Dressing for Success and Other Yoga Practicing Considerations

After you choose a class you think can work for you, you may be nervous about actually taking the plunge and heading to your first session. The following sections aim to answer your questions about what to wear and take and how to stay safe (and in the good graces of your classmates) as you begin your group Yoga journey.

Deciding what to Wear

Yoga practitioners wear a wide variety of exercise clothing. Practically speaking, what people wear depends on the difficulty level of the class and the temperature of the room. Of course, personal expression is also a consideration. A handful of eccentric groups practice in the nude, which really isn't a good idea because it's bound to distract some folks. Besides, you can easily catch a chill. Even when you practice on your own, you may want to cover your lower trunk to protect your kidneys and abdomen. At least that's the traditional Yoga way.

Women often wear leotards, sweats, shorts, and tops. Men usually wear shorts, sweats, T-shirts, and tank tops.

The key is to wear clean, comfortable, and decent clothes that allow you to move and breathe freely. Some people want to be fashionable by wearing the latest attention-drawing outfits, but we discourage this attitude. Simple does it!

If you're practicing outdoors or in a poorly heated room, you may want to layer your clothing so that you can peel off a layer when you're getting too warm from your Yoga practice. Also, extra clothing can come in handy when you get to the relaxation or meditation part of the class.

Packing your Yoga kit

Before attending a class, find out what kind of floor it practices on. If the floor is carpeted, a towel or a sticky mat works (we describe sticky mats and similar useful items in Chapter 19). A hardwood floor may require more padding, especially if your knees are sensitive. In that case, bring along a thick Yoga mat or a rug remnant that is a little longer than your height and a little wider than your shoulders. If you have a tendency to get cold, bring a blanket to cover yourself during final relaxation. A folded blanket is also helpful if you need a pad under your head when you're lying down. As your teacher becomes familiar with your unique needs, he or she may suggest some other personalized props for you to bring to class. As we discuss in Chapter 1, some Yoga styles — notably Iyengar Yoga — work more with props than others. Following are some general items you may want to bring to class with you:

✓ Extra clothing to layer on if the room is too cool or to take off if you're too warm

✓ Bottled water (to balance your electrolytes after the session); we recommend that you use a steel flask with your own filtered water

✓ Enthusiasm, motivation, and good humor

If you're serious about your Yoga practice (and if you're concerned about hygiene), we recommend that you invest in your own personal mat and other equipment. Although many Yoga centers furnish this stuff, consider bringing your own. If you ever have to pick from the bottom of the bin after yet another sweaty class, you'll know what we mean.

Putting safety first

The most important factor for determining the safety of a Yoga class is your personal attitude. If you participate with the understanding that you aren't competing against the other students or the teacher and that you also must not inflict pain upon yourself, you can enjoy a safe Yoga practice. The popular maxim "No pain, no gain" doesn't really apply to Yoga. Perhaps "No gain with negative pain" is a better mindset.

By negative pain, we mean discomfort that causes you distress or increases the likelihood of injury. Of course, if you haven't exercised for a while, you can expect to encounter your body's resistance at the beginning. You may even feel a little sore the next day, which just reflects your body's adjustment to the new adventure. The key to avoiding injury is to proceed gently. It's better to err on the side of gentleness than to face torn ligaments. A good teacher always reminds you to ease into the postures and work creatively with your body's physical resistance. Nonharming is an important moral virtue in Yoga — and observation toward all beings includes yourself!

If you have any physical limitations (recent surgeries, knee, neck, or back problems, and so on), be sure to inform the center and the teacher beforehand. In a classroom setting, instructors have to split their attention among several students; your upfront communication can help prevent personal injury.

Making time for Yoga

For centuries, the traditional time for Yoga practice has been sunrise and sunset, which are thought to be especially auspicious. These days, busy lifestyles can toss out lots of obstacles to your best intentions, so be pragmatic and arrange your Yoga practice at your convenience. Just keep in mind that statistically, you have a 30 percent greater chance of accomplishing a fitness goal if you practice in the morning. More important than holding tight to a preset time is just making sure that you work Yoga into your schedule somewhere — and stick with it.

Practicing at roughly the same time during the day can help you create a positive habit, which may make it easier to maintain your routine.

If a teacher insists that you do an exercise or a routine that feels very uncomfortable or that you feel may hurt you, take a break on your mat or, if that isn't possible, just walk out of the class. Try to stay cool and register your complaint with the school afterward. Fortunately, this situation rarely happens.

Paging Miss Manners

In all social settings, common courtesy calls for sensitivity to others; those same rules of responsible conduct apply to your participation in Yoga group sessions. So, sift through all the good manners you've accumulated from a lifetime of human interaction, and pack them as required equipment for your next trip to class. Before you go, check your bags for these etiquette essentials:

✓ Show up on time; don't wander into class "fashionably" late. It's rude and disturbing to others.

✓ If you show up early and students from the class before are still relaxing or meditating, respect their quiet time until your own session formally begins.

✓ Leave your shoes, chewing gum, cellphones, pagers, and crummy attitudes outside the classroom.

✓ Avoid smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol before class.

✓ Bathe and take a restroom break before your Yoga session.

✓ Keep classroom conversation to a minimum — some people arrive early to meditate or to just sit quietly.

✓ Be sure to take your socks off if you practice on a slippery surface (just don't leave them near your neighbor's face). If you're self-conscious about your feet ("those ugly things"), remember that their 26 bones do a great job at propping up your body all day long. Besides, everyone else is far too busy to focus on your feet.

✓ Avoid excessive, clanky jewelry.

✓ Be sure that your, ahem, private parts are appropriately covered if you choose to wear loose-fitting shorts or, against our advice, super-tight outfits.

✓ Don't wear heavy perfume or cologne.

✓ Cut back on your garlic consumption on the day that you go to class.

✓ Sit near the door or window if you require a lot of air.

✓ Sit close to the instructor if you have hearing difficulties; many teachers speak softly to generate the right mood.

✓ If you have used any props in class, put them away neatly.

✓ Pay your teacher on time, without having to be reminded.

Lessons in Raja Yoga

Lessons in Raja Yoga

An easy to understand book on the principles and practices of Raja-Yoga alike. It teaches the eight steps

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