An Open Letter to Beginner Yoga Students Everywhere.

Via Julia Lee
on Oct 10, 2012
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Dear friend:

I know. Trying anything new can be scary. Voluntarily placing yourself in a room full of people wearing spandex clothing and moving and breathing together can be terrifying, overwhelming and daunting. Please try to set aside your fears. This could be the beginning of great shift in your life.

You may think that you’re too inflexible or too weak to practice yoga.

Don’t worry; we all have our moments of rigidity and weakness (physically and emotionally). Start where you are. Let yourself work from the ground up, and allow yourself the possibility to be so amazed at what your body and your breath can do. All the messy stuff is part of the experience—necessary curriculum, if you will. Sweating it out in plank for a strong core, trying not to be reactive during five minute pigeon holds in the pursuit of open hips; these are required for the beautiful and elegant expression of the poses that look the fanciest, but are only acquired through effortful and conscious work.

Once we have all the pieces, then the puzzle naturally comes together, but with any component missing, the final product will never be cohesive. Make the gathering of the pieces a joyful journey.

None of us are above practice. That’s why it’s called practice: there is always so much more to be learned. In fact, the most challenging aspect of yoga isn’t about opening up the body; it’s about opening up the mind. The more that we can adapt a beginner’s mind, a willingness to start from ground zero—the more that we can receive. Just imagine all the possibilities that would open up to you if you let go of all the ideas and misconceptions you hold around what you like and what you don’t like, what you can or cannot do.

You may fear that you won’t know what you’re doing: where do you place your mat? How do you sign up? What’s proper yoga studio etiquette?

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Every one of us goes through moments where we don’t know what the heck is going on, and every expert at anything was once a beginner, too.

Don’t know where to place your mat? At one point or another, we all struggle with where to find our place, whether it’s in the practice room, in our professional careers, or even in the grand scheme of things. If you don’t know how to sign up, or how to behave in the studio, don’t be afraid to ask for help. In the end, experience is the best teacher, and sooner or later, we will all find exactly where it is we need to be.

You may have convinced yourself that you don’t have the right clothes, or the right mat, or even the right gender or age to be a yogi.

Despite what you may have been led to believe, yoga isn’t really about what you’re wearing or what brand of mat you own. Yoga practice is simply about the beautiful, breath-by-breath experience of being present inside your body. It doesn’t matter if you’re clad head-to-toe in designer yoga wear, or wearing a ragged t-shirt and shorts. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a $100 mat in a luxury studio or if you’re on a towel in your living room. Male, female, young, old, thin, curvy, wealthy, poor—these are all more boundaries that we put up to distinguish ourselves from the experience of being human, when the goal of practice is always to unify and simply be.

People come together in class not only to practice physical poses, but also to acknowledge the divine in all of us. When we move and breathe together, we are moving and breathing not only in service of our selves, but also in service of something greater: humanity. We recognize that we share more commonalities than we do differences; that really, despite our age, gender, sexual orientation, belief system, or economic status, it’s all about just being good, kind, happy people.

You might say you don’t have enough time.

If you think something is important, you’ll make time for it. How often do we neglect our own wants to serve the wants of others? We overwork, oversocialize, overthink. Instead of allowing ourselves some time away to collect our thoughts and refresh, we burn out.

Yet, consistently depriving ourselves of what we want isn’t doing a service to others, either. We all need to start believing that we are worth getting what we want, even if it’s 15 minutes on the mat during a hectic day. If we don’t treat ourselves with compassion, generosity and respect, how can we expect others to do the same?

Not playing small means reaching toward our highest potential in every way possible. Finding balance means equating our own wants with what we want for everyone else—to be happy, to be healthy, to be free.

You may think that yoga just isn’t for you.

Getting into yoga can be a bit like dating: sometimes you hit it off with the first style or teacher you meet, and sometimes you don’t. But there are so many amazing teachers out there to learn from, and there are so many styles of yoga to try. If you enjoy a physical challenge, there’s Vinyasa Flow. If you like routine and structure, there’s Ashtanga and Bikram. If you’re an anatomy junkie, there’s Iyengar. If you prefer a gentler style, there’s Hatha and Restorative. The list goes on and on.

