Beginning Yoga? Start Where You Are...
My wife Tara has people in their 60s in her classes, right next to people in their 20s; people who have just started yoga, right alongside very seasoned practitioners. We don't call one class "Advanced" or others "Level 1" -- because once you learn a few basic positions and concepts (we do have a "Basics" class for that), the words "advanced" and "beginner" have far more to do with what's going on inside of us than what moves we're doing. Learning the moves, whether they look complicated or simple, is all "beginner" yoga!
Everyone starts where they are and moves according to their own body. Gaining the confidence that you can keep up and it's not too hard is mostly a matter of getting used to working with your own body. Everything is more difficult when it's brand new (like riding a bike). Familiarity and comfort comes quickly with a little perseverance. Tao Porchon-Lynch, yoga Grand-Master and a founder of the Yoga Teachers Association, is a great new friend of Tara's. She's 92, a member of the Ramakrishna Vivekenanda Center in India since 1939, marched for peace with Ghandi, and still teaches yoga every day. She came to lead an afternoon of yoga at Strala, and it was hard! She is great proof that yoga is much more than just sitting and talking and twisting around a little, and that a good yoga practice creates an amazing, vibrant life.
Fear of discomfort and unfamiliarity is a really common roadblock to getting started with yoga. We see this come up with a wide variety of people. Some are young and think yoga is for older people. Some are older, although many older people here are quite fearless! Some people are overweight, feel they've tried everything already and there's nothing left to be done. There's a common psychology here that centers on blame and self-criticism. If we think there's nothing to be done about how we are -- even if it's very uncomfortable for us to be that way -- we hope it will be comforting to believe it's not in our control, and therefore not our fault. Of course, the opposite is true. It's not comforting to lose faith in our own abilities. We feel this in our instincts, even while our minds are still "processing." And it is in our control, and we are responsible! This really is a great thing, because it puts us in the driver's seat. When something is unfamiliar (scary), we can throw up all kinds of roadblocks. "Is it safe?" Or "I can't keep up!" Of course we have to be safe, and of course we need to go at our own pace, but we can do both without holding objections as protection mechanisms that keep us stuck.
One good place for caution is around particular injuries, like chronic back or knee issues (so be careful here!). We have many people come to Strala with long histories of failed physical therapy, who have great success learning to treat themselves through yoga. The rule is the same for everyone: start slow, move at your own pace, back off a little when you get scared but don't give up. This is especially important when there is an injury to protect. Chronic injuries gain some of their lasting hold on us because we get stuck and afraid to work through it, and don't believe in ourselves! Yoga is a great way to regain trust in our own instincts and abilities, and live a vibrantly healthy life.