Your First Yoga Class: Awareness 101
Going to a yoga class for the first time can be extremely intimidating…I remember how confused I was in my first class – I couldn’t seem to tell the difference between my left and right! I remember looking around at everyone to see what I was “supposed” to be doing, but I couldn’t even move fast enough to keep up! The worst part was that the teacher’s adjustments made me incredibly self-conscious that I was doing it “wrong,” and that everyone was looking at me. And how many freakin’ times were we going to do Chaturanga Dandasana?!?! (Chaturanga Dandasana is basically yoga’s version of a push-up.) This isn’t what I signed up for! This is terrible!
But here’s the thing – over the years, I learned that yoga isn’t about any of the things my mind was focused on in my first class. If you can get up the courage to get yourself to that first class, you create infinite potential for self-discovery – and with self-discovery comes positive change.
Allow me to offer a hint on how to begin that process of discovery:
Listen to your body, not only your teacher.
This may sound a little rebellious, but hear me out. Yoga, at its core, is about developing an awareness of the subtle experiences within our body, mind, emotions and spirit. You go to the gym to train your body; you go to yoga to train your awareness. Training the awareness is a solo sport. And despite your mental reaction to the chick in expensive yoga gear, doing the most perfect, effortless headstand ever…it’s not competitive.
In a traditional yoga practice, we begin with the physical body and move inwards towards the more subtle elements of the body and the self. For most of us, our yoga journey begins with the postures taught in a yoga class. So this is where we begin Awareness 101.
When you first begin to practice…
The duration of your “awareness training” is equal to the duration of the class…but as time goes on and your practice deepens, your awareness becomes consistent and constant.
For our first lesson in Awareness 101, become aware of how your body is feeling in every pose –observing areas of flexibility and tightness, strength and weakness. Notice whether you are grounded and stable in a pose. Observe if you are engaging your muscles with ease or with tension – or not at all. Finally, notice your breath and feel where it is landing in the body. Is it relaxed, or strained? Deep or shallow? Go deeper into the pose with the breath, if you’re in a place of comfort – or back off a bit if you are struggling.
Find your experience of the pose.
Ask yourself how you can make it more powerful and more peaceful. Every time you change postures, do it mindfully, while performing these simple awareness exercises. Remember: if you are practicing with awareness, it doesn’t matter what your practice looks like – it is true yoga. If your practice is mindless…you are doing gymnastic stretches.
The goal is to be relaxed, stable, steady and strong in every posture, with an even, nurturing breath. In yoga, finding this place of relaxed, steady stability trumps exertion and struggle. So often in life, we push ourselves aggressively to achieve our goals. In yoga and through yoga, we learn to gently guide ourselves in the direction of our goals, not necessarily knowing where we will end up or what we are capable of – but simply being deeply aware of the process and calmly accepting whatever may come.
Let your teacher guide you in and out of postures, but let your awareness be your True North.