So today is the day that you decided, for the first time ever, to show up at your local yoga studio and “get some.” I remember, years before I even took that first step into a class, wanting to “get some of that.”
My grandma, my uncle and my aunt were all yoga teachers. Even though I had never been taught one asana, I knew from a very young age that I liked the swagger, stillness, and openness of my yogi relatives.
When the day came and I was ready to take my first class, I was bombarded with obstacles. This was before there were neighborhood yoga studios and back when the classes were offered few and far between. This was pre-internet, before GPS.
To find a class I had to do it the 5,000 year old Vedic Tradition way: I found a friend who had a friend, who knew a guy who told me there was a class offered every Tuesday night at 7:30 in the rectory of a church a few towns away.
“You just show up when you are ready,” he told me.
My first try at finding the class I walked right into the middle of an AA meeting.
I spent the next two years with my one-dimensional teacher, Rodney Yee. I say one-dimensional as it was just me, my mat, and Rodney Yee’s Am/Pm Yoga video. No visual cues nor hands-on adjusting, the same practice day in and day out.
I got up the courage to try again and headed to my local park district. There stood my first yoga teacher: Shirley, a 93 year old half-Hawaiian woman who wore pink leotards. I was scared to death. I came into class, and my senses went into complete overloaded. I tried to digest the dark converted classroom, the texture of the yoga mat, the smell of the incense, the voice of the teacher and the sight of the 10 other students.
It was a six-week class series, and by week four I was the only one left. Everyone else had quit.
New experiences on any level can be a challenge but couple that with the lack of knowing where the experience is going to take you, and it can be downright terrifying. All of these feelings, I came to discover, are perfectly normal. Almost every first-time yogi has them.
So today, after 12 years of teaching beginners, here is what I can offer, to make this process a bit less scary.
If you are able, find a Beginner Series. It's typically four to six classes, offered once a week on the same day, at the same time, i.e. Wednesday nights at 6pm. A series like this is designed to give you the fundamentals and principals of alignment as well as the basics of where the mats are, when to use a prop, how to lay out and clean your mat. My manager Tracie tells students, “Start here, Colleen’s going to teach you how to spell YOGA.”
Students find comfort in knowing that everyone is new and in the same boat. Each week you build on what you've learned the week before. By the end of our four-week series, you have the confidence to walk into most of the yoga classes on our schedule. Students who go though the beginner series at my studio come out far ahead of many students who have been practicing years.
If finding a beginner class or series is not an option, here are my Top 8 Tips for Beginners. (And we are all forever beginners, aren't we?)
1. EveryBODY can do yoga.
It doesn’t matter how tall you are, how old you are, how much you weigh or how flexible you are. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga.
2. Be patient.
The beginning will be challenging, but beginnings usually are. As you begin to absorb the new practice, it gets easier and will start to come together in an effortless series of breakthroughs and openings. Be patient, all is coming.
3. Every day is different.
Today your mind and body is a direct reflection of what you did yesterday. Tomorrow your mind and body will reflect what you did today. Some days the energy flows freely, other days it can feel stagnant. Don’t judge. Just show up. That’s why it’s called a yoga “practice.”
4. Your practice is always your own.
Turn it up, turn it down, modify, dilute, and discover what you need from your practice each and every day so that the practice services you. When stepping on your mat, ask yourself: “What do I need today?” Let the answer be your guide.
5. Yoga is accumulative.
The more you practice, the more it benefits you; mind, body and spirit.
6. Let your breath be your guide.
Keep your breath even, steady and comfortable. Like a tour guide who took you the wrong way, drove too fast or spoke to slowly, in order to enjoy the ride stay on the right road.
7. When frustrated, work at 80%.
Some days… poop happens. We are frustrated, upset or purely unmotivated, anxious. Come to your practice with the intention of working at 80%, soften your mind, open your heart and let it all shine through.
8. Feel it to heal it.
You might feel sore muscles after your first few practices or you might feel emotions you have never felt. This journey is designed to open you up, and to allow you to shed what no longer services you in order to make room for that which nourishes you.
Find comfort in knowing that we all get butterflies. Follow all of the tips above and I assure you, you will never regret the effort it took you to get on your mat and practice this ancient art.