We've hosted a lot of Yoga 101 Beginners Workshops at Valley Vinyasa, so we have a pretty good handle on the most common questions asked by new students. Here's what we've found:
Should I stick with Beginners classes, or can I attend any class?
What do I do when I get to the studio?
What's with all the props? Do I need them?
How are studios around town different from each other? If I regularly attend class at your studio, will I be ok at another studio?
Do I need my own mat? Is it better to have my own?
Should I stick with Beginners or Gentle classes?
Great question, and the answer is...it depends. My advice to new students who call or email me is that it's probably best to invest in at least a beginners workshop and/or a handful of gentle yoga classes before jumping into other levels, just to establish a strong foundation of alignment, breathing, and an understanding of how a class works. Think of other activities you've taken up. If you wanted to start playing golf, while you could head straight to the first tee box, you'll probably be more comfortable and progress faster if you spend some time at the driving range, on the putting green, and in a few lessons. Of course, yoga isn't golf (thank goodness!), and it is possible to jump right in to an All Levels class and make modifications based on where your practice is. If that's the route you choose to go:
Ask around. Not all "All Levels" classes are the same. Ask a teacher or another student, or the studio owner which All Levels class(es) would be most suitable for someone at the beginning stage of a yoga practice.
Read the class description carefully to make sure you know exactly what to expect.
Come to class early and talk to the teacher before class. Make sure he knows you are a beginner so he can keep an eye on you and offer appropriate adjustments in certain postures.
Don't try to keep up with your neighbor. Chances are you'll be one of the least experienced students in class, and trying to keep up with the bendy yogi on the mat next to you could easily lead to an injury that could set your practice back weeks.
Set realistic expectations for the teacher and the class. "All (or Mixed) Levels typically means that the flow is faster and the teacher spends substantially less time on explanation, demonstration, and personal attention in order to keep the class moving. If you come to a more advanced class expecting the same level of attention you get in a basics class, you'll be disappointed.
What Do I Do When I Get to the Studio?
Of course, every studio is different, but here are a few things most require:
Disconnect. Turn OFF your cell phone. Don't put it on vibrate, put it on airplane mode or turn it off completely. You'll be surprised how quiet the class is at certain points, and a phone vibrating in someone's purse can definitely be a distraction.
Take off your shoes. Since we'll all be walking around barefoot, it's best if everyone removes their shoes upon entering the studio.
Sign in. Every studio has a slightly different procedure here, but at Valley Vinyasa (and most places), you are asked to put your name on the sign in sheet at the desk. Be sure you're signed in so that the studio's records are accurate. Special request from those of us who review the sign-in sheets: please write your name legibly :)
Introduce yourself to the teacher (she'll probably introduce herself to you first) and tell her you're new, what your prior experience is, and inform her of any injuries or other limitations you might have.
Put your mat down, grab your props (more on props below) and take the few minutes left before class to be still and get ready physically and mentally for class. Stretch, twist, or just lie on your back or sit on your mat, it doesn't matter. The important thing is that you start the important process of giving yourself over completely to yoga for the next 75 minutes.
What's With the Props?
The first time I went to a yoga class, the props just cracked me up. I couldn't imagine the possible uses for the straps, and all the blocks, and blankets, and yet everyone else seemed to be stocking up as if their yoga lives depended on these things.
Props, I've since learned, are the most valuable thing you've got to help you either get into a pose and/or deepen it, and are particularly valuable for new students. Do you need them all? Hard to tell, unless you know exactly what the teacher has planned, so it's best to grab a strap, 2 blocks, and a blanket while you're setting up, so you won't have to interrupt your practice to grab them mid-class. You can also ask the teacher what props he'd like you to have for the class.
How are Studios Around Town Different From One Another?
Here in St. Louis, there are well over a dozen traditional yoga studios, some similar to Valley Vinyasa, and some very different. If you'd like to add variety to your practice, or your schedule dictates that you have options in different parts of the city, you have a few options for figuring out what the best bet is for you:
Of course you can always visit each studio's website and compare their class descriptions. This should give you a fairly good idea, but you may also find that they all sound kind of...well, similar.
Call the studio and ask the owner (or desk person) about the style of yoga they practice. You can also tell them where else you've been practicing, as it's very possible they will be familiar with Valley Vinyasa or the other studios around town. Mentioning your teachers is another good idea; many yoga teachers teach at multiple studios or completed their teacher training at one of the local studios, so there's a lot of familiarity around town.
Ask your teacher, or email Jennifer or call her at 314-753-3661. We have practiced all over town and with a variety of teachers, and will probably be able to make some good recommendations based on your practice.
Do I Need My Own Mat?
No, you don't. You are welcome to use our studio mats any time you practice at Valley Vinyasa. Most studios offer student mats either free or for a small rental fee (to cover mat cleaning). In fact, if you're just starting out, and aren't sure if you're going to stick with it, why invest even $20 in equipment you may not need? If you're worried at all about hygiene, you can clean your studio mat before you practice (as well as after, for the next student) or bring a towel from home to put over your mat.
Once you have decided that yoga is in fact for you, you may decide that you want to bring your own mat to class. You can pick a mat that meets your needs for stickiness, cushion, and cost. Most students do choose to invest in a mat after a certain period of time, but there's no rush.