This Thing Called “Yoga”

It’s a new year!  Your resolution is to feel healthier, be happier and find more peace.  There’s this thing called yoga that people swear by!  You’ve heard all about it’s trans formative and healing effects.  You think…….this is it!  This is what I need in my life!  This is the answer!  So many yoga studios are offering amazing deals for beginners, even the one down the street that you’ve heard so many great things about.  You’re ready to go, eager to learn, excited about your journey………..and yet, you’re terrified!  When looking at yoga magazines, social media, advertisements and television,  you see thin, graceful and extremely flexible people putting themselves into shapes that to you, seem impossible.  You see all these beautiful people around you holding onto their yoga mats, laughing and looking refreshed.  It feels almost like a secret society……and you want in; but how?  You’re not feeling your best right now.  Maybe you feel you are not flexible enough, or strong enough, or thin enough, or focused enough.  You begin to think that yoga is not for you right now; you’re just not ready yet.  So you decide to start jogging, maybe cut back on junk food, and time moves on.  Before you know it, it’s December again, and you think, maybe next year I’ll try this thing called yoga.

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The thing is, you ARE ready.  It’s okay to be afraid.  Those yogi’s in the magazines, they all experienced their first yoga class, and they were most likely scared too.  No one came out of the womb doing the perfect headstand.  Everyone falls, everyone!!!!!  It’s called a practice for a reason, and no matter how advanced someone is in their yoga practice, they are still practicing, and they are still human, with their own flaws and issues.  Being a yoga teacher and student, I am here to tell you that yoga is AMAZING!  It changes your life for the better, I promise.  Anyone, regardless of age, gender or weight can and will benefit from this practice.  And if you have a desire to try yoga, it’s because you need this practice in your life.  And once you take that first step (and second, and third, and five hundredth), you will be so thankful that you started.

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But how do you begin?  What steps can you take to ensure that your first yoga class is safe, effective and enjoyable?

1) Invest in a good sticky, non-toxic yoga mat and wear comfortable, breathable, not too baggy yoga clothes that you can move in without accidental indecent exposure.  I can’t tell you how heart broken I feel when I see a new student slipping and sliding on his or her cheap synthetic mat while pulling up their baggy sweat pants.  Oh, and take those socks off!!!!  Feeling the soles of your feet on the mat is part of the grounding experience.
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2) Let your teacher know you are new to yoga.  Share any injuries, illnesses or syndromes that may affect your movements or breath.  Let them know if you are pregnant.  Good teachers will use this knowledge to ensure you have the proper tools (yoga blocks, straps) to help you modify and feel good.
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3) If you are truly a beginner, start by taking a beginner class!!!!  Beginner classes (sometimes called basics or level 1) are not necessarily easier, trust me.  If you’ve never done a warrior two or down dog, chances are you will need more detailed instruction on where your feet should go, how wide your stance should be, where your arms should be placed and how you should breathe.  Many vinyasa flow classes that claim to be intermediate or even “all level” can be rough to a beginner.  Teachers take the students in and out of poses quickly and swiftly, often with little instruction.  Basic knowledge of the poses themselves are super helpful when embarking on a multi-level class.   Being completely lost, constantly straining to look around, and feeling intimidated by the more seasoned practitioners around you will not leave you feeling refreshed or happy, and chances are you wont return.  In addition, please know that there are many different styles of yoga….certain styles may fit your needs better than others.  If you want a quiet, more gentle experience, I would recommend a “yin” or Iyengar” class.  If you want to build up a sweat and move, “Ashtanga” or “Vinyasa Flow” might be more fitting.  There is yoga for teens, pre-natal yoga, yoga for seniors, yoga for athletes, acro-yoga and even yoga for people with chronic illnesses…..the list goes on and on.  I recommend talking with your local studio, research the internet or ask a local teacher or friend who has been practicing for advice.  For more general info on the different styles of yoga, please click HERE.
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4) Let your teacher know if you do not want to be adjusted, especially if you’re injured.  Those great downward facing dog adjustments won’t feel so great if your are healing a torn hamstring.  Oh, and on another note, please know that if a teacher adjusts you, it’s not always because you are doing the pose incorrectly.  Often times the teacher will see that he or she can help you get deeper in a pose, thus offering a “feel good” adjustment.  Adjustments should help your practice, not hurt it.
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5) Slow down, listen, pay attention and take deep, slow breaths.  I advise my students not to treat their yoga practice in the same way they would treat a Cross Fit class.  Yes, these poses will build strength, flexibility and stamina, but it goes much much deeper than that.  Move slowly, like the air is thick.  Take moments here and there to pause and rest.  Continually check in and make sure you are okay.
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6) Don’t compare yourself to those around you.  Everyone is dealing with their own “stuff”.  If the person next to you is more flexible or physically stronger than you, all it means is either they have been practicing longer or their muscles, ligaments and joints are different than yours.  It does not mean that they are better, happier or more successful than you.
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And finally, try to have an open mind.  Don’t think too much.  Let go of any expectation or plan that you may have.  Listen to your body and be honest with yourself.  If something hurts, get out of the pose, don’t wait for the teacher to instruct you to get out of it.  If your first yoga class was not everything you wanted it to be, don’t give up.  Yoga, much like life, has it’s ups and downs.  Maybe you didn’t feel a connection with your teacher or the studio.  Maybe your mood was “off”.  Go to a different studio, find a different teacher.  Keep practicing, keep coming to your mat.  Trust the practice.  And have a great year!!!!!

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