The Beginner’s Guide to Yoga

September 2019

I cannot tell you how many times a person has said to me that they are not flexible enough to take a Yoga class. When I hear this, I think to myself, “if they only knew.”

I am not very flexible. I have been practicing Yoga for 30 years, and there is no way I am going to get my foot behind my head. All I can say to those of you wondering if you are “good enough” to take a Yoga class is “Just Do It” to borrow Nike’s slogan. Yoga is the only reason I can move as freely as I do and not have pain. 

We come into our life with an individual template. Mine was to have a stocky build, dense bones, and strong muscles. Because of this, I have limited flexibility in my fascia and my connective tissue. My dad is the same way. We can move refrigerators if you need us to but don’t ask me to sit in Lotus position!

As you contemplate taking a Yoga class for the first time, keep in mind everyone can do Yoga. The current state of your body, whether flexible or not is precisely the perfect place to begin your practice. We could put off starting forever if we waited for the conditions to be ideal. If we said, “I won’t start studying German until I am fluent in it,” then we would never learn the language. We become skilled through practice. The first step is to accept yourself exactly where you are and have the courage to walk through the door.

What to Know Before Your First Yoga Class

Here are some things to know that may put your nerves at ease:

There will be Yoga props

These props may include mats, straps, blocks, blankets, and bolsters; sometimes there are weight bags and eye bags. The Yoga teacher uses props to accommodate a variety of skill levels and abilities. These accessories assist in creating comfort, ease, and healing. 

Wear comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement.

A pair of stretchy pants, tights, a tank top or t-shirt are all perfect choices. Do not wear belts, tight pants, jeans, shirts that are too loose, or tight shorts. You want to be comfortable, and you do not want to be limited or distracted by the clothes you wear. Yoga is not a fashion show. You do not have to spend hundreds of dollars on a Yoga outfit. Wearing a pair of sweats, or loose cotton pants and your favorite t-shirt will work just fine.

Do not eat before class.

Some suggest not eating 1 – 4 hours before class. You will find what works best for you and your constitution, but having an empty stomach will make practicing the Asana (physical movements) more comfortable. A full stomach often has unpleasant consequences!

Find the class that will offer you the support you need.

There are many styles of Yoga. Some are more movement oriented, while others are more restorative. Do your research, talk to a trusted teacher, or try some of the classes out until you find one that fits your current needs.

Choose a teacher that is skilled and knowledgeable.

Yoga is growing as a business, and the number of teachers available continues to increase. Make sure you find a teacher that is not only kind and loving but also has experience and the wisdom necessary to keep you safe and healthy. Trust your intuition. If you do not feel safe, move on to a new teacher.

Do not give away your power.

I went to a Yoga workshop once with one of the leading teachers at that time. He had us doing “drop-backs” – where from a standing position you reach backward for the floor and land in Wheel position — an intense, advanced back bend. Having already done 10, I noticed uncomfortable twinges in my low back and decided to stop. The teacher came over to me and told me to do another one. I told him that my back needed a rest. He turned and walked away and did not speak to me for the remainder of the weekend.

Had I followed his instructions, I would have injured myself. I chose to listen to my body and respect what it was telling me at the cost of being ignored by this popular teacher. Best decision ever made. Find a teacher that has enough intelligence to listen to and work with you instead of making unrealistic or dangerous demands based on their ego.

Let your teacher know about ANY current or recent injuries, traumas, surgeries, health conditions that may affect your ability to perform.

Whether they ask you or not, it is imperative for a teacher to have this information. It is additionally essential for them to have information about your current emotional and mental state. Yoga is designed to heal. For that to happen, a teacher needs as much information as possible to assist you in making your best choices.

I once had a student who “forgot” to tell me that she had a snowboarding accident a few months earlier and had injured her neck. When I finally found out, I was so grateful I had not put her into a headstand or shoulder stand. With her current condition, she felt fine but would not have been safe placing pressure on her neck. We, as teachers, know what is dangerous and what is helpful, but we need you to keep us informed to keep you safe.

Tell your teacher if you do not want them to touch you or if an adjustment they are making does not feel right.

It is a beautiful gift to have a teacher touch and adjust you. Some of us are tactile learners, and when a teacher offers her support by giving a gentle, informed physical adjustment, it can produce tremendous results. Hands-on adjustments are often used in Therapeutic Yoga classes, as well as gym Yoga.

These adjustments can be informative, comforting, and incredibly healing. If for any reason, you are not comfortable being touched you must tell your teacher. It is your right to say no to any physical contact that does not feel appropriate or safe. Trust yourself.

It is OK to have fun, laugh, and enjoy yourself.

One of my students would tell a joke whenever we were doing Pigeon Pose. Many of us struggle and are just enduring Pigeon until we can get the heck out. He would bring laughter into the space during this pose and immediately lighten the mood and experience for all of us.

When I walked into my first yoga class, I was in pain, insecure, scared, and not very flexible. I went anyway and have never regretted that decision. Remember, we all start somewhere, and the time is always right to make a change.