How Do I Even Begin?
The Simple Guide to Beginning Yoga
You’ve heard all of the incredible benefits of a yoga practice (Harvard Medical School mentions a few), and you want to try it out, but where do you start? How do you fit into the “yoga scene”? You already do, I promise.
- Check out studios near you and hit the pavement.
A studio offers you the chance to safely practice yoga and to connect with others. I recommend finding a beginner or beginner-friendly class (rather than all-levels) to become acquainted with general practice and terminology. Visit studio websites, read teacher bios, get a feel for the vibe, and then…just go. Many studios offer a free week or two for new students and you have the opportunity to try out classes with different instructors. You can usually drop-in, but signing up ahead of time gives you the chance to sign your waiver and have more time to get settled when you arrive. Take note of the friendliness of the staff, the cleanliness of the studio, and the overall atmosphere. What do you like? What information do they provide new students upfront? Also, be sure to tell your teacher if you have any injuries or conditions that prevent certain movements. Ask questions afterwards and tell the teacher what worked well for you or what you liked. If you plan to come regularly, communicating your needs and preferences may mold the class teachings.
- Grab a mat and comfy clothes.
Other than your body, you truly don’t need a thing to begin a yoga practice. (Reminder: the physical practice is only a fraction of yoga.) Yet, do you want to be wriggling in the germs of others at the studio (or the dust bunnies on your living room floor)? Maybe not. A mat is clean, provides cushioning, and prevents sliding. Many studios rent out mats for a few dollars. Can you stretch and move, and maybe sweat, in jeans? 10 out of 10 don’t recommend. Gaiam has a great selection of quality, inexpensive mats with different sizes and designs – any of these will serve you well and can be cleaned easily with a homemade batch of mat cleaner. If you buy one yoga “thing”, make it a mat that you feel good on and enjoy using. Having your own also reduces the risk of catching germs from rental mats. (Avoid cheapie mat brands from TJX stores, etc. – these may contain harmful chemicals.) Clothes that are comfortable for you to move in are key. Most classes involve Downward Dog, so you may want to tuck in your shirt or wear something fitted. Another perk to fitted clothing is that the teacher can see your muscles and bones better and help you with safe alignment.
- Keep it up at home.
We may not realize how much yoga and meditation helps us until we start and then stop. This is the sweet spot of gratitude for the practice and maintaining a home practice is a wonderful complement to a weekly studio practice. Time alone on your mat without traveling is a great way to decrease mental stimuli and stress, but it can be difficult to find a quiet place with few distractions at home. Aim to keep one spot clear and ready for you to roll out your mat at any time. Take a forward fold after the shower, do a gentle seated twist before bed, or simply find a few minutes to close your eyes and breathe. Maybe your home practice is an hour of movement, or maybe it’s a culmination of smaller moments taken through the day. The more your practice is woven into your daily life, the more balance you will find within. The yoga *magic* of a studio is all around you and within you, waiting to be tapped.
- Some other stuff that helps:
YouTube – There are plenty of free classes to guide you through becoming familiar with poses and sequences, as well as meditation.
Apps – Available on many devices, yoga apps have trials and paid memberships with phenomenal teachers if you want to spend some cash. There are free ones out there, too. Full disclosure: I’m hesitant to offer a blanket recommendation for any because your body and your movement dictates what works for you. (Another pro for in-studio, in-person classes).
Music – I rely heavily on Spotify (I have a paid account – huge thumbs up – but a free trial is available) and I’ve curated my own playlists, but there are other “moods” and genres to check out. Search for yoga, vinyasa, slow flow, yin, meditation, guided imagery, ambient, spa, relaxation, focus – just to name a few! 😉
Props – Although you can purchase yoga blocks and bolsters for home use, you can use a short stack of heavy books (or one big book) and a tightly-wrapped blanket inside of a pillow case with very similar results. If you decide to use props regularly, try sticking with these two types primarily before moving on to others.
Blankets – A thick blanket can be laid out over your mat for warmth and cushioning, folded or rolled to support your head/back/knees, or simply to cover for warmth during slower movement/stillness.
Tea or Lemon Water – Staying hydrated can be a challenge. Incorporating a beverage other than plain water as part of your time on your mat is a great way to get that extra fluid, warm up or cool down your body, and give yourself a chance to slow down to enjoy a cup (and perhaps meditate).
One final note as you gather your bravery and step out into the world of modern yoga: Your spot on your mat is worth as much as someone else’s (thank you SO much for that one, Amber Karnes). Yoga should encourage mindful and gentle connection with yourself and those around you, without obligation, shame or guilt, and without a power struggle. Be mindful of passionless and negative teachers, of people and places that encourage buying stuff, those who promote diet or nutrition with Capital letters ($$), and “gurus” who think and act like they are superior to you. You may want some yoga goodies if they bring you joy, you may lose weight as you begin to make healthy lifestyle changes, and you may seek out a mentor teacher – these are all part of beginning yoga, but you are inevitably the leader in your practice because it begins with you. A studio, a class, a teacher only help facilitate your practice. Trust your body, listen within, and find joy on your path.
Header image: Katherine Cota MacDonald
Photo credit: Jay Coy