10 Things Every Beginning Yoga Student Should Know.


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10 Things Every Beginning Yoga Student Should Know.

1. It doesn’t matter how flexible or inflexible you are. Really. Being flexible won’t make you happier. There’s no prize.  Stop suffering and learn to love the body you have!

2. Don’t get hung up on how you look in a pose. Everyone else in class is focusing on their own pose. They don’t care how you look (unless you’re wearing a thong). Let this be your first lesson in ego management.

3. It’s OK if you don’t know what the Sanskrit words mean. The only people in the room who do are teachers or big yoga dorks.

4. It’s not religious—unless you want it to be. Your practice should be unique to you. You’re allowed to make it as spiritual, religious, fitness oriented (or not) as you want. (If someone tells you otherwise, please have them call me.)

5. Yoga is an art form, a science, a lifestyle and a philosophy. But more than anything, it’s a way to get to know yourself better. And that’s something that benefits us all.

6. Everyone gets the left and right sides mixed up sometimes. Don’t be embarrassed when this happens. If your teacher corrects you,  just smile. There’s a good chance she’ll say “left” when she means “right” later in the class.

7. It’s cool to fall down. The first time I fell on my face while attempting an arm balance, I was mortified. Now, when I get a big red mark on my forehead from diving head-first into my mat, I consider it a badge of honor. It’s how you learn. Laugh at yourself and move on!

8. No one cares if you can do a Handstand in the middle of the room, or touch your foot to the back of your head, or some other advanced pose. Just start where you are, and your practice will build over time. You’ve got the rest of your life to master the poses — for now, just breathe.

9. Your teacher wants you to ask for help. No one understands the temptation to hide in the back row and pretend to be invisible more than I do. But believe me when I say yoga teachers LOVE to answer your questions. Your teacher really wants to help you with your pose, answer your question about philosophy or explain what that Sanskrit word means. So if you don’t understand what’s going on, ask!

10. Keep coming back. When you’re new to anything there will be moments of frustration and discomfort. Despite what you might see on TV commercials, hatha yoga is usually not the same as going to a spa to get pampered. It’s hard work. It can be exhausting — physically, mentally and emotionally. At times you will want to throw up your hands and quit (or at least curse out your teacher for making you hold that pose you hate). Don’t. This is where the healing happens. Breathe into it, and come back tomorrow. You’ll be glad you did.


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Erica Rodefer Winters

Erica Rodefer Winters is a writer, prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher, and mama living in Charleston, SC. As the former online editor for Yoga Journal magazine, she lived and breathed yoga at work and at home. She practiced with amazing teachers every day, went to yoga conferences, and had a supportive environment to live her yoga. Now, she's trying to navigate yoga in the real world. Her blog, Spoiled Yogi, is about her journey to find contentment and live in the present, no matter what. Her loves include her family, her sweet 3-year-old Annabelle, yoga, writing, and SO many other things!


31 Responses to “10 Things Every Beginning Yoga Student Should Know.”

  1. Jack Daw says:

    This was a gentle post and I loved it. I am a home-practitioner of yoga (as I cn't afford the time or cost of actual lessons) but it translated well to my worst critic…me.


  2. Wonderful, Erica. This is the way to make Yoga warm and inviting for everyone.

    The first time I went to a Yoga class I had my wife Jane to guide me. Short of that, this article is the next best thing!

    i'm going to post this on the Elephant Facebook page right now.

    Bob Weisenberg

  3. Diane Marie says:

    I don't see people who are overweight, middle aged, and out of shape pictured in any of these posts about yoga, so please understand if some of us are intimidated, if not downright turned off. If you ask me, it seems like yoga classes are one more place beautiful people can flaunt themselves. Screw that. I'll stay home and make an ass of myself, thanks, anyway.

    • Becca Joben says:

      If you can make an ass of yourself with no one around…at home…
      …the problem/concern you have expressed is obviously coming from YOU! You just need a great teacher to help you move through all of that insecurity.

    • Sue Ann says:

      I'm with you Diane and suggest you proceed at your own confort level. As you can see from the two comments above, not all yoga people are welcoming and supportive. Clearly their ignorance exceeds their ability to offer advice. Best of luck on your yoga journey.

    • Justine says:

      Hi Diane,
      Love your post! Way to be authentic and put it out there. Lol.
      I’m just over forty and trying like heck to shrink my abdomin so I hear ya! But I have left the and joined classes and the relationships with my instructors and fellow students mean so much to me, now, and I’d hate for you to miss out! Try finding a community studio instead if a gym, maybe. Lots of classes have different students and different vibes. Some classes are called “yoga for every body” that might be something to look for. I noticed a really big change in my practice having instructors to give me guidance…I started to understand poses so much better.

