One of the questions I’ve been getting more often these days is:
“How can I get into yoga?”
This is kind of a hilarious question. See, I’m as far from being a standard “yogini” as Kim Kardashian is from being a Girl Scout. I never even wanted to get into yoga until my normal workouts stopped working for me and I was forced to explore other options. At that point, my only experience with yoga was a few miserably sweaty hot yoga classes that made me feel like a paraplegic walrus surrounded by sexy suburban mermaids. And coming on the tails of one of the worst haircut mishaps of my adult life, that did not exactly make for a love-at-first-downward-dog experience. It was with great reluctance (not to mention inconsistency) that I started practicing yoga, and falling in love was a slow process.
It still is. In many ways, I’m more flexible than most. Part of that is a product of general athleticism…but that athleticism includes years of traditional strength training, in traditional movement patterns, with the accompanying tight muscles that are unused to most movements outside of those traditional movement patterns. So whatever advantages I have from any natural flexibility are counterbalanced by my tight hips, horrible knees, and a body that is generally the wrong shape for yoga – thick rather than willowy, short legs and an even shorter torso, large ribcage, and the like. (I mean, I’m not a muchnkin from Oz, but in a yoga class, I may as well be.)
And yet somehow I keep coming back to the mat. Not just coming back, but coming back stronger and bendier and happier. So when these friends ask me how to get into yoga, I’m thrilled. If I can find a way to do yoga and truly love it, anyone can. These are my best suggestions for anyone wanting to start exploring the world of yoga.
Be a beginner.
When you step onto your mat, don’t bring your pride. This applies to any workout, really, but especially yoga. And especially if you’re already someone who is fairly proficient in other athletic pursuits. Yoga is so very different, and that’s part of what you’ll fall in love with. But it’s also going to make it frustrating as hell in the beginning. Go slow. Remember to breathe. Use props when you need to. Take time to truly master the basics. Accept that this is a new challenge and challenges are hard. But that’s the thing: Before you can have a flexible body, you need a flexible mind. (And you know what food helps with that? Humble pie.)
Celebrate the learning curve.
There’s a learning curve – oh man, is there ever a learning curve – and all those little challenges mean there are opportunities to celebrate. Get excited about your persistence when you’ve been practicing bakasana (“crow” pose) every day for a week straight, even if you fall over every single time. And when you finally do manage to find the sweet spot and stay in that pose, celebrate the heck out of it. Do a happy dance. Instagram it. Bake some celebratory protein muffins. Then do it again.
Use visual guides.
Yoga started to become enjoyable for me when I began using visual guides for some of my practices. (Mostly simple sequences I found on Pinterest.) These are great because – unlike a live class or even a video – they allow you to go at your own pace and take as long as you need to explore each posture and feel your way through the transitions. That freedom was really a game changer for me…and for my fellow control-freaks, I think you’ll agree.
Take advantage of free videos.
On the flip side, there’s something about having an instructor reminding you to breathe and giving you general form cues that can be really helpful, even comforting. So take advantage of 21st century life and find some free yoga videos that you can use. Yoga with Adriene on YouTube is one of my favorites, and I’ve shared more free yoga videos here. If you decide you want to continue advancing, consider investing in a subscription to YogaDownload, YogaGlo, or another similar site with streaming yoga classes. For only a fraction of the cost of a membership at a yoga studio, you get an incredible variety of full-length classes. Depending on your subscription/the site, you can also download a certain number of classes each month to keep and use indefinitely.
Try local studios using their “beginner specials.”
There’s nothing like having an instructor in the room with you to direct/correct you as you go. Whether you like that or hate it depends on you…For as much as I didn’t like feeling crowded and intimidated by live classes, I absolutely loved having the instructors adjust my posture and alignment. It truly took each pose to a new level of challenge that I wouldn’t have found on my own. Most studios have fantastic specials for beginner’s or people new to the studio. $10 for 10 days of classes, $30 for 30 days, half-price memberships, and even a free first class are pretty standard (at least in my area). In addition to all the different styles of yoga, each studio has its own “flavor,” so have fun checking out different classes and discovering what styles (of both yoga and instructing) suit you best.
Be inspired by the pros.
Seeing the incredible inversion-masters on Instagram is what got me truly excited about yoga. I’m still lightyears behind being able to do most of the crazy acrobatics, but I’ll be damned if I’m not still trying. The photos and videos I see of advanced “yoginis” reminds me of just how athletic, beautiful, and otherworldly yoga can be…and it sure as hell makes me want to break out the mat more often. So follow some yoga-related accounts on social media, and let it be a reminder to practice, to be patient, and to have fun along the way.
Keep getting back on the mat.
It’s going to be frustrating. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to feel slower and clumsier than a baby panda soaked in molasses. And if you’re not consistent, that’s all it will ever be. But if you’re consistent? If you keep getting on the mat, and falling over, and fighting through those challenges? That’s when magic happens. Little by little, the pieces will come together. The muscle memory will happen, the flexibility will start to appear, the strength will keep growing, and you’ll find those sweet spots. You’ll start having those moments of “Holy sh*t, I did it!” You’ll start wanting to practice more often and practice new things, and then you’ll start wishing you didn’t have to stop. And if you’re lucky, you might start falling in love.
Get out your mat and get out of your head. Try something new. Slow down. Challenge yourself. See what happens.
It just might be magic.
I plan on sharing more about the how-to aspects of getting into yoga, as well as why you should give it a shot, in some more upcoming posts. For now, all you need to know is that it’s good and hard and you should do it.
Do you practice yoga?
Most challenging part of yoga?
Most rewarding part of yoga? >