It’s time. You’ve decided. You’re going to try yoga.
You’ve been hearing about the health benefits from your girlfriend, your chiropractor, your buddy who surfs better than you. Hell, your dad even told you to try it.
If there’s any lingering doubt, here’s what Tim Brown, a sports medicine innovator with a holistic approach, who has treated everyone from Kobe Bryant to Kelly Slater, thinks: “Yoga is the great connector of mind and body, and an exceptional tool for creating, repairing and maintaining physical and mental health.”
So…now what? Here are a few recommendations for starting yoga.
WHAT KIND OF YOGA CLASS TO GO TO.
There are several styles of yoga. “Choose based on what you do everyday,” said long time yoga teacher Sarah Reese. “If you sit most of the day, you could start with a Vinyasa or intro to Ashtanga class, which move a lot, and provide cardio, and both aerobic and anaerobic activity. If you’re an athlete, and have injuries, you might want to start with Iyengar, Viniyoga, Anusara, or any alignment-based class with a seasoned teacher. These styles focus more on proper alignment than powering out the asanas, so you won’t hurt yourself as much.”
Don’t go to an advanced class, even if you really think you can do it. You wouldn’t walk into a black belt jiu jitsu class, unless of course, you’re a black belt. Start where you are, and be OK with it.
Keep this in mind when picking a class. All kinds of music from 80s hair bands to classical to Snoop Dogg have become popular in many yoga classes. Remember that focusing on your breath and balancing your mind are major components of yoga. Try a class you can focus in — maybe even one with no music at all.
FINDING A YOGA CLASS.
There are major, corporate yoga studios and small, locally owned ones. I prefer local shalas that promote a community environment, but good teachers can be found everywhere. They must be found though. As yoga grows in popularity, more and more people are jumping right into teaching with very little experience or understanding of yoga. You can read reviews of studios and teachers online. Better yet, talk to someone whose opinion you respect.
Most classes cost around $17-25 and most monthly memberships are around $120-170 for unlimited classes.
WHAT TO WEAR TO YOGA.
Wear comfortable clothes you can move and sweat in, like you would wear to do anything active. No shoes inside the shala. Remember your first trip to Hawaii?
Bring a towel. Depending on the class you may sweat enough to fill a kiddie pool. Slipping around on a drenched mat sucks. Yoga is hard enough. No need to make it harder.
Don’t eat before class. Traditionally yoga is practiced on an empty stomach. It’s hard to breathe properly and get into twisting poses if your belly is full. Don’t bring a water bottle into class. Practice, then pound water afterward.
Avoid wearing cologne, smelly deodorant, etc. Yoga increases your awareness, and heightens your senses. And everyone will be breathing deeply, through their noses the whole time. Strong smells are not ideal.
WHAT TO DO ONCE YOU’RE THERE
Yoga is about what you’re doing on your mat and that’s it. The other people in class truly do not care whether you’re struggling, or floating through class. They’re dealing with their own struggles. So yoga like no one is watching. Because no one is.
Tell the teacher if you have any old injuries before class. They will help you avoid worsening the injury.
If the teacher adjusts you while you’re doing a pose, don’t fight it. Unless it hurts, do what they tell you. Adjustments are compliments. They’re helping you.
Teachers will speak Sanskrit sometimes, usually when referring to poses and types of breathing. Don’t worry if you have no idea what they’re talking about. Follow someone who does.
How deep you get into the pose doesn’t matter as much as how well you breathe in the pose. If you find yourself not able to breathe deeply, you’ve pushed too far into the pose. Back off and return to your breath. Even if you’re only barely doing the pose, that’s an improvement.
Find a teacher you respect. Then respect your teacher! The good ones are more highly trained than you may realize. They are communicating a system of movement and knowledge that is thousands of years old. Listen.
There’s a saying, “The teacher you don’t like is the teacher you need.” If you find yourself getting annoyed or frustrated with the teacher, you may need more of that teacher.
Don’t stop after one class. Try different classes and different teachers. Yoga is not a quick fix. It takes time to loosen up after a lifetime of activities that have made you tight.
Be open. Some of the stuff might seem strange, like chanting, kapalabhati, or just saying Namaste and bowing to your teacher at the end of class. But it’s good to get outside your comfort zone. The physical side is actually not the main point of yoga. It’s the tip of the iceberg. The chanting, the pranayama, the stuff you may think is a little woo woo at first, is actually the meat and potatoes of your practice once you get into it.
Enjoy the ride!