    • Kelly says:

      I'm over 300 lbs and I do yoga, NO some classes won't be a comfortable place for a heavy person or older person etc … the RIGHT class will be. Look around. If you have options in your area try different studios even if you think they wont be welcoming try it at least once. If unfortunately you don't have options in your area there are books, videos, web classes etc to study at home so keep doing that. But there is nothing like the encouraging instruction and helpful corrections from a good teacher.

  4. Hi, Diane. I agree with erin. You just need to hunt around a little for the best class. My first classes were very diverse and very embracing. You can find one like that, too, unless you happen to be in an area with few options.

    Best wishes.

  5. Great list, Erica! 😀 I must say that I agree with you on all 10 🙂

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  9. Acacio says:

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  10. Steve S. says:

    Good advice to someone who wants to start Yoga, me. 🙂

    Thank you.

  11. Erica – what a great list that really tells it like it is. I was worried about all that stuff – inflexibility, that yoga was a cult, etc. And totally afraid to ask my instructor questions like – what does Namaste mean? Wish I would have read this before I started! I'm going to recommend this article to all the people I know that want to try yoga! BTW – love your blog!

  12. waxbear says:

    I was lucky to start with an extremely small, low key class, with a goofy teacher in a dance studio that I already felt at home in. I wish everyone could start this way.

    Loved #5.

  13. ARCreated says:

    I'm middle aged (well almost since I plan to live to 120 I actually have a few years to true middle age) and as my husband says on the curvy side…and I'm the teacher 🙂 don't be afraid, the only thing you have to lose is your fear and some of that inner critic.
    Maybe that's why I love yoga so so so much, when I started I had all those fears, when I took teacher training I was at first nervous to teach because I wasn't the bendiest, thinest, strongest anything "est" in the room, but yoga took me past that, to share my love and passion and joy and most importantly my self acceptance!! What I love most is having a room full of real genuine people of all shapes and sizes. And the best is when I see some young, bendy hottie I can now see them as beautiful without jealousy or judgement and I celebrate humanity…we are all on our path, we are all divine and the manifestation is just that, a manifestation that comes with it's pros and cons. I love love love this list. Thank you.

  14. […] the time I got into the classroom, it’s nearly full and so tightly packed that it’s impossible not to walk on someone’s m… I’m talking an inch between each mat. There is a spot at the very front near the music control […]

  15. […] 10 Things Every Beginning Yoga Student Should Know | elephant journal […]

  16. […] them out? Have you been “meaning” to get to a yoga class, but feel intimidated….(http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/09/10-things-every-beginning-yoga-student-should-know-erica-rode…) Maybe you have talked about getting involved in a charity? […]

  17. yogabear says:

    great write up. I am new to yoga and I love it. In class, it is just me and my mat-no competing or checking on others to see if i am able to stay up. I am able to embrace myself and learn about who i am. How do I react when a pose is difficult? if i cannot get into a pose? I am always able to adjust to this and in the end, i can always blow myself a kiss and be gentle with myself. Yoga taught me how. Thanks Yoga!

  18. Donna says:

    Good article! I remember how scared I was when I first began taking yoga classes. I was sure I was "doing it wrong." I've since learned to drop all that fear and just love my body they way it is. Yoga helped me love myself and not compare myself to others. We are all on our own unique journey, and yoga has helped me so much. I am grateful!

  19. Sofie says:

    Thanks for reminding me about this.

  20. Isa says:

    Great article and so true, some people have a preconceived notion of what Yoga is, I say check all expectations at the door and just come with and open mind and keep practicing and learning and growing. There is always going to be someone who is more flexible, better looking and stronger but if you keep with it and make sure you eat well and take care of yourself you'll benefit greatly from regular yoga practice:-)

  21. Karen Monteith says:

    I love your philosophy – " journey to find contentment and live in the present, no matter what."
    I also love your post as I am a new yogi. I have struggled with a studio that would not let me use props. I have osteoporosis and arthritis. I am now doing an at home practice.

  22. DiAna says:

    Great article! Thank you. I have recently unsubscribed to Elephant Journal. I've feel the pieces they publish have shifted into a more sensationalized, less authentic body of information.
    Your piece is a breath of fresh air. If they continue to use more writers like you I may subscribe again.

  23. klsoni says:

    very nice post useful to all not only beginners

  24. E Kumar says:

    Why are so many western writers and yoga teachers so down on Sanskrit? Sanskrit is an extremely therapuetic practice that can relieve issues like depression and anxiety. If you don’t understand it’s benefits maybe you could kearn them and pass them on instead of ignoring or putting it down. Sanskrit is an integral part of yoga so I wish the author didn’t dismiss it. It is actually rather offensive to Indian people to speak about Sanskrit which is part of the sacred science like this. Otherwise a lovely article.

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