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How do you start practicing yoga?

July 20, 2010

When I tell people that I practice yoga and tell them about how much I love it, it’s as if something magical happens. I can see their ears perk up, their mind become attentive and the longing in their eyes for something that brings peace into their life. Well…..maybe that faraway look is really because their eyes have glossed over and they are just waiting for me to move the conversation on to something else. But I much prefer the former explanation. So there I am telling them how yoga bring a sense of peace into my life and helps me feel connected with myself, plus it’s a great stretching work out and yet still gentle. When I finally let them speak feel like my recollection is complete (yes, this can take a LONG time!) the response I get is usually something like “Wow, that sounds great! Maybe I should try a yoga class!” And I agree with them and encourage and nudge them towards a class. But I have yet to find one other person that has actually gone to a class. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It took me a long time to work up the going-to-yoga-the-first-time courage. But I think that people have a lot of misconceptions around what yoga, about those who teach yoga and about those who practice yoga.
I think people are afraid that once they step into the studio that they are going to be greeted by some woman who has overgrown leg hair and smells too much like patchouli and speaks only in Sanskrit and can do an arm balance in 5 seconds flat. While all of those scenarios are indeed possible (especially the arm balaning), I have yet to come across ALL of those things in one person. Yes, there are women practitioners who don’t shave their legs but yogis and yoginis (the feminine of yogi) tend to not smell like patchouli…..much. The other fear that I think people have is that they will feel stupid or feel inadequate because they are unable to do a handstand, headstand or arm balance. They may fear that they will lose their balance, run out of breath, not know what they are doing or even hurt themselves. So instead of ever trying it out, people relegate themselves to the couch, wishing that they could do yoga. They look at me wistfully while I recount the poses we did in my last class or the story that my instructor told. I certainly LOVE to talk about yoga, so it’s no problem for me. But I really want those people to at least TRY a yoga class. So let me clear up some misconceptions and nudge those people more and more towards actually finding themselves in a class! Here are my 9 tips for anyone who has considered trying a class but for one reason or another talks his or herself out of it:

1) Go to a beginner’s class.
Yes, this may seem self-evident but you really do want to start in a beginning level class. Avoid classes with descriptions that include “fast-paced” or “challenging.” You will have a much more enjoyable class if you stick with the basics at first. If you are mot sure about which class to take, ask someone who works at the studio. The manager or any instructor should be able to direct you to an appropriate class. Many studios offer at least one free class to new students, so there’s often no upfront investment. Likewise, many studios offer yoga mat rentals so you don’t even need to purchase a mat for your first class (though the idea of a shared yoga mat has always grossed me out a bit, I have still used them in a pinch).
2)That old knee/shoulder/wrist injury won’t stop you from doing yoga!
I have seen so many different kinds of people in my yoga classes. Yes, some have been very advanced students with amazing bodies who can do every crazy looking posture in the book. And some have been older. some have been people with old injuries. I once took a class in which the instructor had had one of his lower legs amputated. So please don’t think that just because you had a knee injury 5 years or 10 years or 25 or 45 years ago that you can’t do yoga. You can! That isn’t to say that certain injuries don’t need to be considered when trying to do a shoulderstand or revolved side angle pose. You can still do those poses, perhaps with modifications or special attention turned towards maintaining the proper form.
3) Use the resources available to you.
Going to a yoga class for the first time is intimidating! Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the instructor or other students! I sat silent on my mat before class for so long that it’s embarrassing. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of the experience had I just opened up to the people I was practicing with a lot sooner. There is a tremendous support system there just waiting for you! I only wish that I had taken advantage of it sooner. Also, if you do have any sort of injury, make sure you let the instructor know about it. She or he can give you tips on how to make certain poses easier on you. This is another resource I wish I would have utilized earlier.
4) Don’t practice yoga on a full stomach.
Yoga has a way of….um…..moving things around. Things that you wouldn’t even think of. So it’s a good idea to wait at least two hours after eating to start stretching the body. Trust me, trying to hold in gas while doing a yoga pose is REALLY difficult!
5) Drink water
Before going to class, you will want to make sure that you are well hydrated. Of course, you don’t want to be having to leave class every ten minutes to get to the bathroom, so try to find a balance. You will also want to drink a lot of water after class. During class, it is generally recommended that you not drink water but of course you are always encouraged to listen to your body so if you really do need some water, drink it.
6) Don’t worry about what other students are doing
This one is easier said than done. But it really doesn’t matter what other students are doing. Focus on YOU. This really takes practice for me and is something I still find myself not doing. I’m more interested to see which student has gotten the furthest in his or her pose than concentrating on my own pose. One of the most powerful habits I’ve started to combat this distracting behavior is to imagine myself alone in a dark studio with a spotlight just on myself. It really helps me focus on MY practice. MY pose. MYself. Yoga is my time when I am totally devoted just to myself.
7) Realize that yoga is difficult!
I don’t say this to scare you away from yoga! But I have heard from so many first time students how surprised they are that it was so difficult. Yes, it may not look that difficult, but it IS physical exercise so if you are not used to it, you will feel sore the next day. There is nothing wrong with that. Don’t be surprised to find that your arms hurt from holding yourself up in downward facing dog.
8 ) HAVE FUN!!!
Most of all, have fun with yoga. It has been a wonderful journey for me, and one that I am anxious to continue. There are plenty of ways in which yoga has seriously changed my life, but I have also had so much fun trying new things, falling over, realizing that I am capable of so much more than I sometimes think I am!
9) Keep an open mind
You may have an idea of what you expect when you walk into a yoga studio. That’s totally fine but don’t be focused only on what you expect, be open to things that you hadn’t thought of. Be open to the possibility that you may enjoy chanting (yes, there may be chanting involved–it’s OK, I promise! And no, you don’t have to do it if you absolutely don’t want to). Be open to the idea that you CAN balance on one foot for tree pose. Just be open.

So there you have it–now get off the computer and go try a class!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2010 11:21 PM

    If you are just starting yoga, you will get little help on the net. Almost everywhere there are experienced yoga teachers whose talk appears Greek to you. However, I could find a good resource for Yoga beginners at one destination. At http://www.facebook.com/#!/yogaforbeginners you get to know Yoga in the language you want to know. You can also meet many yoga starters like you and discuss Yoga with them.

  2. July 21, 2010 7:24 AM

    Thanks for the suggestions. I’d like to either get back into Pilates or try yoa after we move, and this is definitely a useful checklist for me.

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