Getting started on your yoga journey may feel like a daunting task. Some of you may have even tried a few times. Some might have talked yourselves out of the journey before it even began. BUT never fear we are here to help! We do recognise that starting out can be a scary or stressful prospect, so we have dedicated this blog to help you on your way. Before we begin let’s state why you should be practicing yoga in the first place. It helps calm the mind, alleviates stress, promotes deep breathing and awareness and even helps develop long, lean muscles.
1. Recognise Yoga is for Everyone
This is number one. Many people have pre-conceived ideas about who can practice yoga. The fact is any ‘body’ can practice. It’s one of the reasons that yoga is so popular. You don’t have to conform to a specific body type or shape. You don’t have to be a particular age, or even fitness level. You don’t have to follow a certain religion or belief system to participate! You can be big or small, young or old, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Hindu...and here is the clincher: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE FLEXIBLE TO PRACTICE YOGA! Sorry for shouting but this belief is a pet peeve of ours. You absolutely do not have to be flexible to start a yoga practice. A happy side effect of yoga is that you will become more flexible (believe us it will eventually happen). Also, yoga is very adaptable therefore; it doesn’t discriminate against any fitness level, injury or disability. There are always modifications that can be made to suit everybody.
All you have to bring with you is an open mind and willingness to take deep breaths.
2. Prepare for Class
What to wear: Here’s the age-old dilemma, what does one wear?! Well for a start yoga is done barefoot so no need to buy fancy new shoes. As for clothing...here our guidelines.
Yoga pants: There are many different styles but, you don’t have to buy pants that are specifically branded ‘yoga pants’. You could wear ones you wear to the gym or running, as long as they are comfortable and not too short. Having said that , avoid ones that don't stretch, like jeans. It also pays to do the ‘bend over’ check in front of a mirror to check if they are see-through before coming to class.
Tops: Fitted tops are best. This may sound counterintuitive, but tighter clothes leave less to the imagination than baggy ones. The class is full of twists, inversions and forward folds, so baggy shirts can slide up or gape and reveal things you want to keep hidden!
What to bring:
- Don't worry about bringing a mat if you don't have one, most studios have mats or hire mats for a few bucks.
- A water bottle
- An open mind ;)
Eating: It's best not to eat a big meal right before a yoga class. We recommend a light snack an hour or two before class. Practicing on an empty stomach makes you feel lighter in class and allows your body to circulate blood more freely. As a side note it also may prevent excess ‘wind’ building up. Now, even if you DO happen to pass wind in class, don’t worry about it, or bring attention to it. Carry on with life, we have all been there ;)
3. Allow Yourself to be a Beginner
Know what to expect: Yoga is movement cued with the breath, so the teacher will ask you to inhale and reach up; exhale and fold forward, and so on. Classes run through a series of poses designed to build strength, stamina and balance. Most classes will finish in Savasana (a resting pose) giving you time to clear your mind, relax, and allow your body to integrate the benefits of your practice.
Listen and look: Listen to your teacher for alignment cues and look to them to guide you into what the pose should look like (be aware yours may not look exactly the same!). The teacher will come around and either give you personal verbal or physical adjustments. It is the best way to learn good alignment in the pose, so don’t feel bad. Having said that, if you don’t like to be physically touched then say so, teachers will not be offended.
Avoid comparing yourself to others: You are not going to nail every pose in your first class (or maybe not even by your 50th!). So forget about being perfect. Try to avoid comparing yourself to others; every yoga pose is unique, just like you. Wherever you are at in the pose is perfect for you right now. Everyone’s body is different and people in the class are at all different levels. Your pose may not look like the person next to you and that is just fine! Try and keep your awareness within the 4 corners of the mat. Think of your mat as you personal oasis.
Be open: The most important thing a beginner, in fact EVERYONE can bring to a class, is an open mind. Yoga is not a sport or a competition. You're always encouraged to try new poses, or take a pose further, but not to the point of PAIN. Remember it will take you some time to get the poses, don’t force yourself beyond your current fitness level or flexibility. This will result in frustration and you might even injure yourself. Patanjali’s sutras, an ancient yogic text, states that asana (poses) should be ‘Sthira Sukham Asanam’; which means steady and comfortable. Do only as much as you comfortably can, but don’t be afraid to try to stretch a little bit more. Going slightly beyond your comfort zone will keep the yoga practice interesting. Most importantly, have patience, allow yourself the freedom to grow, it is a continuous process.
If you experience muscle soreness after a class, don’t be alarmed, this is normal. However, if there is any pain, tell your teacher immediately and/or seek medical help.
4. Commit to Consistent Practice
Yoga is more than just a form of exercise: it’s a lifestyle. Patanjali’s sutra 1.14 states: ‘sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih’. This means: It is only when the practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed. So, it is essential that you commit to your practice. Try and make it the same days and time each week. Book yourself into your classes in advance to help motivate you to go. Remember research shows that it takes 21 days to make a habit. You’ll see improvements in your sleep, your stress levels and your attitude. Maximum benefits come over time. If you ‘fall off the wagon’ and your practice lapses, don’t judge yourself too harshly, just accept the ‘mini-break’ and get back on the mat!
5. Have fun
Last but not least, have fun with your practice! Enjoy the process, remember it is a life long journey so you may as well enjoy the ride. Bring a sense of humour to each class, if you fall out of a pose or can’t do pose the same way as last week, who cares? No one! Even if your ego goes into judgement mode, kindly tell it to shut up, put a smile on your face and go into the next pose with an open heart and mind.
Another thing to consider when starting a yoga practice is to follow the studio’s rules. Some have unique ones, but generally they are about respecting others. Universally respect others by:
- arriving at least 10 minutes early so you don’t rush in at the last minute, disturbing other peoples relaxation time before class
- turning off your mobile phone – there is nothing worse than a phone ringing or vibrating mid-class
- keeping chatter to a minimum once inside the studio
- NOT packing up early – if you need to leave before Savasana tell your teacher before class and leave QUICKLY AND QUIETLY.
We know this is a lot to consider, but hopefully it has alleviated your fears about starting a yoga practice. You have nothing to lose, so start today, your body, mind and spirit will thank you.
Western Wellness Team
(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)