New to Yoga? Top 5 Things Beginners Should Know

Hands on assists are key for beginners
Hands on assists are key for beginners

1) The wellness and health benefits of yoga (physical, mental and more) will probably trump anything else you’ve ever done.  Beginners can not only expect to be stronger and more  flexible, but sleep better, stress less and fight bad bugs better with yoga-strong immunity.

2) Your success in performing the physical postures/exercises is determined more by your unique body and bone shapes, and ranges of motion facilitated by those shapes.  For instance, if you have a narrow pelvis, aspiring to do the splits is a bad idea!   45 degrees of extension in your spine on a good day?  Then Wheel Pose may not be for you.  It’s not a big deal–there are tons of poses that WILL suit you.

3) All yoga instructors are not created equally, nor are they interchangeable,  as some mass marketeers of yoga would like you to think.  Would you pick a hair stylist based on who’s closest? OK, for some of you, yes, — but, hair grows back!  Hurt your rotator cuff and the recovery time will be longer than getting over a bad hair day. Read teacher bios carefully and look for instructors w/ at least 5 years teaching experience, though 10 preferred.  Also, figure out how long they did yoga before they decided to teach it.  Did they think because they were a naturally flexible dancer or gymnast that they were magically endowed to teach a deeply inwardly-focused, mental practice?  Watch out — they might not understand how less fit bodies work, nor have command of anything beyond the physical postures flashing you back to phys ed!   Ideally, find a teacher who trained in an immersion program (lived yoga 24-7).  The Yoga Alliance certification used to carry weight, but one could argue it is less meaningful nowadays.

4) Treat your yoga like a doctor’s appointment and try not to miss class early on.   The practice of yoga can be overwhelming at first with lots of moving parts — how to perform the postures, breathing exercises, meditation techniques.  The biggest hurdle I find when beginning adults miss a class is more memory-related than anything else.  They forget all the coaching I gave them one-on-one, how I came over and guided them into poses in those first classes.  Then, they miss a week and “poof!” — I have to go back and re-teach it all. This can get a little tedious for the other students.  So, don’t be self-conscious about showing up and not knowing anything, but don’t let down the rest of the class by not taking your commitment seriously. Most of you wouldn’t cancel a doctor appointment due to less-than-perfect weather or a social engagement, then why cancel your Wellness Appointment?  Plan on disappointing people in the short-run with your new-found commitment to yoga–better than disappointing yourself in the long-run.  Look in the mirror and pretend telling someone demanding your time, “I’m sorry, I have an appointment.”  Deliver this line a in hushed tone with a serious face and I promise, they won’t ask!

5) Give it 3 months before you evaluate and avoid The Classic Beginner Mistake.   Authentic yoga practiced as “relaxed exertion” is the epitome of the Japanese concept of “kaizen,” or barely noticeable, continuous  improvement over time.  Subtle, sure, but it’s a big part of how Japan industrialized itself into a superpower.  Once you start coming to yoga 1-3 times per week, your body, mind, mood, outlook –everything launches on a slow trajectory of change.  While some people notice early on, for most, it sneaks up on them–maybe one day lifting a bag of groceries with   new-found upper body strength.  Then, at a party, you’re the only adult limber enough to sit on the floor!  So what’s The Classic Beginner Mistake? Thinking that you’re not really getting that much out of yoga and dropping it for a couple of weeks.  Before you know it, you’re the one who needs to sit in the chair and you realize how much you’ve lost!  Excuses in hand, you come groveling in to class (see number 4).  Yes, of course, we’ll take you back…and try not to judge.



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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham

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