If 2019 was the year you promised yourself you’d make your way into a yoga class, we don’t blame you. Health professionals everywhere are touting yoga for it’s myriad health benefits: From lowering your blood pressure to taming your stress response, yoga is known to have so many positive effects on the body and mind. But if you’re feeling a little intimidated, here are a few things you should know before you get started.
1. Yoga is for everyone.
Despite what you may have seen on social media, anyone can practice yoga. The beautiful thing about yoga is that it’s made for all types of bodies.
If you’re a beginner, don't be afraid to say yes when your teacher asks the class before starting if anyone is new to yoga. When a teacher knows that there are new students in the class, they will often cue postures in a more detailed way so that you’re putting things exactly where they need to go and are getting the most of your practice. That being said, if you have any injuries, it’s best to let the teacher know about them, too. They can offer you alternatives for each posture that better suit your needs.
Yoga, which literally translates from Sanskrit to mean “to yoke” or bind together, is meant to bring union between the self and the body. Therefore, if you have a body, you can do yoga! It’s a practice made for everyone.
2. It’s all about the breath.
Yes, some yoga poses look really cool, but Instagram posts aside, yoga is really about breathing. With every conscious breath in yoga, you are facilitating healing in your body, even if you’re sitting in a simple seated posture. Yoga poses are designed so that the breath reaches parts of the body that don’t often get attention, encouraging circulation, flexibility, and proper functioning of the bodies tissues and organs.
Not only that, but breathing techniques taught in yoga are meant specifically to regulate our fight or flight response. Most of the time, especially if we live a mostly sedentary life sitting at a desk during the day, our breath becomes very shallow and we tend to take short breaths into our chests. This means that all those nerves by our bellies are neglected all day long! Yoga encourages us to breathe fully and deeply into the diaphragm. Nerve bundles near the diaphragm, when stimulated, tell our brains that it’s ok to relax. The power of yoga is in it's ability to reconnect your awareness with your breath.
3. No one is looking at you.
This is something I hear from new students all the time. They are afraid of being the new person in a yoga class, not knowing any of the moves, and are worried about others watching them be clumsy or confused. It’s just not the case! In a yoga class, everyone is encouraged to pay attention to their own bodies and their own breath. The practice is very individual, and it’s meant to help us turn inward. Also, it’s helpful to remember that everyone started where you are! We’ve all felt the jitters and nervousness of going to a first yoga class, and we know exactly how you feel. Most of the times, seasoned practitioners get excited when a new student comes to class. It’s a nostalgic moment to remember their first time in a class too! Even as an instructor, I still fall out of simple postures! We all have our days, and it's called a yoga "practice" for a reason.
4. The first class is the hardest, but you should keep showing up.
Some people go to a yoga class once and are turned off by the fact that it’s a bit challenging. Yoga is a challenging practice because we are not, in our everyday lives, used to concentrating our full attention on our bodies. Most of us are lucky if we have an hour to recover from the day. But the thing is, showing up to your mat sends a signal to your body and your soul that you are showing up to take care of yourself, to show yourself some love. Just the act of arriving there begins to shift your energy. The first class is hard, but every time you show up to your mat after that, you will — and should — thank yourself.
5. The aim is to cultivate awareness.
Yoga teaches us that through the breath, we can become more conscious in our lives: conscious of the way our bodies work, conscious of the way our minds work. We become aware of where we need to spend extra time and attention, where we’ve neglected ourselves, and even where we’ve gained strength over time. If we stick with it, this practice allows us to be both humbled and proud.
Through the simple practice of slowing down and directing the breath, we become aware of ourselves in a way that benefits our bodies and our entire lives. It changes the way we think, the way we act, the way we feel, the way we move in the world. And that, if anything, is the best reason to start.