Yoga is not just physical exercise, nor is it a weight-loss program. Yoga is not only for flexible people or for women. Yoga is not a religion, or a cult, or a fad. Yoga is not a cure-all pill. Adho mukha svanasana is not some sort of incantation that can dissipate your problems with the wave of a magic wand.

Yoga is a catalyst for truth that will tune you into your body’s own innate intelligence. Yoga is a stick of dynamite that will blast away your ideas of who you’ve been, who you are and who you can be and simply leave you gaping in the face of the truth that is your own inner light.

Irrespective of each of our physical strengths and limitations, irrespective of our fears and self-doubts and judgments, we can always do our best to honor the sweetness of every moment in our interactions with our selves and with everyone around us. May your journey leave you challenged, inspired, humbled, and above all, the best possible version of yourself that you can be.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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About Julia Lee

Julia is a yoga teacher, lover of all things, and dedicated student of life. She strives to be open to whatever the universe throws her way and practice her yoga off the mat at all times. Julia believes that the best lessons can often be found in the most unusual places. She writes about her experiences at and on Twitter @julialeeyoga.


32 Responses to “An Open Letter to Beginner Yoga Students Everywhere.”

  1. Karin says:

    Beautiful article. And not just for beginning yogis.

  2. Missi says:

    Love this article, not just for beginners.
    Thank you!

  3. Jamie says:

    Awesome – Very well said and written.

  4. Carm says:

    Beautifully said and so true!

  5. Tim McDonnell says:

    Thanks for this. You've given the world a beautiful gift through these words.

  6. Kat says:

    This is so true.

    I started yoga 2 months ago. I go to yoga everyday and everyday I learn something new about my body, my mind, my spirit and soul. It is an amazing adventure and I enjoy every second of it!

  7. Vision_Quest2 says:

    They understand this totally over at my blogsite.

    That it's possible to be a beginner for a very long time.

    I've been a "beginner" in asana level for over 5 years, [I've been kissing the advanced level in meditation for nearly 10 years.] I'm not young, formerly obese, now a little injured (a trick knee; costo flareups) … technically an advanced beginner … at 57 I'd kissed intermediate level momentarily and it had been downhill from there …

    And you can choose one or more styles, depending on venue … at home I do a soft vinyasa fusion (YES! with pilates … for me, corework must be accessible) practice. In the studio, I do hatha.

    I am a little chagrined that OM Yoga Center, while it is a little far from my preferred style, is not in business anymore in New York. They knew how to make their idiosyncratic vinyasa style appeal to beginners, and they knew how to treat them, too.

  8. Vision_Quest2 says:

    May have just mentioned at least one of the elephants in the room.

    That some people are all about various forms of salutations, may not have such open hips (whether by nature or nurture [cycling, running – I'd been a recreational lap swimmer with the slightly – at that time – bad knee]), my hatha teacher told us that open hips are THE key to anything beyond beginner level–think standing splits, koudinyasana, and beyond … plus any number of dynamic vinyasa transitions: wild thing (a.k.a. flipdog) is one, and wide-legged forward bend to headstand is another ….

    OR, for that matter, those who had never really taken to inversions (including shoulderstand) … ok … we perennial beginners get our yoga on, too … and with a teacher without attitude, we deserve to be in the same room (one-room schoolhouse style) practicing, if only for the greater spiritual enrichment:

    • Jenifer says:

      For teachers out there — the "one room schoolhouse style" is the simple process of teaching from the most basic modification and teaching the most basic (or accessible) sequence of postures.

      While most of my students are beginners (two years or less) and range in age from 20-70 with a myriad of diverse bodies and needs, the reality is that there are very different levels among those beginners depending upon the posture depending upon the body.

      I teach the most basic modification — that's what I "call" — and then by giving an assist (even if it's going over to someone and speaking to them, *that's* when I give them personalized instruction in the right depth, options, and modifications for them. We often have a *whispered dialogue* such as "how doe sthis feel, what if we tried that, do you feel this or that? how about this? lets see that. Yes, how does that feel? Ok, good. Practice this version from now on." And maybe it's "deeper" and maybe it's "more modified" — but what everyone learns is that they are striving to do what is right *for them* and not what is right on a picture, a book, another student, or the teacher.

