It seems like everyone is doing yoga.
It has gained so much popularity over the last ten years that yoga studios now litter the country far and wide. While this is a good thing, it can be intimidating for those who have not yet dipped their toe in the coconut water.
Here are a few things every beginning student should know.
1) What happens in yoga.
You may be coming to class to stretch and strengthen your body, and you will, but you’ll do other things too.
Yoga is not just a work out. It is a way to connect your body, heart and mind so that you can gain total health. Your primary tool in making these connections will be the breath. Plan on hearing a lot of discussion of the breath and listen to it carefully. That thing so many of us take for granted can be a lifeline to improved mood, physical health, and self acceptance.
Health is not just about your body, and yoga will help all the parts of you to become healthy. It will do this by making you aware of your own thoughts, fears and strengths and by helping you feel supported in a group of like minded individuals. It’s kind of like therapy, philosophy and the health club all rolled into one. Considering that, the $16.00 to $25.00 you pay per class is a great deal.
2) What “namaste” means.
Pronounced “Nah Mah Stay,” this is a Sanskrit word, as are all the traditional names for yoga poses. (If you hear a teacher say a word you don’t know other than namaste, it is likely a pose name. Don’t sweat it, just glance around at the other students in the class to see what they are doing or ask your teacher what it means.)
Don’t be afraid of saying namaste. By uttering it you are not pledging allegiance to a cult or negating your own religious beliefs. You are simply doing what the word says you are doing; honoring your fellow yogis and recognizing your human connection.
3) What “om” means.
Om is said to represent and echo the first vibration of creation, and as such, encompasses all things, signifying the yogic philosophy, which is that we are all one.
Traditionally pronounced “Ow Ooh Um”, or Aum, it’s symbolized by a distinctive shape which resembles a backwards 3 with a tail trailing off the back, and a slash and dot overhead. You might see this symbol tattoo’ed on your teacher, painted on a studio wall or embossed upon your neighbor’s yoga mat.
Like namaste, if you intone this word, as people often do at the beginning or end of yoga classes, you are not making some pact with the devil or otherwise compromising any personal beliefs—but you are strengthening your connection with the universe through sound.
Think of “om” as a universal one word love song.
4) What you are supposed to do during savasana.
Savasana or resting pose, the last pose of every yoga class, literally translates from Sanskrit to mean “corpse pose.” It is called this because it is the symbolic death of your practice, meaning everything that happened in your class is now in the past and should therefore be released.
The only thing that should matter to yogis is the present moment. Keeping yourself in the present moment is believed to keep you in reality, as opposed to reflecting on past events which are no longer occurring, or projecting future events which have not yet occurred. The more we live in the moment, the less fear and anxiety we experience.
Savasana is a great place to practice doing nothing, while you train your mind to be still.
Practically speaking, just lay down and allow your whole body to relax. Gently close your eyes. Observe any thoughts that enter your mind and then let them float away. If you are having a hard time letting go, focus on the rhythm of your breath.
The more you practice savasana, the more natural it becomes. It won’t be long before you’re craving it like chocolate ice cream. (Which of course would be projecting into the future, but hey, you’re not enlightened yet.)
5) What kind of people you will meet.
In general, incredibly friendly ones.
There are exceptions to this of course, but overall, be prepared to discover the nicest bunch of men and women ever. One of the main reasons I love yoga is because of the sort of person it attracts. Open minded, kind-hearted, and bold, yoga people may seem stand offish when you first walk in the room, but that’s just because they’re in the zone. They will smile and help you at the slightest provocation, especially teachers, and you should never be afraid of reaching out.
A huge part of yoga is learning and teaching compassion for yourself and others, and yogis will take every opportunity to practice it. If you run into one or two yogis who don’t, that’s your chance to start working on yourself.
Realize that we are all fighting secret battles, smile and move on.
Yoga, though an ancient tradition surrounded with mystique, can be practiced by everyone. The common refrain that we teachers hear, “I could never do yoga! I’m not flexible!” is the bane of our existence. Truly, if you can breathe, you can practice. Start slow, find a beginners class, a restorative class or a gentle flow, ask questions, go as often as you can and expect great things.
Yoga will give you gifts you didn’t know you were looking for. You don’t have to take my word for it—just take a deep breath and dive in.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman