[ Why you shouldn’t be afraid to go to your first yoga class ]
Fear is a force that either drives and encourages us or destroys us. There are SO many fears and misconceptions about yoga, the practice, the philosophies, and all things in between. When I talk about yoga, which let’s face it, is all the time, people always explain to me why they cannot practice yoga. “I cannot touch my toes.” “I do not have the body for yoga.” “I’m too old.” “I am not flexible at all. You don’t understand.”
BUT, you are not alone, and I am going to tell you why.
My yoga experience began at the local YMCA in my hometown when I was a teenager. One woman who I cannot praise enough taught Pilates, yoga, and all things fitness (her name is Renee Lash, so if you live in Louisiana, go to one of her classes). My sister and I went to a lot of classes, and we really looked to Renee as an inspiration on many levels. At the end of the pilates and yoga classes, she would do motivational readings or share Scripture. I think this has encouraged me to always remember my connection to the spirit, and to God. Anyway, I started going to yoga, mostly Renee’s classes when I was 15. I didn’t care that it was in a big gym or that we all used the Y’s mats. I cared about the class and always felt great after. My dad has passed down his natural flexibility to me, and his lack of balance (I love you, Daddy). Stretching has always been “fun” for me, and yoga challenges my strength, balance, breath, and endurance on another level.
In the past 13 years, I have practiced yoga in many, many different spaces, around many different people, and experienced several types of yoga classes. I stretch a lot, more than most people would suspect. I sleep in weird positions and have always been like this. Yoga is more than stretching though, and it is not an “easy” practice. The body also holds stress, experiences illness, becomes fatigued, fluctuates needs, and changes quite regularly.
What I am saying is, even though I have practiced yoga for over a decade, I still have “bad” days. I still fall out of poses. I still rest in child’s pose longer than the teacher suggests. Even “experienced yogis” are not perfect. Yoga is more than poses, or asana, but that’s a much longer conversation.
Here are a few tips that might help get you out of your head and into a yoga class (or at least on your yoga mat):
- Everyone falls. Everyone. I used to have HORRIBLE balance. But in the past decade I have seen a huge improvement in my balance. I have fallen over, or fallen out of a pose hundreds of times in yoga classes. As a student in a studio, as a teacher in a gym, in my home practice, outside. What I’m saying is, WE ALL FALL. So don’t be afraid! You can always use the wall or a chair for assistance, too!
- Not every yogi is flexible. If you are worried about yoga because of your lack of “bendiness,” do not fret. There are always props, modifications, assists from teachers, and knowing everyone is at a different place in their practice. Runners tend to have very tight hamstrings, and we all carry stress differently in the body. Be patient with your flexibility, and enjoy the process of the practice!
- Everyone has belly rolls. Forward folds and bending crunches the body up in funny shapes. Even that annoying girl in her Lululemon outfit with her 6-pack and “perfect” body has “rolls” when she bends over. It is skin, we all have it, and thank God we do! We come to yoga to learn to LOVE our bodies for what it does and how it can move. Focus on the breath, movement, and how postures feel, and watch your idea of a “yoga body” transform. Plus, no one is watching you; they are concerned with their own practice.
- Bodily functions happen. Before you get grossed out, let me explain. During cat-cow (a pose in almost every yoga class), your chest, neck, and spine are moving. It’s completely NATURAL to cough. It’s okay. Sometimes when I’m lying on my back, I need to sneeze. If I try to hold it in, I am beyond distracted and probably uncomfortable. Sneeze. Be mindful of your neighbor, but let it go. When we get older, we cannot always control bowel or urinary functions. Yes, people even fart in class. Not on purpose of course, but accidents happen! I have taught over a hundred classes by now and it has happened quite often. It happens… **Remember most yogis are so concerned with their own practice, physical issues, and what is on their mat that they will not even notice what is happening on your mat.
- Enjoy being a BEGINNER! I heard this quite often when I began and only wanted to look forward in my practice. But it is so crucial to learn about alignment, breathing, and modifications in order to develop a safe, proper, and beneficial practice down the road. See this time as an opportunity to gather information, see inspiration in other yogis, and explore your body in a new way. We all have to start somewhere, with only what we have in the moment.
- ALL SHAPES AND SIZES practice yoga! Seriously. I have had curvy teachers, petite instructors, toned male teachers. I have also had Jewish, black, white, and foreign teachers. The same goes for ages; I have taught toddlers to seniors. Every single body is its own, every practice is unique, and bodies reflect those individualities. It’s a beautiful thing. All bodies are welcome.
I hope that this helps you know that yoga truly is for every body. There is a wider range of yoga than you know, and I am certain there is a specific practice for each of us. Don’t let fear keep you off the mat or out of the studio.
Yoga is a constant practice and one that teaches us about patience, compassion, love, and even failure.
Grab a mat, and practice,