August 10, 2013

10 Tips for Yoga Beginners & Group Class Virgins.


I’ve just started going back to yoga after many, many years of not going.

I’m as stiff as a board again and I struggle to hold any pose for more than two breaths.

I’m actually mad for group classes.

I’ll do anything and am a self-proclaimed queen of all the LesMills workouts.

But in yoga, I’m a newbie again, flailing through that one agonizing hour.

I’m that one person at the back of the room who is always taking the easy options, losing her balance and crashing into the wall, going back to downward dog because she can’t manage any of the other poses.

But I will soldier on.

Now that I’m a (sort of) beginner again, I got to thinking about how daunting it can actually be for anyone who’s just starting to go to yoga classes—or any sort of group exercise classes or practices.

Well I say, don’t be.

There’s actually no reason at all to be afraid and once you make group classes your friend, they’ll give you some of the best workouts you’ll ever have.

So here are 10 bits of wisdom I’ve gathered along the way for all yoga beginners and group class virgins to get started and jump right in (though watch your knees as you do).

1. Never compare.

There’s that girl in the front who can twist herself into a pretzel and the strong muscle-head next to you who never breaks a sweat. But so what? There are plenty of other amazing things you can do—where you would kick their asses!

Don’t, don’t, don’t compare.

It’s the worst thing you can do in a class and once you start, it’s a slippery slope down to leaving the class halfway in a tearful frenzy. First of all, realize that others have probably been doing this a lot longer than you have and there was a time when they started out awkward and floundering too. Secondly, this isn’t a competition. It’s just a class. Nobody’s got a scorecard going on you, the pretzel girl or Johnny Bravo.

2. Be patient.

One of the best things a yoga instructor said to me, as I freaked out about being the only person in the class who couldn’t do this particular pose, was, “You have time.” He was right. I wasn’t about to enter a competition next week, start training to be a teacher or become a yoga professional.

There is no rush—in your yoga practice, or in any kind of sport. Just work at it in your own time, at your own pace and I promise you will get better and stronger. You’ll feel the improvement.

This might sound strange, but it’s a lot of fun to start off terribly, fall over, guffaw and then, see yourself start to ace the practice over time. We might have this unrealistic vision of ourselves being good at everything the moment we start, well-coordinated, graceful, all-knowing and without need for further discovery about ourselves or the practice—but where’s the fun in that?

3. Stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking.

Because I’m quite sure everyone is thinking about themselves too much to be thinking about you! Anyway, remember this isn’t a job interview or an audition. You don’t have to impress anyone but yourself.

And if someone is thinking about you, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For added perspective: I’m massively addicted to step classes—I’m one of those smug, irritating people who knows all the moves and is always two steps ahead. When I see someone new, struggling to keep up or faffing about on the wrong side of the step board, all I can think of is how fantastic this person is for daring to try the class and sticking through the hour. “Good for him,” I think, and say a silent ‘whoop!’ when he falls back in step with the rest of the class. I know many people who think this same way.

So yes, people may well be thinking of you, but only good things and lots of quiet cheering.

4. Lighten up.

Don’t take yourself (or anyone else in the class) too seriously. Yoga, or any other group class, is as much about a deep practice as it is about feeling good. While you should always focus, stay safe, respect the class and instructor, this is also a wonderful time for learning to laugh at yourself. Have a giggle when you topple over!

There should be an element of play, (self) discovery, joy and freedom in the classes. It shouldn’t stress you out or fill you with angst. If it does, then either the instructor isn’t being supportive enough or you’re being too self-conscious. Relax. Feel good that you’re even here.

5. Don’t work for the class; make the class work for you.

Like I’ve said, you’re really not there to impress anybody.

I have an aunty with a huge pot-belly and weak knees, but she’s become fantastic at yoga over the years. She told me many years ago that it’s wrong to think that a yoga pose is effective only when you do exactly the way the instructor does it, at its fullest capacity. Do every pose as well as you can, so that you feel your body is working and stretching at its best limits, no one else’s.

Make each pose work as best and as effectively as you can for you, and not the other way around. You will get stronger and more flexible as you practice so that you can deepen each pose in future.

When we’re just starting out, doing the easier options properly is more effective for our bodies. There’s no point forcing ourselves to do the harder options and stretching ourselves beyond our limits. You’ll only end up doing the poses incorrectly. This is not only harmful to your joints and muscles, but can also end up being ineffective.

6. Rest when you need to.

There’s absolutely no shame in resting and taking time out when you need to. Stop to drink water, pause in a resting pose like child’s pose or just sit to steady your head. There’s plenty more ‘shame’ if you insist on pushing on beyond your limits and hurt yourself.

7. Alert instructors of injuries.

If you’re going for a new class or there’s a new instructor, speak to them before the class of any injuries, medical conditions or particular difficulties that you have. A good instructor will be able to offer you safer options throughout the class and give you advice on how to protect yourself.

This sounds like a very boring piece of advice, but it’s actually really important. It’s also a good chance to start a conversation with your instructor (especially if they’re cute).

8. Don’t do anything that hurts.

The only person who will suffer is you. There’s nothing admirable in being masochistic at group classes and you really don’t have to push yourself through pain to impress anyone. If you do manage to keep up, nobody is any better for it; and if you don’t, you’re the only dummy who will live with the injury.

So exercise a little common sense and stop if anything feels painful or stick with an easier option.

9. Listen to your body.

Nobody knows you better than you. By tuning in to your body, you’ll know exactly where your limits lie, what’s working out best for you, when something hurts in a bad way and when you need to rest. Listening to your body is the best way to stay safe, make every hour effective and feel an all-over good.

10. Don’t give up.

There’ll be times through that one hour where you will feel silly or hate the instructor with a vengeance. There’ll also be times where you feel like walking out and never coming back again.

Whatever you do, don’t.

If you leave halfway, you won’t feel like you’ve done a fulfilling workout or practice, you’ll feel frustrated and disappointed with yourself and you’ll be left only with the memory of all the things you couldn’t do.

Stick it through for the hour and I promise you that by the end of it, your body and mind will thank you. You’ll feel proud for having lasted through the hour. You will have accomplished a great workout, so you will be left with that thrilling rush of knowing you can do things you never knew you could.

Lastly, once you know you’ve aced that first class, the next one gets easier and better— keep going.

Practice makes perfect and it’ll only get better!

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Asst. Ed.: Kathleen O’Hagan/Ed: Sara Crolick

{Photo: via GraceD}




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