Part II of a series.
The first thing you as an older man will notice coming to a yoga class for the first time is how awesome yoga is.
Just kidding. The first thing you’ll notice is probably that everyone looks and is dressed pretty normally, assuming you’re doing your class at the local gym, community center, or studio. These could be the same people who rode the bus home with you today after work. Lots of people do yoga. Regular, every day people, young, old, thin and thick. There’s no yoga “type” even though magazine covers and clothing ads may make it seem to the contrary.
Next, everyone is quiet. Because a large part of yoga is internal – emotional – people get their “yoga face” on before class. I look on yoga like a moving meditation. Respect that, set up your mat, and start doing some light stretching or sit quietly.
The yoga instructor will introduce him/herself, and perhaps start with some light breathing, quiet time, maybe an “Om.” Whether you participate in the chanting or Om’ing is up to you; if not, just sit quietly and respectfully of other people. The purpose of this is to get your attention into the classroom, and away from whatever chaos preceded you there.
So class starts, here’s what is going on: it’s basically a reverse game of “Simon Says.” The instructor will tell you what body part goes where, how to get it there, and what to do once it’s there. Just follow along. Yeah, that’s yoga. Simon Says. It’s based on a lot of other stuff and philosophy and thousands of years of practice, but for your first class, just think of it as Simon Says.
As class moves along, keep trying. If you can’t keep up, no one cares, it’s not a contest. Just sit down and rest, or take “child’s pose” (the instructor will show you how). No need to force yourself to do anything you don’t want. The same goes for many of the poses. Don’t feel comfortable trying a handstand? Quietly tell the teacher, and he’ll give you an alternative.
A couple of things you may notice straight away. Things can be kind of “soft” for a more manly man. Talk about “be kind to yourself” and “only go as far as your body needs” and “listen to what your body is telling you” can be new to many men. Even the tone of the instructor’s voice can sometimes be on the fluffy side. The good news is you don’t have to turn soft to take lessons from what is said by the instructor. Pick and choose what works for you, listen to the words, and allow the rest of the stuff to just wash over. Who knows, maybe some of it will sink in anyway.
Also, your body will not listen to what you tell it. I’ve stood next to men in class and instructed to “move your left foot back about six inches” and I’ll be darned if they didn’t look at their foot in bewilderment because it just wouldn’t move at all. Yoga makes you bring a consciousness to your body that may have been missing for years. Even if you exercise regularly, many exercises are repetitive, same move over and over. Yoga is deliberate, and focused on learning how to move one’s body the way it was meant to be moved. It takes time.
Almost every yoga class will end with the same two things: a final pose, “savasana”, and a “Namaste” from/to the instructor. Savasana, or corpse pose, is a fancy way of saying lay quietly on the mat for 5 minutes. This will probably be the longest five minutes of your life, it may be the first time in decades where you’ve done absolutely nothing for five minutes. Your mind will be racing, your body will want to move. Don’t resist. Just let your mind run, let your body be still. Take advantage of this break from your chaotic day. It’s taken me years to have just a semi-quiet mind during savasana. There are days I still hate it. But there’s something about just being quiet and still that will pay off down the road.
Second, the instructor will say, “namaste” and the class will repeat it back. It’s not religious, it just means that the divine light in me bows to the divine light in you. Like saying “goodbye.” That’s harmless, right?
Finally, talk to the instructor. Even if it’s just to say “thank you” after class. Ask a question. Ask a bunch of questions. That’s what we’re here for, that’s what brings us to the front of the classroom. Plus it will get you involved and interested.
Remember: I started doing yoga in my 30’s. Now I’m in my later 40’s and I teach yoga. My poses are still far from “perfect.” There are days I don’t want to go to a class, days I can hardly bend over (like today!). My gut hangs over my waistband. I’m often the oldest person in class by a decade. But some of the founders of modern yoga were (a) men, and (d) did yoga well into their 90’s. Keep at it. I promise, it will pay off.
Check out Part I of this series, Your First Yoga Class – Part I – The Logistics
And stay tuned for Part III.