*Keep it simple, silly.
I clearly remember the dread I felt before my first yoga class. I was going because I wanted arms like Madonna (circa 1999; see ‘Beautiful Stranger’ video for reference; apparently she got them by doing a trillion hours of Ashtanga a day). But even the desire for beautiful biceps, toned triceps, and deltoids so tight you could bounce a pound coin off them, wasn’t enough to get me skipping through those church hall doors.
The weeks leading up to me finally going where a whirlwind of paranoia, buying a lot of Lycra and random bits of kit, annihilating my eating patterns because I wanted to be thin for my first class, and reading everything I could about Ashtanga because you never know when there might be a test and, y’know, I didn’t want to stand out as the newbie.
Of course, those weeks also included convincing myself I couldn’t go this week and it would make much more sense to start next week for such convoluted reasons an Eastenders plot writer would’ve been proud of me. Top hitters included impending period; long day at work; eaten too much lunch; not eaten enough lunch; a teeny tiny little pain in my leg/arm/tooth/brain; I still needed to buy more kit…I could go on.
Man. I made it all so flippin’ COMPLICATED!
I am very lucky that now, many years since that first class (I’d like to say I started as a child…but we all know that’s a lie) I get to work with hundreds of yoga newbies every year. Their stories are often all too familiar. They start with “well I’ve been wanting to try yoga for ages but…” and so begins their own self-limiting story.
Sound familiar? If you’re considering taking your first step into a yoga class, or perhaps you’ve been practicing at home with only the cat as your coach, let’s keep it simple and go over a few things so that you can stride confidently into that studio/church hall/gym/scout hut…
1.) You already have a yoga body.
Got a body? Going to do yoga with it? You have a yoga body. Well done. You do not need to already be able to do any fancy yoga poses to go to a yoga class. If you can breathe and move (at the same time) you can do yoga.
Of course, there are some classes which are more suited for beginners and you should probably start with those (but see below for more information about that potential stumbling block). But don’t be kidding yourself that you’ll start going to yoga as soon as you can touch your toes/stand on your hands/levitate. That’s like waiting until you can speak fluent Spanish before you go to Spanish classes: estúpido.
2.) Avoid paralysis by analysis.
Trawling through the bewildering array of yoga classes out there can put you off before you begin. Get clear and realistic about what you need from your practice so you can start to narrow down the type of class you want. (Relaxation? Increased flexibility? Weight loss? Strength building? Instant enlightenment?). Read the blurb about them or, even better, contact the teacher for an informal chat. And if it sounds good – go!
You do not need to fall down internet rabbit holes for hours on end to fully understand the exact difference between Vinyasa Flow, Flowing Vinyasa, Super Duper Flowey Vinyasa, and Flowyasa. Unless you feel it’s going to be totally out of your realm of what’s achievable for you right now, if you think it could be good for you, just go. Worst case scenario, you find a class you’ll never do again. Hurray! That’s one off the list!
3.) Go as you are.
If you and your yoga practice are going to have an enriching long-term relationship you need to show up as you are. Yes, we all want to make a good impression on our first date, but we know that the really meaningful stuff only starts to happen when we let our guard down and be honest.
Here’s the thing – yoga is in this world to help us mortals ultimately live our best possible lives. But we need to live those lives in the real world. There are things you can change in your life which might help you nail some of this stuff a bit quicker, but you’ve got time for that. For now, rock up as your chocolate-chomping, beer-loving, easily irritable, rigid-bodied self and yoga will love you even more. I promise.
4.) No one else cares. (In a good way.)
Perhaps one of the biggest fears is that we’re going to be the focal point for everyone else in the room. We convince ourselves that they will never have seen anyone else in a Downward Dog before, and they’ll be making mental notes as soon as our hamstrings defy us in a forward fold, or an arm quivers a bit in Warrior 2.
First of all – they’ve all been there. Bendy Wendy and Flexible Frank haven’t always been floating through their Sun Salutations without a bead of sweat appearing anywhere on their bodies. (And if they have always been like that, then let’s remember that makes THEM the weird ones.) Once everyone is on their mats, breathing and moving, they will be way more concerned with their own practice than yours.
5.) It’s only yoga.
Yes, there are many reasons it has been around for thousands of years. Yes, it holds the key to truly authentic, blissful living. Yes, it should be given the respect that anything with such an amazing heritage (and proven effectiveness) deserves. But holding all that to be true, taking it too seriously isn’t going to do anyone any favours.
Our yoga practices should be something that we enjoy. I realise that we’ve all got our own interpretations of that phrase. For example, give me the choice between a Bikram class, or slowly plucking out each of my arm hairs, and I’ll be rolling up my sleeves quicker than you can say “pass me the tweezers”. But if you go to a class which doesn’t spit you back out into the world a whole lot happier than when you went in, you might want to keep looking. Unless it gives you arms like Madonna’s, of course.