A student in my class had never done yoga before. He arrived late, and the only space available was in the middle of the tightly packed room, and there was no time to discuss or prepare. I felt that he was struggling as we moved through the practice, and I made some suggestions on modifications to the poses and he kept pushing through. I felt the pushing, but at least he didn’t get up and walk out.
He was courageous enough to stay through the class, but made a quick exit afterwards. Knowing the transformative possibilities of yoga, I wanted to grab him, even shake him, while telling him to wake up and drink the Kool-Aid, but alas he slipped out, and in a moment was gone. I wondered what his story was. I wondered if he'd try yoga again. This experience prompted me to want to write a letter to new students.
Here are five things to remember when starting a practice of yoga:
1. It's probably harder than you thought.
This is by far one of the most common statements from new students. I remember telling friends when I first started yoga that it was the hardest thing I'd ever done, and I had done sports all my life. Yoga tends to use the whole body, which includes parts that may not have been called upon in quite some time.
Yoga is a mind-body practice and the goal is to make that connection, but in doing so, the body is strengthened and opened through a series of postures called asana. The important thing here is to honor the body and start where you are. There is a yoga class for everyone. If the style or flow of the class you attended really isn’t for you, check into different classes. Some are geared toward fitness level, health status and age.
2. No pretzels necessary!
I spent years staying off the mat because I wasn’t flexible enough. I thought that I'd need to contort my body into a pretzel if I was going to practice yoga the right way. When I decided to face my fears about not being good enough and came to the mat, I found I didn’t have to do that. But what I did find is that I have become more flexible, both on the mat and off, in ways I could not have imagined back then. We must remind ourselves that it isn’t about being good at yoga. It isn’t about achieving some contorted body posture. It's about the journey, every single second of it.
3. Your teacher is your friend.
Yoga is about energetics. Just as in any other classroom setting, the teacher is a key component. I can say for sure that I would not be where I am today without having incredible teachers with whom I connected deeply. There are many different styles of yoga in the west, and many different styles of teachers to go along with them. Find someone you trust to guide you. It's your journey, but your teacher can be the conduit to help you along the way.
4. Yoga is about connecting with oneself.
It's about remaining open and letting whatever comes come. Connecting with oneself can be uncomfortable. As we begin to connect, we can feel a whole host of emotions and sensations. Then the judgments come. I can’t believe I tried this. What was I thinking? Would it be rude if I just left? In these times, noticing your breath can help to let go of the tirades of the ego and allow the body to settle into the present moment instead of shutting down, closing up shop, and going home literally and figuratively.
5. If you practice regularly and sincerely yoga will change your life.
Many new students ask, “How often do I need to do this to get the benefits?”
Practice as much as you can, whether it's once time a week or several times a week.
Yoga starts to transform as soon as you begin to practice, in major ways and in subtle ways, and the effects are cumulative over a lifetime. Yoga is healing. Yoga slows the aging process. Yoga strengthens the body, the mind and the spirit, and allows those who practice to face life with a sense of peace and resiliency they may not have previously known.
I am filled with gratitude for my teachers and my practice and what they have shown me about myself, about life, about being able to live fully. I am also grateful for the chance to get to better know myself each and every day and to share this practice with others along the path.