It was months before I could get enough courage to attend my first yoga class. I had no idea what to expect, and just knew I would make a fool of myself. When I finally showed up, people were quietly stretching on mats spread around the room. They had obviously been doing this a long time. I didn’t talk to the instructor — what would I say?
As the class progressed, I felt discouraged and frustrated. I remember I wasn’t even sure if I could continue, my hands and wrists burned so badly. I wasn’t used to having weight on them for so long, and this class included many vinyasas, which are a series of poses flowing into each other. The instructor moved very quickly, and I wasn’t sure what the commands meant. I had a hard time keeping up, but I did my best.
Even with all that, I knew yoga was something I hoped to study for a very long time. I wanted to be someone who could make it through a class like that.
Today, I have a yoga practice that I love, and I regularly attend classes at a local studio. I go to workshops, try new postures and classes easily, and practice at home. Yoga is an integral part of my life.
I’m still not the most flexible person in the room, but I’ve learned to be ok with that. Yoga isn’t a competition with others, it’s about learning to listen to your own body and what feels right to you each time you practice.
Yoga has brought so much peace, calmness, and joy into my life. It has increased my flexibility and strength, especially in my upper body, and has helped me get in shape. I am more confident because of my yoga practice, and it immediately motivates me to be healthier in other areas of my life, such as diet and meditation. I couldn’t imagine my life without it. And yet, if I hadn’t overcome my initial fears, I might still be sitting at home.
If you’re interested in starting yoga but aren’t sure how to get started, here are five things you should know.
Start at Home
Unless you plan on taking a beginner’s yoga class, you might consider trying your first yoga at home with a video. It helps to become familiar with the basic poses and terminology such as a vinyasa, downward facing dog, mountain pose, child’s pose, and — my favorite — the final resting pose, shavasana. Starting at home can help you build confidence and will also make your first class easier.
Try Different Classes and Instructors
Every instructor has his or her own unique style and routines. There can be a huge difference between instructors and classes, depending on the level of difficulty, instructor style, type of yoga, and instructor preference. If you don’t enjoy a particular class, don’t get discouraged. Consider trying a different class and instructor. Eventually, you will find the right class and instructor for you.
It also helps if you can talk to the instructor or someone knowledgeable at the studio or gym ahead of time. Find out which classes are recommend for beginners. Yoga also encompasses many different styles. So if possible, do a little research ahead of time.
Listen to Your Body
Regardless of what pose the instructor asks you to do, listen to your own body first. It will be your greatest instructor. If something doesn’t feel right or is painful, don’t do it. Stop, and if necessary, go into child’s pose to regroup. The best instructors always give you that option. They should also be prepared to show you ways to modify the more difficult poses, either with the first stage of the pose or by using blocks, straps, or a bolster. While it’s ok to challenge yourself in yoga, you don’t want to cause an injury.
Your body has natural fluctuations. One day you may be able to stretch deeply, but other days you may not be able to bend as far. Learning to listen to your body will help you determine and set your own limitations, and they may be different every time.
Strive for Improvement, Not Perfection
Yoga is a lifelong practice and it’s called a “practice” for a reason. You will always have some aspect of yoga or an area of your body you are working to improve. Some yoga poses can take years of regular practice to achieve, and you may not even want to achieve them all.
Be patient with yourself. You don’t need perfection to receive the benefits of yoga. You’ll find benefits by just getting yourself on the mat and doing what you can with where you are now.
No matter how I’m feeling, doing a yoga session makes me feel better about my body and my life. By letting go of the need for perfection, I can relax and enjoy the journey.
Wear the Right Clothing & Consider Equipment
Many people wear oversized clothing when they work out, either to be comfortable or because they feel like they don’t look good in tight clothes. With yoga, you need to know that baggy clothing can get in the way, and it also makes it difficult for the instructor to see your form and alignment in the poses. Wear comfortable but close-fitting clothes that allow you to move easily and that breathe as you work up a sweat.
As in most physical activities, a bottle of water is important so you can stay hydrated. There are also many accessories available for yoga. The basics are a mat, a strap, and blocks. Many studios also have those available to borrow.
Starting a yoga practice can be a little intimidating at first. Just know that you can do it. By taking the time to prepare and getting the courage to try your first class, you may find a lifelong passion.
Photos credits: LocalFitness.com.au, Gunner’s Fitness Center, Daniel Case, and Whym.