As the first in a series of “HOW TO” posts, find my first entry about how to start a yoga practice. Enjoy!
I taught a private yoga class the other day to a fabulous group of women. Out of the group, a few had never taken a yoga class before. I love when I have a chance to introduce this wonderful practice to someone for the first time. It’s an amazing experience to be in your first yoga class. When you talk to yoga teachers, you’ll see that far off look in their eyes when you ask them to describe how they ended up teaching yoga. “I will never forget my first yoga class…..” and their voices will trail off as they describe meeting yoga for the first time and the power of its transformative effects.
But, back to the real world and reality. Our backs hurt. We’re tight in the hamstrings and shoulders. We don’t have any time to go to yoga! We’re stressed. It’s ninety minutes? Are you kidding me? And on and on it goes. Plus, the classic excuse: “I’m not flexible! How am I supposed to get into those poses?”
I am constantly meeting people in my daily life, those that know I teach yoga- those I work with, meet in my neighborhood, friends and family members. They know in their gut there would be tremendous value in dipping their toe in the yoga pool but they just can’t get up the nerve, or they aren’t sure how, or any of the multitude of excuses out there. So there is a secret that I will share with you now. It’s the secret that only yogis know and it’s the magic way to start a yoga practice. Only certain people know it but once you do, it will give you the strength and flexibility to practice yoga, even every day if you want. Do you want to know what it is?
Are you sure?
JUST DO IT.
Just do it.
What? The Nike slogan? Are you kidding me? That’s it? Well, that seems like a real rip off, you say. What about a list of resources? What about a tip sheet for what I need to know for my first class? How to pick a teacher? What about what style of yoga fits my body best? What about the issue of heated yoga or no heat? Exactly how hot do you make it in there? (I love when I get that question)Where’s the information about that?
Ok, relax. I hear you. I can give you that information and I will. But I wanted you to know the truth. And that truth is something that you already know, and you’ve already applied it many times in your life. It’s what gave you the power to start walking from crawling. It’s what gave you the strength to get on the bus when you were a kid going to school for the first time. It’s what pushed you to dive off the diving board, travel by yourself, take a job that you weren’t sure you could do. It’s what pushed you to do all the things that you’ve never tried before but you did them because you somehow knew it was good for your personal growth. Yoga is the same thing. Now, you may be reading this thinking, “Is she kidding? She makes yoga sound like its some amazing, transformative practice and all I want to do is get a better body!” Ok, it’ll do that. And remember, I’m writing from the perspective of someone who has been practicing for years and for whom yoga has become the cornerstone of her life. But, for you, yoga may be considered another form of exercise. That is fine. Let’s start there. And if that’s where it stays, that’s fine also. But who knows? Maybe it will become something more to you and could even become a key tool in your lifelong health and wellness strategy. But you’ll never know unless you take that first step.
So, now, let’s go to what you’ll get out of a yoga practice. I’ll paraphrase something I recently heard that I thought was fabulous. If someone told you that you could take a pill that would:
· Strengthen your body
· Increase your flexibility
· Decrease your stress levels
· Heal your injuries
· Increase your balance
· Lose weight
· Focus better
· Make peace with past pain
· Increase your lung capacity so you can breath better for life, running, cycling and other athletic activities
· Improve your posture
· Help you digest your food better
Would you take it? Once a day? Maybe 3 times a week?
I’ll bet you would. Well, those are just some of the benefits of a yoga practice. Once you start to list the benefits, it’s amazing to me how we don’t see more yoga taught in schools and the workplace as a regular part of the day. But having said that, there are definitely things you can do to help navigate what has become a multi-million dollar industry. It’s not just about finding a local studio or hopping in your local gym’s class. You can do that, but why not have a little background first. So let me share some of what has helped me.
1. Think about what you want to do. Do you want to strengthen? Lose weight? Increase flexibility. Add something to your current training schedule? Increase your relaxation? There are lots of styles of yoga and while they all share many of the same benefits, their emphasis can be different. A restorative yoga class is very different than a power vinyasa class. An Iyengar-based class is different from a Bikram class. Have a general idea of what your focus is and if you’re not sure, look for something general like a power yoga class.
