What to really expect at your first yoga class

Are you thinking about hitting up your first yoga class?

If so, then you’ve probably spent a good deal of time researching what to expect.  In fact, I’d guess that before reading this, you just read fifteen identical articles by someone with a name like “Blissful Yogini.”  Congratulations!  Now you know to “Drink water!” and “Breathe!”  Did those tips set your mind at ease about what to expect in your first class?

Well, if your brain is anything close to the train wreck happening between my ears, chances are those articles just made you feel more anxious.

So, I’m here to break it down for you.  Based entirely on personal experience (which I have embellished for dramatic purposes), here’s a rundown of what you can realistically expect at your first yoga class.

The Regulars

When you walk into the room, you’ll be freaked out.  A number of people will have already set up their mats.  Most likely, these “regulars” claim the same spot at that class every time it is offered.  Look for spots on the floor that have been “marked” by regular’s sweat.  Steer clear of those locations.  Whatever you do, don’t look a regular in the eyes – it may be wrongly perceived as a territory grab.

For your first class, It’s best to arrive between 4 and 7 minutes prior to the beginning of class.  That way, the neurotic regulars will have already set out their mats, but the haggard late arrivers will not yet have started to trickle in.

Where to set up your mat

I recommend grabbing a spot as far in the back left or right corner as possible.

a cartoon by rob pollak - yoga for beginners

You will inevitably think that everyone in the class will stare at you and judge you while you’re doing yoga.  That’s not true:  Only some of the people will be doing that.

Setting up in the back allows you to see what other people are doing most of the time.  You will think that it will also make you invisible to the rest of the class, but it won’t.  Remember that half the time the class will have their heads buried between their legs or will be in some weird twist that allows them to make direct eye contact with you.  Try your best to avoid feeling self-conscious when everyone in the room is looking in the general direction of the midsection bulge that makes you feel badly about yourself.  Everyone is too self involved to notice.

Before Class Starts

In general, people sit quietly before class starts.  Other articles will tell you that this is a good time to sit mindfully and think about the events that are about to transpire.  In actuality, this time should be spent trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone else in class.  This is particularly difficult when there is a mirror in the front of the room.   Just stare blatantly at others only until they’re just about to catch your gaze, then quickly avert your eyes.

Meanwhile, you may notice that a few of the regulars (particularly the older ones) will be “warming up.”  A proper warmup consists of 3-5 minutes dedicated to dry humping the yoga mat.  Although it will be difficult, try not to react to the audible moans or mmmmmms that they emit while in a warm up.  Those sounds are totally normal.  Actually, they’re not normal.  They’re totally tolerated.

Gender Specific Advice

A brief side note for the guys:  Being surrounded by attractive women in yoga pants is an enormous benefit to this form of exercise.  Don’t screw it up by gawking.  There will be plenty of opportunities for a little peek during class.  But be discreet so you don’t Eff it up for everyone else.

A brief note for the ladies:  You know those purple yoga pants you wear?  Well, they become see through when stretched in a certain way.  Like totally completely transparent.  Thought you might want to know.  Nice thong by the way.

What happens to yoga pants when stretched - a drawing

The Beginning of Class

Eventually, the teacher will enter the room.  If you aren’t sure if the teacher has arrived, wait to see if a regular has jumped up to enthusiastically hug someone.  That’s the teacher.  Most likely, their friendship is entirely one-sided, but just forget I mentioned that when you become a regular yourself.

Many classes begin with the teacher asking you to come to a comfortable seat.  Note that by “comfortable” the teacher really means that you should sit with a completely erect back, your legs crossed in an unnatural way, your shoulders pulled back, your chin slightly protruding up, and your hands resting awkwardly on your thighs.  It is not only completely not comfortable, but also painful.

You may be asked to close your eyes and look within yourself.  For the first six months of my yoga practice, I used this time to awkwardly gaze around the room and ask myself, “what the hell am I doing here?”  You may catch eyes with the other person who is incapable of closing his eyes.  If that occurs, immediately close your eyes and pretend like it never happened.

The Poses

Once class gets underway, the teacher will guide you through various poses.  Sometimes, these will be called out in Sanskrit.  You will have no idea what is happening.  Just look around and do what everyone else does.  For reference, I’ve put together a chart of poses that you’re likely to encounter during your first class:

Yoga poses for beginners explained through pictures - A drawing by Rob Pollak

During these poses, the teacher will be instructing you on how to breathe.  Things like “Breathe in” – pause – “Breathe out” – pause.  These instructions in no way mirror the actuality of your breath.  For each “breathe in” instruction, I typically have 7-10 in breaths and 3-5 out breath gasps.

The final pose

The final pose is called Shavasana.  You lie on your back like a corpse and rest.  Of all the things you’ve done during your first class, none will make you feel more like an idiot than lying on the floor and resting.  The teacher will explain the purpose of this pose and instruct you to try to stop thinking about all the anxieties that you have in life.  This instruction will call all those anxieties, which you had not been thinking about until that very moment, to the forefront of your attention.  You may get angry and frustrated.  You’ll wonder how long you could possibly have to lie there.  You will hate yoga.  You will try to look at the clock. And then, for one brief second, you’ll get it.  Something incredible will happen and you will feel rested and amazing and about ready to succumb to the belief that there is something greater in the world.

At that very moment, the teacher will call you back to attention and tell you to sit up.  A second later, you will forget the revelation that you just had.  You will be frustrated.

But at the end of class, when you stand up, a bit of that feeling will return.  You won’t know what exactly just happened to you or understand why, but you’ll feel taller, smarter, more self aware, stronger, thinner, fitter, healthier, heartier, more loving, funnier, and confident.  Congratulations, you’re now a yogi.

(If you love, click on this article at the Elephant Journal and join me on Facebook)

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24 thoughts on “What to really expect at your first yoga class

  1. I think I’m going to print this out and hand it to all my new students on their first day. I only wish I had this for my students when I first started teaching… Especially the tip about yoga pants.

  2. Holy shit this is the best thing I have read since switching over to WordPress … only thing is where were you before I hit my first class – Geesh! IF I ever go back – and I do mean IF – I will print out your stick figures for a little cheat-sheet … hey know there’s an idea for a business …

  3. Pingback: More Links of Niftiness | Anytime Yoga

  4. I have some odd desire to go to yoga and see if the purple yoga pants thing holds up. So, so, so true on all counts! If only I read this sooner! When you make stick-figure cheat sheets do let me know. I’d like one in index card and wallet size please.

  5. Great article. I’m a regular/teacher and you got my spot exactly right…and I’m older, so yes I might warm up a bit. Lol.. I hope I’m not a moaner but if I am thanks for making me aware, I prefer to do my dry humping in private. It’s so awesome to see how these activities might look to the new comer. I hope you dream of being famous comes true:)

  6. Pingback: What to really expect at your first yoga class | Rox Does Yoga

  7. Pingback: Real Answers to All of My Ridiculous Parenting Questions | Rob Complains About Things

  8. Pingback: The Culmination of My Spiritual Journey | Rob Complains About Things

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