By: Chad Byron, 200+ R.Y.T, University Recreation & Wellness, Yoga Instructor
There are several ‘tricks of the trade’ when it comes to yoga that you can familiarize yourself with to increase your level of comfort and confidence with the practice. Whether you are simply getting acquainted with group fitness classes or have attended numerous yoga practices before, this will provide new insights to the reader about the purpose of a yoga practice, deepen your understanding of a few yogic principles, and help alleviate any intimidation about attending a yoga class.
Trade Secret #1: Leave your ego at the door!
This is one of the most important concepts, and it’s not often mentioned in class. Yoga is a fabulous place to feel shiny, strong and beautiful on your mat, but it is also a place for everyone to feel included.
Once your hands and feet hit the mat, all that matters is what is going on in your body and on your yoga mat. The wild dude in the corner of the studio standing on his head or the yogini (female yoga practitioner) with her foot behind her neck may be fun to watch, but in that moment of external observation, you have removed your internal observation of the body and mind. Your body’s expression of the pose is just as spicy, tranquil, or strong as any other so long as it is safe and not painful for you.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.46: sthira sukham asanam
This sutra or phrase loosely translates to: “posture should be steady and comfortable.” In this instance, comfortable implies a practice free of aggressive or competitive intentions.
Trade Secret #2: What do I wear?
What you wear to yoga can enhance or limit your physical ability and comfort during the practice. Dress in a way that doesn’t force you to adjust your clothing constantly.
For the ladies
As tempting as it is to hit up your nearest Lululemon and spend hundreds on yoga clothing, know that this is not necessary. Specialty stores have good products, but it’s more important that you are comfortable and feel safe in what you are wearing. Many yoginis prefer fitted attire so that they can move more freely when stretching, but if the old Testudo sweats are calling to you then treat yoself girl!
For the guys
Every human body is a work of art, but it is more considerate in some environments to protect your modesty. For example, tucking your t-shirt into your pants or investing in a shirt that is fitted and moves with your body and won’t fall over your head in tripod, as pictured to the right. Compression shorts that hold everything together may also be a good investment if they feel cozy.
Trade Secret #3: Wacky things your instructor may say in English
Often, yoga instructors make statements that sound like weird ramblings to new yogis. Usually their purpose is to remind students of safe alignments. The following are two examples.
- Shine your heart. Roll your shoulders back and press your chest out. This simple adjustment allows the neck plenty of space and the lungs tons of room to inflate.
- Bring your awareness to yourself. Put your phone away and then close your mouth and eyes. This statement is either a cue to listen to what your body is telling you (i.e. right knee hurts, left bicep is sore) or your instructor is starting the class and asking for your attention.
If and when you encounter these, and others like them, look around at other students for how they are changing their postures and you may see the adjustment the instructor is cueing.
If not, take a deep breath and don’t worry about it. If you feel it is important, ask the instructor what they meant (or ask after class).
Trade Secret #4: Wacky things your instructor may say in Sanskrit
You are most likely going to encounter the Sanskrit language when attending a yoga class. All yoga practices like breathing or meditation have Sanskrit names since this is yoga’s original language. Here are a few common ones to start building your vocabulary.
- Asana (pose) – Any word that ends in asana is the name of a yoga pose in Sanskrit. For example, utkatasana is chair pose (utkat-asana) and vrikshasana is tree pose (vriksh-asana).
- Ujjayi (victorious breath) – The instructor is cueing audible breathing that mimics the sound of the ocean. To perform this breath, imagine yourself telling a secret. That constriction in the back of the throat that muffles the sound of your voice is the key. Combine that with your breath. Done as a group, this breath creates a cascading sound.
- Vinyasa (with the breath) – It is often said like this: “Flow through your vinyasa.” The vinyasa sequence pictured to the right is being cued.
Trade Secret #5: Om & Namaste
- Om. Typically chanted together at the beginning and end of the practice, om was considered by ancient yogis to have high spiritual and creative power. Sharing in this sound can be a blissful experience. If you are feeling shy, remember to let go of ego and find the strength in your voice.
- Namaste. This Sanskrit word translates to, “I bow to you.” Some teachers choose to say it in their own way, “The light in my heart salutes the light in yours.” At the end of class with your hands at heart center, bow your head and say, “namaste.”
What else have you been wondering about when it comes to yoga? Leave your questions in the comments below and we’ll be happy to reply!