Yoga is starting to be more and more popular every day as people start to learn about the benefits it can have on mental health. But being a beginner yogi is not easy. My first experience was a one hour Hatha Flow class and it was brutal. Half the class was filled with the type of people who only go to yoga because it’s a “fitness trend”, so they were all dressed in their Lululemon from head to toe with their fancy yoga mats and water bottles and headbands. Very intimidating gang of people to be around as a beginner yogi. The teacher was fast and seemed to expect everyone to know what they were supposed to be doing, but I had no idea! I had never heard of upward dog or warrior or pigeon. I found myself feeling completely lost and having to sneak peaks at everyone else in the class in order to figure out what was happening. Lastly, everyone seemed SO FLEXIBLE. And I have horrible flexibility. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb in the class – “oh, look at the new girl, so can’t even do downward facing dog”. So embarrassing! Despite the experience, I returned for a few more hatha classes, mostly because I was too scared to see what the other types of yoga were all about. Again, I had no idea what was going on and found myself spending more time worrying about whether I was doing the right posture and less time focusing on mindfulness. Because of these experiences, it took me nearly 3 years before I actually got into yoga. This is why I want to share with you my tips for beginners!
1. Buy your own mat!
I say this for a few reasons. The first being that I encourage home practices and if you don’t have your own mat it will be difficult to practice at home. Secondly, many studios will charge you a fee to rent a mat (usually about $1-$2) which, over time, will add up to a lot of money spent on a mat that isn’t even yours. Also, think of how many other people have had their feet, their faces, and their sweat on the mats from studios. Gross. I bought mine from Costco and it has a strap to make it easy to bring with me to the studio!
2. Download some apps.
I know it sounds counterintuitive to use technology for a mindfulness exercise but trust me, you’ll want these apps. The first one I use is called Down Dog. Down Dog has a free feature, as well as a membership option – I chose to stick with the free option but it is completely up to you if you want to try out the membership! What I love about them is that they have so many options! Not only can you choose the type of practice you want (restorative, quick flow or full practice) but you can also select the length of the practice. So if you’re really busy you can squeeze in a 10 minute practice. This app plays music to go along with the practice and is narrated by very soothing woman, giving you almost the same experience as an actual yoga class, in my opinion. The other app I use is called 5 Minute Yoga. This app generates a 5 minute yoga sequence and shows you an example of the posture, and a brief description. Unlike Down Dog, this app does not have a narrator so no one is there to tell you when to breathe in and breathe out. On the positive, it gives you sequences so short that they can be done anywhere. I love using apps because I have anxiety and need to be in an environment where I can feel confident and focus on myself while doing yoga. Technology is awesome.
3. Start with Yin or Restorative.
These are by far the easiest and most relaxing practices. They include an array of postures that are all mostly stretches. Very simple to mimic and very comfortable. Doing a simpler type of yoga will allow you to focus your attention on more than the placement of your body. For example, many of the mental health benefits of yoga arise from controlled breathing and mindfulness. If you are too concerned about posture you won’t be able to focus on the breathing and you won’t get the benefits.
4. Listen to your body.
Your body will tell you what your limits are – don’t push them! Pushing your limits can lead to soreness and discomfort, or even injury, and you will be less likely to want to do yoga again if it makes you uncomfortable. Yoga is not a competition, we are all just practicing. If you are unable to do the full pose, settle for a half pose, or an easier version. Use blocks when needed or blankets for extra cushioning. Stop the practice if something doesn’t feel right, or maybe skip a pose that makes you uncomfortable. This is something that I had the most trouble with when I started doing yoga in classes with other people because I have this need to always be perceived as being excellent at whatever it is that I’m doing. But yoga is not about being the best, it’s about being in the moment. The more you practice, the more flexible you will become and the easier some of the postures will be.
5. Go to Class and Challenge Yourself!
Unless you would really prefer to keep your practice private, I would suggest going to a class once you feel comfortable enough to be with other people. The first class you should attend is a Yin or Restorative class as you may be more familiar with these but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Try every kind of yoga possible! You may find that some practices are not for you and that’s okay! But you may discover a practice that you enjoy more than you ever imagined you could! You’ll meet amazing people who love yoga as much as you do and you’ll have a teacher around to ensure that you are doing all the postures correctly. Yoga studios are like communities so if you don’t like the atmosphere at the first studio you go to, try another one. Each studio is a little different. I go to Karma Teachers in Vancouver which is a studio that is completely run by donations! That’s right, no $100/month membership fee, welcoming both the rich and the poor to join the yoga community. I think this is awesome! Karma Teachers has a few other studios across Canada so check out their website to find one! Alternatively, most studios have “karma classes” or “community yoga” which is a class that requires only a donation for you to attend. Some of these classes even accept non perishables for their community food bank! If you do join a by-donation class, though, make sure to give generously as many of these classes support charities (or in the case of Karma Teachers, the doors only open because of YOUR contributions).