      Proper asana alignment is often more about how it feels in the practitioner's body as well as what we are trying to accomplish with the pose (are you feeling the major force of the posture here? — then you diagnose if that is correct, incorrect, within the realm of correct, or OMG get out of the pose before you injure yourself and the world collapses!).

      So, it's about developing sovereign awareness in the student — not making sure the knee is 90 degrees in warrior pose.

      Anyway, ranty-advice giving to teachers over. 🙂

      • greateacher says:

        You are correct. Alignment is not about all looking alike. It's about safe body practices and body awareness, doing what is right for one self.
        Maybe you will write us an article more in depth. Thank you.

  9. greateacher says:

    Thank you so very much.. this article needed to be written. I have read soem stric tlists.. you kno w; wiht BIG do's and don'ts, and also Hard Truths to tell n w yoga students. Both styles made me embarrassed.

    Yoga is good. Yoga is fun.
    Yoga will make you feel good.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Inducing embarrassment is the "guru" 's way of bringing the "beginner" down a peg.

      I don't play that. And when I'd been a newbie to a new-school-type yoga studio (I'd been introduced to yin yoga in the New York City public schools over 40 years ago at age 16), I'd only pretended to play that.

      • greateacher says:

        I am sorry. I must not have made myself clear. I meant that the articles gave me a feeling of embarrassment.. NOT new students.

        • Vision_Quest2 says:

          Well, if you're a newbie teacher … no need to feel embarrassed … somehow there is good advice out there without all the scary myths and old wives' tales … see

          • greateacher says:

            I mean that I am embarrassed and slightly irritated that yoga teachers write the putdowny articles. I welcome new yoga students.

            I am not a new teacher. I am in my 60s .I taught public school for over 25 years, including physical education in a junior high 2 years and coached every girls sport that existed at the time. I used a yoga sequence in the track team warmups in the 1970s. I taught yoga in public schools at different times. I am still in public education; I now write about yoga; practice yoga for over 40 years and am getting my yoga teacher certification.

            My biggest fear about teaching yoga is that I need to purchase an Ipod and deal with music mixes and it will take some time to mess around with!!. I am not afriad of teaching yoga, of being critiqued, of making a mistake (I do that every day.. lots of practice with mistakes and smiling nicely), nor of my little stomach fat roll which does not seem to disappear or of my greying hair or of what people think of my 'looks'.

            Learning to be a teacher comes from the courage one shows each day in preparing, delivering, adjusting ones; delivery or instruction and learning from mistakes, triumphs and ongoing study.

    • julialeeyoga says:

      new yoga students are a gift to the world. i agree; let's all do our part in making them feel welcome.

      • Vision_Quest2 says:

        And that includes being like my hatha teacher was–blasting apart any mystiques about what would be intimidating to a beginner. Invaluable. Don't ever just say that advanced yoga practitioners got bored with the beginner poses. That is the cop-out of the teacher who would teach a certain style that never breaks things down, because they don't have the patience. Name the "why". Thank you very much, and kudos to you if you already do this.

        • Heather says:

          No, that's why my teacher made me do the same 5 postures for 7 weeks straight! Simple straight forward poses. Ah, talk about mentally challenging.Easy to get bored and miss the point and the ego talking again.

          Thanks for all your comments.

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            That reminds me of another approach, equally valid. When I took 80's style yoga IN the ACTUAL Nineteen – eighties ! I think it was 4 poses in my case.

            No pop music playlist and no flaunting of leg warmers. Practically no chanting, either. Yes, it HAD been the '80s.

            I am not referring to a "period piece." Over and out.

  10. I am sorry. I must not have made myself clear. I meant that the articles gave me a feeling of embarrassment.. NOT new students.

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  15. ross says:

    beautifully written piece.. i am a proud beginner yogi and thank you for a warm welcome.. namaste!

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