Don’t eat right before class. Because of all the twisting, engaging of your core muscles, and being upside down, let at least 2 to 2.5 hours elapse between any major meal and Yoga class. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to eat closer to class, like you just got off work, try something small and easy to digest. I usually go for an almond milk yogurt, a banana, or a small smoothie.
The Ashtanga school of Yoga uses ujjayi breathing throughout the practice, and many teachers of eclectic Hatha classes have adopted it. They may call it ocean breathing or victorious breath. In ujjayi you constrict your throat just enough to sound like Darth Vader breathing through his mask. At first you’ll need to make this loud enough for you and probably your neighbor to hear. Eventually, you’ll be able to feel it happening and keep it quiet. The benefit of using ujjayi throughout your practice is that you are instantly aware if you begin to struggle physically or wander mentally because your breathing will change.
However, as a beginner it’s usually plenty of work to stay aware of your breath and learn the postures without trying to add ujjayi in right away.
Finding Your Edge
How progress happens in the stretches, strength building poses, and balances of Yoga is that we learn to watch closely as we come up to our "edge," that is the edge of what is possible for our body in that moment. We accept this edge, observe it, sit with it. This edge, of which there is both a near and far side, is challenging, maybe even intense, but not painful.
Pushing too hard against your edge causes injury. Easing up to your edge by paying close attention to your body’s signals leads to both physical and psychological progress. The body slowly opens up, trusting us not to go too far. The muscles grow stronger for having been called on but not abused. Even our bones are strengthened, responding to our requests. Meanwhile, we might just develop patience, discipline, humility, and compassion toward ourselves.
Adjustments and Safe Space
One issue that can make some people uncomfortable is physical adjustments by the teacher. Some teachers are very hands-on. There are good reasons for this. Sometimes a light touch in the right place can bring you into better, safer alignment, and sometimes firm pressure in a certain spot will let you loosen and sink into a stretch in a way nothing else can.
If you have an aversion to being touched, tell your teacher before class. There are plenty of people for whom this is true and it will be no big thing to the teacher. There are other ways they can guide you toward correct alignment, either verbally or visually.
If you have any inclination of distrust or discomfort in class, you can leave at any time. The unfortunate truth is that not all teachers could be trained or intuitive enough to respond to every potential student appropriately. And, as in any setting, some teachers and students just won’t be a good fit.
Don’t give up! If you try a class and it isn’t right for you, ask around. Do the research. There are oodles of amazing people teaching Yoga these days.