A Beginner’s Guide To Yoga
If just looking at the media images of celebrities contorting themselves into mind-boggling yoga poses is enough to make you feel like you’ve pulled your groin, then chances are, you’re new to this whole yoga thing. But don’t get caught up in the hype: there are a hundred – no, more like a thousand – tiny little steps between those pictures, and where the practice actually begins.
No one hits the mat being able to nail crow’s pose, or hold a plank for 10 minutes, so right here, right now, I want you to let yourself off the hook and embrace where your yoga practice is this very moment – yes, even if you’ve never even unrolled a yoga mat before. This guide will help you ease your way into yoga, allowing you develop a realistic, relaxed and enjoyable practice you can maintain for life.
1) Accept your Limitations
Even if you run marathons, toss cabers like batons, are the heavyweight champion of the world and can bench press a Buick, none of this means you’re going to walk into a yoga studio and slay it the first time. You may be in great shape for a particular physical pursuit, but if you’ve never done yoga before, it will be challenging.
Maybe you can squat a blue whale, but you can’t touch your feet. Maybe your flexibility is pretty solid, but you have trouble sitting still and clearing your mind. Yoga is more than a physical practice and you need to be prepared to accept more than physical challenges, but if you can recognize an obstacle for what it is, you’re more likely to overcome it.
2) Be Patient
Included in the laundry list of lies we read in fitness magazines is the claim that adopting a new workout will yield fast and furious physical results. The truth is that while you’ll feel better almost instantly, many of the health benefits of a regular yoga practice take time. You can’t rush a good thing: keep at it, and it will come to you, guaranteed. (And ‘regular’ is the operative word here! You won’t get results if you only do it every couple of weeks.)
3) Don’t Showboat
If you’re planning to begin your foray into yoga at a studio, set yourself up in the back of the class, where you won’t feel as conspicuous and will be more likely to embrace the experience without fearing the critical gaze of a fellow student on your backside.
This also applies to settling into poses: your instructor will always give less advanced variations, so if you’re struggling, take them! Yoga is a practice of connecting with and nourishing your body. It should not feel like punishment. The more at ease you are in the poses, the more confident you’ll feel, and when you feel more confident, you’ll be more likely to try new poses, even if you haven’t perfected them yet.
4) Dress Comfortably
This may seem obvious – it is a yoga class after all – but if you’ve never donned a pair of butt-hugging yoga shorts before, you may not feel comfortable in them – no matter how much lycra and cotton are listed in the label. Wear gear that puts you at ease. This way you can focus on your downward dog instead of worrying that your cheeks are hanging out the back of your shorts. Don’t worry about committing some outwitting fashion faux pas – you’re doing this for you, not for anyone else.
5) Ask Questions
You may not want to raise your hand in the middle of a class (this will depend on your confidence level and also whether it is a class that permits speaking by anyone but the teacher), but don’t shy away from seeking out your instructor before or after the session if you have any questions or concerns – particularly if you have a pre-existing condition that will make some of the poses difficult or downright impossible. Your teacher is there to help.
6) Do what you Love
There’s more than one kind of yoga. Hatha is great for beginners, because it’s gentle and slower moving, allowing you to real nail down the fundamentals of each pose. Vinyasa is a solid choice for people who want a little more movement from their session, since you won’t be lingering in poses but will be combining movement with synchronized breathing. Bikram is a little more intense, comprised of a series of 26 poses and two exercises for breathing – and it’s in a hot room. A really hot room. (105 degrees with 40% humidity.) The chanting, meditating and intense breath work in kundalini are ideal for those seeking a spiritual experience. Then there’s Yin Yoga – the ultimate purveyor of zen. In this practice, you’ll hold poses for several minutes, which makes it perfectly suited for people looking to tame their monkey minds.
The key is finding and establishing a successful yoga practice is to do what feels right for you. Simply listen to your body, quiet your mind, and follow your bliss.