Before you start your first class, there are questions.
Who do you ask? The first question you should ask is, How do I find a good teacher? At the minimum, a teacher should be certified. Certification means they have a minimum of 200 hours of yoga teacher training, and many have years of teaching experience on top of that. However, certification doesn’t guarantee they are the right teacher for you. If you live in a large city, it is likely you have friends who go to a yoga school near you. Start by asking them questions.
Second, learn classical yoga first, don’t start with hot yoga or athletic vinyasa. You can learn those later. Start by learning the postures (in Sanskrit, asanas) first. Then learn how they are strung together into a flow (known as vinyasa).
1. Find a good teacher and stick with them for six months.
I’ll talk in a minute about teacher hopping, but in the beginning, find a teacher who likes teaching beginners. Almost every school has one. Learn the basics, and by that I mean classical yoga. Postures, maybe a short vinyasa flow. A few simple breathing exercises (known as pranayama) and show up to class once a week. If you need more, go twice a week, but start slow, especially if you haven’t done serious stretching and cardio for awhile, or ever!
For all the guys out there that think yoga must be easy and that it’s mostly for women: Danger Will Robinson! If you’ve never done yoga before I warn you. It’s tougher than it seems from the outside. So, unless you were a gymnast in high school you’ve probably never had a workout quite like this before.
2. Be curious, ask questions, read about yoga, read about great yogis, and other yoga styles to expand your understanding.
And continue going to class. It takes the average person about six months until the body adapts and you start to see transformation. That’s the average, maybe for you it’ll happen sooner, or later. Patience is important. Continue going to class. If you are impatient and push yourself it’s likely you’ll injure something (besides your just your ego!) and have to recover from that, which will slow your progress.
Reading is good because there’s more to it than just going to class and if you think yoga is something you want in your life long-term, then reading is an important next step. There are many great resources and books to read. Internet yoga sites often blog about great yoga books. One that I loved in my early stages of learning was “Fundamentals of Yoga” by Rammurti Mishra.
You should also ask your teacher, they will likely know what books are a good fit for you personally. And continue going to class.
3. After 6 months of one or two in-studio classes per week, you will have learned enough to work on developing your home practice.
Words to the wise: Try not to push yourself in your home practice, at least not yet. Don’t work on postures you haven’t already done in class under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher. Do work on your weaknesses in a careful, calm and steady way always listening to your body and your breath and your thoughts.
And remember to relax…this is yoga!
Get used to being on your mat for a few minutes to half an hour at least once a week. It’s the discipline of being on your mat that makes the difference, in both your physical and spiritual progress. While it’s rarely talked about these days, yoga is about discipline. It’s about the discipline of bringing the body (using asana) and the mind (using the breath) under control.
You can and should practice that discipline at home, many teachers talk about taking the practice of asana into your life, and a regular home yoga practice is at the heart of that transformation. Remember, yoga is growth.
4. When you have a regular home practice at least once per week in addition to a weekly studio class, then try different studios or, at least, different teachers at your studio.
Step up into an intermediate class, take a specialized workshop, learn something new and get out of your comfort zone (in a safe way). If inversions scare you then take an inversion workshop and face your fears about being upside down! Ask your teachers for guidance, they won’t mind sharing, and they’ll likely know who in the area is qualified and capable to teach you based on your current level of practice. This dovetails into our last point.
5. Explore some of the great things yoga has to offer.
Besides the postures, there are many parts of yoga that speak to all aspects of life. Using your hatha yoga practice as a stepping off point (some would say a gateway drug!) explore other aspects of yogic living and thought.
There’s meditation, chant (one of my personal favorites), ayurveda (traditional east Indian medicine), and vegetarian cooking. Or if you’re into the more mystical aspects of yoga there are the Yoga Sutras, the Vedas, and Upanishads. Every aspect of life from cooking, reading, running, thinking and breathing have all been addressed by yogis at some point. If yoga really works for you and you chose to be a yogi you will want to open yourself up to some of the other practices.
A last word.
The most important thing in yoga is to focus on your own process.
The key to yoga is to develop your ability to listen deeply to your body. You want to feel each muscle, each breath, to feel the flow of the prana (life force) through your body. Know when you are tired, know when you are sick, know what is happening in your own mind, body and spirit. Learning yoga is a great gift, a gift you give to yourself. And remember, your yoga is for your growth.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Zenna James/ Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Carolyn Coles/Flickr