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Having practiced yoga for decades, it’s often easy to forget the mind of a beginner.
As a teacher, I’m reminded of it when someone takes the courageous steps to give something new a try and enter a yoga studio or class for the very first time.
Things that seasoned practitioners take for granted—taking your socks off, knowing how to roll out a mat, and knowing what to do with a yoga brick—are common questions of a first time yogi. It takes courage and the willingness to be vulnerable to come to a yoga class for the first time, particularly if you are on your own.
As a teacher, I am always focused on teaching to the beginner in class while offering modifications to the more seasoned practitioners.
To be clear, a skilled yoga teacher will always make a first time yoga class experience safe and beneficial for those who make the choice to show up. However, with experience, I’ve come to believe that perhaps the best first time experience isn’t in the class setting but with a private one-on-one mentoring session.
If you’ve been following a particular instructor on social media who you feel resonates with you, or perhaps you have had recommendations from others in your community, reach out to that instructor to set up some one-on-one time.
I believe this type of first time experience is beneficial for the following reasons:
1. It minimizes any first time anxiety.
The instructor will be able to guide you through your first practice and answer questions you may have, like: What clothing should I wear? Should I bring water or something to hydrate myself during the practice?
Upon arrival, the instructor can focus their attention on getting you set up with what props to have nearby, explaining the benefits of practicing barefoot or with grip socks, and making sure to answer any questions you may have in a way that does not feel rushed or within the confines of a class starting quickly.
2. It helps you determine why you have chosen yoga.
In private conversations, I often hear that someone has tried yoga and felt it wasn’t for them. In some cases, that very well may be the case.
But, with deeper questioning, we often learn that they did not find the right class or instructor to suit their “why” for choosing yoga.
In a private session, the instructor can help you determine which class or combination of classes may be best for you. Perhaps it’s for physical strength, restoration of the body, relaxation and stress management, mobility, or spiritual connection. A seasoned instructor can help address your specific needs, and in addition to guiding you to the right classes, perhaps open your mind to other possibilities that yoga has to offer.
Many new yoga practitioners aren’t aware yet that yoga is an eight-limbed tree of self-care and self-actualization and that the asana practice is just one part. Is it too late to shift the vernacular to, “I am going to asana class” instead of “yoga class?”
3. You learn to decode the language of the asana practice.
Personally, I minimize Sanskrit terminology in my class and prioritize cueing the physical movements before calling out the anglo terms of yoga poses. However, for a total newcomer, it’s not uncommon to spend much of your first class feeling frustrated and mentally exhausted from trying to decipher a whole new language: Upward Facing Dog, Mountain Pose, Warrior One, Warrior Two…how many warriors are there?
In a private session, your instructor can you guide you through the basic poses and their names, and help you get more familiar with how they feel in your body. Then, when you do arrive to a class, you minimize the risk of injury that results from looking around while in a pose, and feeling frustrated with the pace, particularly if the class moves quickly in a vinyasa style.
4. You learn how to modify for your unique body.
While the instructor’s role is to offer modifications in class, often times we can’t possibly be aware of every condition that a person may be facing.
Take advantage of this one-on-one setting to explain to the teacher your personal conditions on all levels—physically, mentally, and spiritually. This not only sets up a relationship for the class setting, but provides an opportunity to teach you the modifications that may work best for you and give you the confidence to incorporate them into a class setting.
The reality is that a teacher can offer modifications, but it takes a certain amount of confidence and understanding to be the only one to take it in class. In a private mentoring session, there is time to understand that the modification is not “lesser than” but an alternative. You can also use the dialogue to explore options for yourself. Maybe the modification needs modification, and working with your teacher, you can create an option that works perfectly for the unique being you are.
5. You develop a connection with your teacher.
In a one-on-one session with your instructor, you can begin the journey together. You can assess how you are arriving and establish your baseline. Your instructor can help you to craft your personal goals, which more than likely will change and develop as you continue your practice.
The instructor can also get to know you as an individual, so that we can be of the best service for your way of learning. Are you comfortable with hands-on assists? Do you learn better with visual instruction? Do you want to be encouraged to challenge yourself? Is the community of a class something you want to be drawn into or do you prefer to turn inward on your mat?
While a private session will undoubtedly cost more than a single group class experience, the focused time and energy of an instructor is a wise investment in starting off your yoga journey in a customized, safe way.