2. Look close to home. Good luck getting to a studio or gym that is far from home. Don’t set yourself up for frustration and challenge before you even get on the mat. You’re already facing resistance before you have to navigate getting to class. There is nothing more upsetting than racing to yoga class and that’s definitely not something you want to do in your first few classes (save that stress for when you’re more experienced!) So, look around your neighborhood, especially if there is a studio within walking distance. Start drawing a circle further and further from your home as the central point, and find a studio.
3. Studio or Gym? You belong to a gym. You pay one price and for that price, you get it all; treadmill, weights, yoga, swimming. You haven’t tried the yoga in the gym yet, but figure it can’t be all that bad and why pay extra for studio classes? This is entirely up to you. I started my teaching in a gym and would like to think that I gave my students a quality experience. The quality of a gym yoga class is in part, related to the teacher but also is impacted by the environment. If your class is going to be in a cold room or next to the weight room or the spinning room, where your zen mindset is going to be in competition with the banging of weights or coaching yells of the spinning instructor, you might want to think about getting your yoga feet wet in a place where it’s dedicated to just yoga. Having said that, there are plenty of gyms that have amazing spaces dedicated to yoga. Just check out what’s available.
4. What style to pick? We talked in the first section about different styles and having a sense of what you want to get out of yoga (keep in mind, that ‘get out of it’ mindset is somewhat contrary to the mindset of yoga, but I’m realistic- you want to get something out of it!) But if your local studio only teaches one style of yoga or your gym has a list of class styles that’s more complicated than the sushi menu at your favorite restaurant, you may need some help. First of all, we all have engrained Google into our daily routine. If you’ve got a studio nearby that’s a Bikram studio, do a little research on that style and see if it sounds like it’s worth a try. If you know someone that goes to the studio, ask them. If you’ve got some time to stop over and talk to the owner, studio owners love chatting up their style of yoga (in many cases, they left their ‘prior life’ out of passion for it, so they are happy to share!) If the list of classes is long and seems complex, talk to the Director of Yoga at the gym or ask some of the students. Observe the classes, if possible. Read up on the description. With a little legwork, you can find a style that’s worth a try.
5. The big day is here. How the heck do I get ready? What do I wear? I don’t think I have the body for yoga and everyone else is going to be in great shape. Let me tell you the hard and fast truth. I have been teaching yoga for almost 10 years and I have seen all shapes and sizes of bodies in class. I have run countless road races (just as an aside) and seen people who, just based on their physical appearance, I never thought could pass me and they left me in the dust. Bottom line: You can’t judge a book by its cover. And it’s not worth wasting your time anyway. There will always been someone thinner, in better shape or more flexible than you. But who cares? You’re there too and with consistency, your body is going to change shape, mold, sculpt and benefit from the practice. It’s unavoidable (thank god!). So, let’s drop that mindset.
Now, as far as what to wear, there are definitely a few things that will help. If the studio you’re going to teaches classes in the heat, leave your velour track suit at home (no kidding, I had a student come in one of these once, and despite my suggestions, she kept it on over her shorts and a t shirt. She lasted about 10 minutes in it!) Wear something you might wear for a run or a brisk walk and remember, you’re going to be bending over a lot and going from standing to sitting or the floor, so you probably want to leave the flouncy shirts and big T’s at home. Something close fitted or close to the body will do fine. Guys, T shirts and shorts are fine. If you have yoga pants, those are great because you’ll want your legs covered if possible. Resist the urge to run to the latest yoga fashionista store and spend hundreds of dollars on clothing. Target has great stuff to start out with and you’ll appreciate putting your money into the classes more than into the clothing.
That’s it. The big day is here. Think of it as the first day of the rest of your life with a practice that will see you through think and thin, can be done anywhere and with little equipment. There is so much more to know but this should get you started. Please contact me with any specific questions at Karen@barebonesyoga.com and enjoy the journey!