked emotionally and physically and have gone through the life transformation that yoga can offer. They honor your presence and welcome you to the studio by respecting your privacy as you explore who you really are in the mirror. So as you stand there staring at yourself in the mirror, honor your first step towards health and fitness by looking at the person staring back, really look at that person and allow your emotions to be explored as you work out for the next 90 minutes.
The Physical Experience: Your body, if it is like mine, has not moved like this ever. Or if you are a naturally flexible person, you can do the poses but you don’t have the stamina to hold them for 60 seconds. There are many poses that I can’t do, YET! There will be many poses you can’t do. You will notice that the people around you can really go deep into poses and your body’s physical limitations will make you want to run from the class. For myself, my big old gut gets in the way of many forward bends, my shoulders are locked tighter than Fort Knox, and my hips regardless of how much I shimmy and shake to Shakira’s “My Hips Don’t Lie”, my hips do lie! Seriously!
When I started yoga, I would physically force myself and struggle to get as close to a pose as possible, which would still be worlds away from me, but I fought and pulled myself towards those poses and hurt myself several times. Yoga at first was a physically painful experience; simply touching my toes I could feel muscles stretch and pull and my breathing would accelerate and my heart rate would beat out of control. I would collapse on my mat feeling exhausted, simply weak and stupid.
It was not until I figured out how to breathe into the poses and move slowly towards the direction of the pose that I began to get it. So to physically prepare for your first yoga class, I want you to do be kind to your body and relax. Follow the instructor and breath slowly into your poses. Don’t hurt yourself by over exerting. Respect where your body takes you to naturally, breathe deeply and on the exhale relax deeper into the pose. Your body will naturally surrender to your movements over time and yoga is a lifelong practice and each class prepares for a deeper physical expression of the pose in the next class. It might only be a slight improvement, but it will be an improvement.
Now with that said, you need to realize that sometimes you are going to have to be brave and go to the next step. Once you are deep as you can go, there are times when you will need to struggle to get to the next level in a pose. Those moments of physical struggle will be a challenge and generally impact the rest of your class. I will demonstrate these struggles in a later post in pictures and videos so that you can learn how to deal with the process of breaking through to a new and deeper pose.
The Practical Preparation: Every yoga studio has published guidelines for successful practice. They post those rules in the lobby of the studio, in the changing rooms, over the water fountain, at the front desk, and on the door into the studio. Take the time to read the rules of the studio you chose. For practical purposes this section of today’s blog post is going to deal with what you need to do to prepare to walk into your first class.
- Drink at least 32 ounces of water and complete drinking that water at least one hour prior to class. You are going to sweat in a yoga class whether it is hot yoga or not. You want to be adequately hydrated.
- Hit the restroom right before class; tinkle now and you won’t have to tinkle in class.
- Yoga–especially hot yoga–can be so sweaty that you are actually loosing mass quantities of electrolytes. Make sure you have enough electrolytes in your body. Eat a banana or two every day, drink coconut water after each class, or mix an electrolyte supplement into your water.
- Do not eat three to four hours in advance of class. You stomach will be bending forward and backwards. If your stomach is filled with food you will feel less than pleasant in class.
- Keep your last meal before class small, high in protein, and low in gas-producing foods.
- Bring a bottle of water to class.
- Bring your own mat and two towels. Most studios will rent you a mat and towels. The towels are to cover your mat to soak up the sweat and to shower afterwards, though many people choose to shower at home after class.
- Wear comfortable clothing that you can move in. I found that yoga wear is best. Yoga wear hold everything in place and allows you to move and bend without having to rearrange your clothes. Yoga wear also shows you your body as it is, but that can be a good thing.
- Arrive at least 15 minutes before class, so that you can change, select your spot, and relax before class. Being winded and rushed is no way to start yoga. You need to be able to leave the outside world behind.
I am emphatic about these rules for myself. It helps me prepare for a better class. When I first started more than four years ago, I got really bad headaches from electrolyte loss and inadequate hydration. I would get muscle spasms from not having enough potassium and I almost quit because I was so miserable. When I finally stopped struggling with the poses and listening to the instructor and my fellow students was when I learned about hydration and proper preparation for class. I want your first yoga class to be positive and I want you to be well prepared!