When you teach yoga for a living, you see and hear many things that kind of blow your mind. So I've been inspired to create a list to share with the world in hopes of making yoga less intimidating for the beginner and more accessible for all.
1. It’s OK to be a beginner.
Perhaps one of the most challenging things to do in your life is to walk into a “club” for the first time. It doesn’t matter what club — a gym, country club, treehouse, sorority/fraternity, band rehearsal space, yoga studio ... but rest assured, just getting in the door is the hardest step. Once you're inside, it gets much easier. We all have to start somewhere. Everyone was once a beginner and in many ways we always will be. You are not alone.
2. You don't need to lose weight to practice yoga.
This one cracks me up. I can't tell you how often I hear, “I just need to lose a few pounds, then I'll come to class.” Every time I hear it, I want to laugh and say, “That’s like saying, ‘I need to eat a meal before I go out to dinner.’” It makes no sense! Your practice, the mat, the studio is the place where you will begin to transform your figure. You'll either learn to accept yourself and/or you will cultivate a deeper awareness of your needs so that you can change your habits, whether they be nutritional or otherwise. In short, you don't need to lose weight to step into a yoga studio.
3. The more you come, the easier it gets.
We call it a practice, and consistency is key. Frequency is as well. It’s like anything in life: the more you practice, the simpler it becomes. Your body recognizes the poses physically. Your mind connects to them intellectually, remembering alignment principles and pose names. Over time, your emotions begin to respond to different poses accordingly, and your spirit will as well. Just keep coming. It gets better and better.
4. There are thousands of different styles.
It drives the historian and engineer types nuts, but yoga history is controversial. One thing is certain: In the modern Western world, there's a plethora of styles to choose from. Some are faster and more athletic; some are softer and more gentle; others rely on great amounts of artificial heat with far slower movement. A really good rule of thumb is try out multiple styles. Usually one will resonate more than another, and sometimes that evolves as you evolve. There's no way of knowing unless you open your mind and try a few on for size. What matters most is what you like.
5. Chances are, you’re going to sweat.
I once had a new student come thinking he was attending a smooth class of stretching and breathing. Afterward, I asked him what he thought. With a dazed look and a thick accent from Oklahoma, he said, “I feel like I just ran a marathon, got the sh$t beat out of me with a monkey wrench, and took a kindergarten nap all at the same time.” Even in non-heated styles of yoga, you might break a sweat. Wear something you don’t mind sweating in and something in which you can wave your fanny. Yes, there are many upscale yoga clothing brands. You don’t have to wear those, but it’s a good idea to be comfortable and ready to sweat.
6. It’s OK to have fun in class.
Some of the greatest spiritual masters were incredible joke tellers. If you happen upon a teacher who is adept at incorporating humor into their teaching, please don’t stifle your enthusiasm. Laughter is great medicine as is smiling. Let yourself have a little fun. Try not to take yourself too seriously. This applies both on and off the mat.
7. You will likely leave happier than when you arrived.
When I was a single mom, I would sometimes go for long periods of time without a class. It was not uncommon for my friends to offer to baby-sit so I could go to class. "Oh, I get it," I would think. "You like me better when I’m practicing." The thing is, you're simply able to process life better when you're practicing yoga. You're happier and more free. Things don’t bug you so much. What seems like a big deal without a healthy practice will later seem trivial. And you'll leave happier about life. I’ve had students tell me they arrived at class wanting to punch someone in the face and they left farting roses. No lie.
8. Handstands are just a pose.
Yes, if you're on Instagram or Facebook, you might see a lot of handstands. I'm an offender myself. But any self-respecting yoga teacher or practitioner will tell you the same thing: Handstands are just another pose. They don't determine your self-worth. Even if you nail a free-standing handstand on the top of a mountain, you'll still have to pay your taxes and pick up your dog’s poop. They don’t change anything. If you're really inversion curious, do a workshop. Just remember, it’s a journey. Take your time. Be patient and consistent and enjoy the ride.
9. It’s OK to have injuries.
Yoga, when taught and practiced properly, is a healing art form. Be sure to tell your teacher about your injuries. Together, you can ensure that your practice is one of healing. (Bonus hint: Try not to eat anything that will make you feel gassy before class.)
10. Not all studios are the same.
Just like there are many different styles of yoga, there are also many different studios. If for some reason you have a negative experience at one studio, don’t give up. Just try another one. You'll likely find your studio “home,” the place where you feel welcome and comfortable. And if you don’t, there are many different online options. There are so many avenues to practice, and the benefits are huge. Just keep trying! This, too, applies both on and off the mat.