I began practicing yoga over seven years ago. It has been a constant in my life since I started, but as with many things, my practice has gone through several iterations and I certainly have learned a lot! This post is meant to provide some background to any new or aspiring yogi.
There are many reasons for being interested in yoga. The flexibility. The healthy long bodies. The relaxed state people seem to be in when they leave class. These are admirable traits! For me, yoga was offered at the gym I belonged to through my parents and I had been dancing consistently for several years. It seemed like a great activity to add to my time in dance class to increase flexibility and force some diligence into stretching outside of class time (dancers, you feel me?)
It definitely was a boost to my ego that I started yoga already quite flexible, but for many people this is not the case which let me just shout is PERFECTLY OK. In fact, that is why you should start yoga. It is truly a journey and a beautiful, slow, and authentic one at that, if you let it be.
Diving into my tips:
- Not all yoga is the same. You can take a class. You can practice at home. You can practice in heat. You can practice at room temperature. There are styles varying from Heated Vinyasa Flow to Restorative Yin. There are partner classes. Prenatal. Aerial. Acro. And beyond that, every instructor may put a slightly different spin on the style. This is all to say that trying one yoga is not trying them all and it is worth trying some different styles to see what you like.
- Western yoga looks very different than traditional Indian yoga. While I’m not suggesting you abandon yoga’s physical benefits, it’s important to at least acknowledge and nod to the fact that yoga in much of the world doesn’t revolve around skin tight pants and Instagram photos. This article summarizes the issue very nicely.
- Yoga is just as much about building strength as it is about flexibility. Chaturanga is very challenging! Throughout the course of my yoga practice, I have seen definition on my shoulders that I never thought existed. My core strength is excellent. And anyone who has done a challenging standing series knows that your legs will shake. In addition, strength is often needed to achieve more flexibility, and vice versa.
- Sometimes the mental benefits of yoga outweigh the physical. One of my yoga studios hosted a month-long challenge that included daily practice. To mix things up, yogis were encouraged to try on different styles as well as new elements in class. One of those was to lay in savasana (corpse pose), for an entire class. Many people struggled with this challenge, but as someone who has done it, I will admit that it is really hard and also one of the best things you can do for your mind. In addition, the breath awareness of yoga is amazing for combatting anxiety and stress.
- There is class etiquette (chanting, entering a silent space.) Again, every class is different, but if you are going to a new studio or entering a new community space for the first time, it is great idea to do a little research on what you need to bring and how you are to be in the space. Some classes begin or end with chanting which is very normal. Many studios ask that you are silent while you are in a practice room. I believe this to be to disengage your mind from the external world to the internal.
- Take advantage of a beginner’s series! It was at least four years after I started yoga that I took a class while I was in college. It was twice a week, same time, same instructor, and there was remarkable beauty in the continuity of the class. The instructor (still my favorite to this day!) was able to build the entire classes’ foundation of yoga because we were all committed to being there at the same time. This is hugely beneficial to any new yogi and a similar beginner series class will give you the foundation to feel confident in most yoga spaces. From what I can tell these are offered so rarely and it’s a real shame!
- Blocks are your friend and child’s/corpse pose does not mean you are weak. This goes hand in hand with the beginner’s series. Blocks and other props are meant to help your body explore the depth and opening in a pose while you work on the flexibility for them. They will help you get the benefits of each pose and are a great marker for tracking your growth and progress. In addition, every teacher should mention multiple times in a class that your breath is your guide. If you lose it, pause in a resting pose–whether that be downward-facing dog, child’s, or corpse. Even if they don’t say it, I’m telling you now that you have the freedom to spend as much time in one of these poses as you need to get the most out of your practice.
- Hot yoga has benefits but so does a non-heated practice. I swear the Seattle yoga scene is mostly hot power yoga. Hot yoga can still mean a lot of variation between temperature and humidity but generally the idea is to aid the body in heating itself so that you can deepen your poses and sweat a lot. Sweat is detoxifying and actually feels so amazing when you emerge from a hot space. That said, a non-heated practice will help check your actual flexibility. Many include a more “heat-building” component of their own which can be more cardiovascular.
- Bikram is not synonymous with hot yoga. My first hot yoga class was a Bikram class and I hated it. Turns out, people tend to either love or hate Bikram yoga which is the same series of 26 poses performed in a room usually heated to over 100 degrees. I find it militaristic and limited, but some people really love it. That said, hot yoga has much more variation.
- You don’t have to pay for yoga. This goes back to my point about Western yoga. $25 for a single yoga class is pretty ridiculous. Like I said in my story, I started yoga because it was included in my gym membership. Many studios also offer work exchanges for time spent caring for the studio. In addition, in a city like Seattle, there are tons of free or donation-based yoga events happening all of the time. And with the invention of the internet, you have access to tons of books, DVDs and YouTube videos to help jumpstart your successful home practice. This is mostly where I live now with my practice, supplementing with classes that again are included at my current gym.
I hope I answered some of your yoga questions and if not, feel free to reach out. I’m no certified expert, but I am a pretty inquisitive and attentive student and have been for many years. Thanks for reading!