Yesterday I posted about the tips I’d learnt when I first started running, so today I’m carrying on the theme and talking about the things it would have been good to know when I started practising yoga. There will be a post alongside this one which talks about what you can expect when you go to your very first class, so this is more for people who have started yoga and want to get the most from their new practice.
Avoid the front row – In most exercise classes, it can be good to go at the front if you’re new so you can see what the teacher is doing. Yoga classes tend not to be like that – the teacher will move around the class offering advice and adjustments, so if you don’t entirely know what you’re doing it’s better to be nearer the back so that you can look at other people for a guide.
Find the right teacher – I have been put off doing yoga so many times because I had attended classes where I didn’t quite love the teaching style, and I think I was really lucky that both my beginners yoga and beginners ashtanga courses had teachers whose styles I love and who I still practice with every week (well, the second beginners ashtanga course had a great teacher – luckily by that time I’d realised there would be teachers out there who didn’t think my ankles should be placed at angles which would break them). It’s not always to do with how ‘good’ a teacher is, it’s how good they are for you – someone might be too spiritual, someone not spiritual enough, one teacher may explain new positions in a way which just doesn’t make sense to you while another may explain them in a way you just get first time. So if you don’t quite click with the first teacher you try, go to a few different classes until you find the right person – you should be able to build a relationship with your teacher that will help you to build confidence and find your full potential.
Really learn what you’re doing, don’t guess – I can often tell the people in my Ashtanga class who haven’t been through a more basic beginners course (they’re usually the ones with their knees on the floor in an upwards facing dog). If you’re going to be serious about a yoga practice then it is so beneficial to do at least one beginners course (I started off doing two general yoga courses and one and a half ashtanga ones). You’ll learn in a small group environment which allows the teacher to help you work out how your body works in various poses and what you need to adjust to make things safe for you (e.g. I have hypermobile elbows so I know I need to have a microbend in my arms in downwards dog rather than locking them). You’ll develop a practice with correct alignment and know what your muscles are doing. This means that when you move into a more normal class you not only have the confidence that you know what you’re doing, but be doing it safely and correctly – and what you learn at this point will really stay with you.
Don’t push it – You won’t be able to do everything at once, and you’re more likely to injure yourself if you try to do the things your body tries to tell you not to. Listen to yourself and listen to your teacher. If they suggest a modification to a position you can’t do, take it rather than struggling to almost do the full pose. Stick with the modified version until it’s comfortable and move into the full pose bit by bit, week by week – when you do get there you will have built up the strength to do the pose properly.
Don’t wear baggy clothes – Comfortable as it may be, loose clothing can both get in your way (it can be annoying to be blinded by a loose tshirt in shoulderstand) and mean that your teacher can’t see exactly what your body is doing, so they can’t advise you as much on whether you need to adjust your pose.
Try different styles – The first type of yoga you try might be OK, but there might be something else that you find to be wonderful! So try out anything which appeals, and mix it up a bit.
Save money to start with – Most yoga studios will offer some kind of unlimited month/10 class deal which is often a total bargain. Sign up for this, try as many classes as you can and then at the end of the trial period you’ll have an idea of what works for you – whether you want a monthly pass, set number of classes or to pay as you go.
It isn’t about anyone else – This is the best lesson that yoga can teach you – it’s all about what you can do, what you can achieve, what is going on on your mat. Everyone is completely different, and yoga can really help you to realise that everyone has different strengths and you shouldn’t be intimidated by other people’s. The more you practice the more you start to appreciate that very few people have a perfect practice (and those who do have generally been doing it for years so it’s something to be inspired by & aim towards) – you might start off class amazed at how easily the person next to you slips into half lotus while your leg hovers stubbornly but end it realising that they can’t get up into a full backbend like you can. This is just because everyone’s body works in a different way – not better or worse, just different. However if you carry on, learn steadily, practice consistently and build strength and flexibility you will achieve the things that at first seemed entirely impossible – as Pattabhi Jois (father of Ashtanga) said, “Practice, and all is coming.”