Frequently asked questions…
Here’s the skinny on the basics for starting to do yoga
by Fiona Harley
When I go to a class, what should I expect?
Er… as little as possible? Seriously, approach it with few expectations and an open mind, but, presumably, you are doing yoga because you think it will be good for you. In my experience, and those of the yogis and yoga practitioners I know, it works. The benefits are many and various so, in no particular order here are some of the areas that yoga can help with. It can help you tone and sculpt the body, lose weight, improve circulation, help reinvigorate the body’s systems and organs and increase overall health. It can encourage better diet, increase strength, improve flexibility – particularly of the spine, work to clear the system of toxins, improve breathing, boost your immune system, help you look and feel younger than your years. It can assist you to find calm, peace and joy in yourself, it can decrease stress and anxiety, increase creativity and positivity, and generate a whole new set of questions about who you are and what you want to do with your life. Still interested?
Do I need to bring anything in particular to a yoga class? Do I need to bring a mat?
Just that open mind and willingness to embrace a new experience if you haven’t done any before (see also article Triple A) otherwise nothing, except perhaps water to replace that lost by sweat.
In most cases mats and other props will be provided. If you tend to get very cold easily, you may decide to bring a warm top or light blanket for any periods of lying down in rest/relaxation.
What should I wear?
Normal sportswear is fine. Roomy, comfortable stretchable fabrics are good. Bottoms are better high-waisted and not too long in the leg – so as you stretch your torso is still covered, and you don’t trip over the bottoms. Tops – again long to cover the body, if they’re reasonably tight fitting then they won’t fall down when you are in inverted positions, also probably best not to have them too low cut! A sweatshirt/longsleeved top can be useful to keep the body warm when lying down. Socks and shoes aren’t worn. So clean feet are nice!
Should I eat before or after?
Ideally, don’t eat for at least an hour before a class, and preferably not too large a meal. Wait until afterwards, you may also find your appetite is slightly diminished so you will not want to eat quite so much, or of food that is heavily fatty or rich.
Should I shower/bathe before or after?
Unlike a normal gym class for example, it is better to prepare the body by washing beforehand so you are clean when you start. At the end of the class you may well lie or sit in a relaxation pose, which will give the body time to reabsorb any salts/minerals sweated onto the skin. The state of being yoga leaves you in means you will probably not want to ‘shower it away’ until some time has passed.
How do I find a suitable yoga class or teacher?
There are yoga centres that can advise on classes according to your level. You can go to the British Wheel of Yoga website to find teachers who are qualified and insured in your area. You can check with your local authority if they offer classes. Or you can try some of the classes on offer at your local gym, church or village hall. Read yoga magazines or books to see who is writing about some aspect you are interested in. There are lots of celebrity yoga teachers these days whose classes you can sign up for, but I would say that you may get more out of them if you already have quite of lot of yoga experience (unless they are offering beginners classes). And there are many, many fantastic teachers around who are not particularly well-known.
Finding a teacher that you actually like is important. It may take you a couple of goes to find someone who you resonate with/feel comfortable around. When you do, stick with them for a while, rather that restlessly searching around going to different teachers for different experiences.
Do I have to go regularly?
It is like anything else, it really helps if you can go, say, at least once a week. If you get into a routine with it, its much easier – if you miss a class, it is a bit harder to go the next time, so, make it a habit if you can, and you will find it easier to keep it up.
I am really stiff, so can I do yoga?
One of the most frequently heard comments is this one – and its easy to answer because one of the main reasons to do yoga is to become less stiff! Its amazing actually, how quickly the body begins to become more supple. Being stiff should spur you to go to classes, not put you off!
How do I know what style of yoga to go for? Its really confusing!*
Yes, it can be! However, if you want a beginner class, just look to see that it is offered to beginners, OR is a mixed class. Either should be fine. Anything styled Hatha yoga will give you a good flavour of general yoga practise, usually offering a mix of physical work with breath work and perhaps some meditation. Flow or vinyasa yoga can be a little more challenging for a beginner as it works with sequences of poses. Ashtanga is quite strong, generally, though not necessarily, and unless marked for beginners is probably better approached if you’re very young, fit, flexible and/or have experience of yoga. Kundalini and Tantra work with the energetic body and mind, offering aspects of working with chakras, sound and visualisation as well as asanas, for example. Iyengar yoga is a tried and tested system which uses props to assist in poses and is quite systematic, for example, it tends not to offer pranayamas until people have a few years experience of the asanas. A relative newcomer is ‘hot’ yoga classes, a fixed system of poses in a very hot room. Do approach with care if you have any health problems that may be exacerbated by the high temperature. They can be effective for certain conditions such as excema however. If you go for yoga to Satyananda or Sivananda centres, the asanas are very much the same as anywhere else, but may be called by different names… and there is generally a more Eastern approach, using Sanskrit chanting for example, and perhaps more emphasis on the meditative side. There are many varieties of yoga available: yoga with music (Yogabeats with David Sye for example) laughter yoga, yoga for kids, dogs, babies, over 60s, sportspeople… I’ve even seen yoga-and-knitting classes offered! All cater for slightly different audiences, all give different emphases, but at the end of the day yoga is yoga and ultimately its your own response to what you’re doing and feeling that is important. If you see a class and you’re interested, try to talk to the teacher and find out a bit more about the class and whether it is suitable for you.
So, find a teacher you like, a time that you can do it regularly, the rest will surely follow…
*NB The run down of different types of yoga is just a snapshot of what is out there, and my own personal take. There is a great deal more to be said about all of them. I hope it is useful however in serving beginners to see their way through the many different classes on offer