November 19, 2014

6 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Yoga.


It’s been nearly 14 years since I first started practising yoga, and nearly four years since I started teaching.

I am an Ashtanghi most of the time, but recently—due in part to the fact that I am eight months pregnant—I started attending multi-level hatha and restorative classes, both of which attract a large number of beginners.

Even when I am not teaching, I always like seeing new faces and hope that newbies get as much out of their practice as they can.

Many beginners ask what they can expect from those first classes, and if there is anything I wish I had known before I started to practice. My answer is always yes, there are several things I wish I had known—some big and some small.

The top five things that would have been most helpful are listed below:

1. It is better to start slow and learn correctly then to start fast and get it wrong.

Many former athletes or current weekend-warriors have a hard time with this one, but much like anything else, it is better to start slow when learning yoga.

It is possible to hurt oneself doing yoga. (I’ve been in classes where hamstrings have torn, joints have been dislocated, etc.). Many times, the people who end up with the worst injuries are beginners who are pushing themselves too hard.

Even Ashtanga, the practice that I favor the most, is best learned slowly. I personally think Mysore-style is the best way to learn, but lead classes designed for beginners are a good option, too.

Whatever the style, remember to follow your own pace. A good instructor will remind you or this, and even if they do not, keep in mind that there is no yoga police—no one will stare or think less if you happen to be slower than everyone else.

2. Thicker mats are better for those of us with a history of injuries, or who happen to be older students.

Unless we take a Bikram class, the studio will most likely have a hardwood floor.

Most yoga mats provided by studios are very thin. Sometimes, it’s just too hard on our bodies to practice on a hard floor with a thin mat.

While the standard mats sold in most health food and athletic stores tend to be thin, mats do come in a variety of thicknesses and, usually, the more higher end, the thicker they get.

While a brand new student may be reluctant to invest in an expensive mat, it is possible to find thicker mats that aren’t outrageously expensive (going online is a great way to check out all the options). Another option is to double or triple stack regular mats.

3. When it comes to clothing, form-fitting is usually better—especially when it comes to tops.

The brand of clothing that we wear to yoga isn’t important. However, the cut of it is.

I made the mistake of wearing a boxy t-shirt to my first yoga class and having it ride up in a variety of poses. It was quite distracting.

I quickly learned that form-fitting tanks and camis were a better choice for two reasons: not only did they eliminate the riding up problem, but the instructor was better able to see my alignment.

For those who are self-conscious, keep in mind that form-fitting does not have to mean skin tight. Even a closer-fitting t-shirt is a better choice than a baggy one.

4. Alignment is more important than how deep we can get into a pose.

Alignment is so important, yet is often the one thing that most beginners ignore or are totally unaware of. (I was guilty of both when I first started.)

However, if poses are done incorrectly, they will take a toll on our bodies, and it won’t be long before we feel the negative effects.

Therefore, listen to the instructor’s cue when s/he suggests where the feet should go, when to back off, etc. Sometimes our egos want to do more, but this is a good time to keep that ego in check.

5. Super flexibility can actually be a problem.

Speaking as a naturally flexible person, I thought it was a blessing that I could assume poses that most beginners could not.

However, it wasn’t.

Being overly flexible often means that we are at a greater risk for getting injured or pushing ourselves too far. Sometimes, it can be difficult for an instructor to pick up on this, especially in a large, multi-level class, because they may assume you’re an experienced student.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to mention to the instructor before class begins that you’re a beginner and naturally flexible. Once they are aware of this, they may recommend that you not go to your deepest stretch in some poses and take it down a notch or two, which can prevent injury.

6. Yoga isn’t about the poses.

This is often repeated, but it can get lost when we enter class and feel like, somehow, we are in competition with the people in attendance.

As I have often told my students, no one gets a medal for mastering a pose, nor does one become more enlightened by having the “perfect” lotus, triangle, etc.

Even if we choose to spend the entire class in savasana and concentrating on the breath, that is yoga.

Yoga can be a great addition to people’s lives, and for many it becomes a life-long practice.

However, everyone has to begin somewhere, and getting off to a good start is very important.

Hopefully, these tips will be of value to both the brand new and the experienced yogi alike.




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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: k4dordy/Flickr


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