Teaching a student who is new to yoga is not an easy task, and not for every teacher. For me, it’s a deeply embedded part of my teaching practise and easily the most rewarding demographic to work with. I take a lot of joy in showing students how to enter the world of yoga asanas in a safe and healthy way. I stress modifications that allow the body to be as anatomically correct as possible while still focusing the body’s energy.

In each class I teach that is targeted at beginner level students I notice the same common errors and misgivings that really hold students back from reaching the full potential packed into these introduction classes. So here’s a quick list of the ten most important things to know as a new student to my, or anyone’s, yoga class.

1. Everyone starts somewhere, and chances are there are people in the room starting at the exact same point you are.
One of the biggest fears of new students is that they are not good enough at yoga to come to a class…. Ummmmm…. Let me set you at ease for a second…. (Whispers) Intro classes are to introduce yoga to brand spankin’ new students. Trust me when I tell you that you are not alone and you will fit in just fine, especially because the vast majority of people in class have the exact same fear. You don’t need to be flexible (that’s what yoga is for), or strong (yeah, yoga’s for that too), you certainly do not have to have a fancy mat or super expensive yoga clothes nor do you need to be a certain shape, size , colour, age or gender (yoga’s pretty awesome like that). Just come with an open mind and you will do great.

2. People are not looking at you….. Well not really.
The hardest thing to get over is the fear of being judged and comparing yourself to those around you. In the beginning you will spend a lot of your time and energy in class focusing on what people around you are doing and trying to mimic them. Don’t. It’s a trap. Glancing over to make sure you’re on the right foot is something entirely different to pushing your body past it’s comfort zone because the girl three rows in front of you has her leg halfway up her back in dancer’s pose. You are here for you (I would hope). You have nothing to prove. No one is judging you, especially not the teacher, who is the only person you should be referring to anyway.

3. You MUST start in the intro class.
There’s a few reasons for this. First and foremost it is for your safety. The beginner or intro style classes are there to make sure you have a strong and solid understanding of the foundation techniques before you move on to harder classes that work at a much faster pace. It doesn’t matter if you’re a triathlete, gym rat, crossfit junkie who used to be a pro dancer, if you’ve never done yoga before you need to start from the beginning. From my stand point, I do all that I can to give intro students the tools they will need to enter the next level of classes comfortably and with the confidence to try harder postures. Without this background you are likely to get into a flow class (or power, which really people, don’t do until you can comfortably kill it in a flow class) and you will feel lost, discouraged and abandoned. Take the intro, gain everything you can and then move on. Though I must say I have regulars who have taken my intro to yoga class for years, so don’t feel like you have to ever move away from it if it is fitting your purpose.

4. Don’t bring any extra crap into the room with you.
Some studios might have a different policy on this, but everywhere I’ve taught feels the same, no extras. Just you, your mat, a water bottle and a towel if you need it. If your using a locker a little key is okay, but tuck it as close as you can to your mat. Leave your bag, key chains, lanyards and cell phones(!) in the locker rooms. There is nothing you need and it causes a huge tripping hazard for your teacher, not to mention it takes up valuable real estate in a busy class.

5. Bring normal water.
This is especially important for hot yoga. Don’t be tempted to put ice cubes in your water. Drinking super cold water is counterintuitive to warming the body (especially if you’re working on using ujjayi breath) and just makes the outside of your bottle weep causing a great big puddle on the floor. Try to avoid the temptation of fancy waters as well. Most of those add extra sugars which are unnecessary and sodium which is much more helpful after class, not during. Just plain old boring water is best.

6. Do not chat in the studio.
When you get to the building itself, lower your tone and choose a softer volume. When you enter the actual yoga room, please don’t chat. If you are at class with a friend it is best to hang out in the lobby before class starts to have a catch up. Before class people are looking to relax in contemplative silence. Most people come from very busy lives so these moments of silence are coveted and sought after. On that same note, if your mat has a Velcro strap, please undo it in the change room not the studio as it is WAY louder than you think it is (plus, see #4). After class many students choose to stay in a meditative state for a little longer and nothing is worse than the moment you say namaste having a conversation pop up in the back row. Just be mindful and respect those students around you.

7. Always look at the teacher’s mat for props.
Not all teachers do this (but they really should). Whenever I teach I will always put any props I intend on asking you to use on my mat. So as soon as you enter the room take a look to see if there are any blocks, straps etc and arm yourself with the same set. It’s also important to note that I encourage everyone to always grab a block, just in case. It doesn’t matter if you’re in an intro class or an advanced practice, a single block can make the difference between a tight, forced hamstring and a beautiful released pelvis.

8. Don’t leave.
Important! Especially in a hot class. If you feel you need to leave the room please make eye contact with your teacher and let them know you are okay (a simple thumbs up will do). I, by nature, am a worrier so believe me when I tell you I will be completely thrown off thinking about whether or not I should come and check on you until the moment you return. And the last thing you want while peeing is me popping my head in on you! That being said, there are very few reasons to leave the room during a yoga class. Pee before hand, make sure your water is full and do anything else you need to. If you get over heated in a hot class take child’s pose or lay in corpse pose first, if the feeling does not pass or gets worse wave your teacher down and let them know (when it comes to feeling faint in a hot class our first priority is to make sure you are okay so we will want to go with you for a moment or get another staff member to tend to the situation). Do plan to be there for the entire length of the class. If you know you can’t stay for duration of a class my suggestion is to not take that particular class that day, or make alternate arrangements so that you can stay. If your studio is more relaxed about leaving early, just make sure you let your teacher know before class even starts so that they can signal you when it would be an appropriate time to leave (often right before savasana). But keep in mind that skipping savasana to get to the showers first is NOT COOL.

9. Listen to your body.
Don’t be a hero, you’ll hate yourself tomorrow. Push only as hard as you can. This means maybe not bending your front leg quite as much in your warriors or dropping your knees in the flow throughs (or not taking them at all). I often remind my students that most postures have an easy version, a super hard version and about every version in between, even though to an outsider they all look exactly the same. The difficulty comes from how much effort you put in, so listen to your body if it’s telling you it’s getting tired. And when you do get tired, take a break. Drop down to child’s pose for as long as you need to in order to regain your breath, and then come back. Everyone takes child’s pose, in fact, the more seasoned you get in your yoga practice the more of often you will allow yourself to take it.

10. Don’t be afraid of me!
I want to answer your questions, help you in any way I can and be there for you however you need. I always encourage people to come talk to me after class yet very few students do. I won’t say all teachers, but I will say the vast majority of yoga teachers really truly want to help. This is our life’s work and we are so very passionate about what we do. Sharing our knowledge is why we teach, or at least why I do. You will never find me unwilling to stay late after class or annoyed that someone had an anatomy question (or a spiritual one, man I eat those ones up!). So take me up on the offer as I extend it on behalf of all yoga teachers, have no fear, we’re here for you.