Tips for Beginners

The word is out about yoga. Increasingly, medical researchers, news reporters, and fitness enthusiasts are directing their gazes toward this ancient discipline, acknowledging its benefits and ushering it into the mainstream. People are turned on to yoga. But if you have never done it before, how do you start?  Here are some tips that might help.

Be prepared to schedule time for your practice. Treat it like a standing business appointment. You're having an important meeting with yourself. To reap the benefits of yoga you have to make it a regular part of your life, and it can be very time-consuming.

Educate yourself.   Devote some time to research. Read about the different styles and choose one that you think would be right for you. Find out what's available in your community.  Sometimes you really need to ask around as yoga teachers often don't have the funds to devote to a lot of advertising. Try to find a class that is convenient to your home or workplace. Yoga is about practice. The more convenient it is, the more likely you'll make it a regular routine.

Shop around.  If you're fortunate enough to have a large selection, be willing to check out a few different classes, studios and teachers. Often the atmosphere of the studio, the time the class is offered and the teacher's personality have a great impact on motivation. Like your gym, the pool, your regular running path, a yoga studio is a place where you see the same faces again and again. It's a little community - a haven of sorts - and you should feel safe and comfortable in it.

Communicate with the teacher.  Be forewarned that the first time you go to a class, it's always a bit strange - overwhelming, even. Try to talk to the teacher before class. If you can, get them on the phone. If not, go to class a little early.  If the class is not offered in a series, tell the teacher it's your first time. If you have any physical limitations, make sure they know about them.  Also, if the teacher does manual adjustments in class, make sure you let them know when they've pushed you to your edge.

Don't eat before class.  I like to leave three hours after a regular meal.  If you have to eat close to class time, choose something that is light and easily digested. Drink a lot of water, but make sure your belly and bladder are empty when class starts.

Bring money.  Often yoga studios don't accept credit cards. Also, if you have a mat, bring it. That goes for a towel, too, or be prepared to pay rental fees for them.

Relax your inhibitions.  Who knows what you will be asked to do - probably chant, maybe even sigh and groan a little. Sometimes even sitting or lying perfectly still with a group of people you don't know can be a bit unnerving.

Don't compare yourself to others.  Try to withhold judgment, especially of yourself. People often become self-critical in a yoga class. The clothes people wear are usually revealing and unforgiving. Sometimes the room is full of mirrors, which makes it worse. Don't assume other people are looking at you critically, either. People are there to look inside themselves.

Don't eat immediately after class.  Half an hour should be sufficient. Use this time to digest the experience.

Evaluate how you feel.  Do this in a general way immediately following the class.  Do you feel better now than when you arrived? Don't forget to consider the way you feel on an emotional/psychological level, too. Evaluate yourself again the next day. Chances are, you will be sore. This just means that you need another class as soon as possible. Be aware of the difference between soreness and pain.  If you're in pain, something went wrong. Again, go to another class as soon as possible and communicate your pain to the teacher.  Make sure they address it to your satisfaction, providing you with modifications and/or additional postures to alleviate it. If pain persists, consult another professional.

Choosing to start a yoga practice is like choosing to build a house that you plan to live in for a long time. It takes time, effort and a lot of vision to tailor it to your precise specifications. Fortunately, there's always room to expand and remodel. My final word of advice is to be sure that you enjoy it!