This article aims to create some ease, understanding, and maybe even excitement in our newbie-potential-yogi's. Many people are inexplicably drawn to this practice. But our unspoken reservations, misconceptions, and straight-up fears hold us back from trying it out.
I've written about what I wish someone had told me when I started practising in my early teens. Perhaps I would've practised a little more consistently if I'd understood more of what I was actually doing and why. Maybe I would've been less fearful, allowed myself more grace, embraced my imperfections and continued on the path regardless. But I didn't know then what I know now.
That being said, let's be clear that this article is written as a beginner, for beginners. I will not pretend to have all the answers or be an "expert" of any sort. Despite teaching this wholly magnificent practice to a fair few beginners since 2017, I realise that I still am, and will always be, a beginner-yogi. I just have a little more understanding of what holds people back.
However, I endeavour to answer some of the most frequently asked questions from my own research, experience, synthesis, and perspective. I hope to provide a few helpful tips on how to begin, what to expect, and maybe, just maybe, get you a little bit eager about starting your own journey.
What are the most common misconceptions about Yoga?
Let's start by talking about what Yoga is NOT. There are some pretty common misunderstandings about the practice, and the stereotypical perception makes people fearful and reluctant to try something new. To make this beautiful practice more accessible to more people, I hope to clear these misconceptions right upfront.
1. Yoga is NOT only for certain types of people.
This is the number one nonsense excuse I've heard in every shape, size and form.
Yoga is only for "_______________ flexible people/fit people/rich people/skinny people/young people/sick people/spiritual people/health-nuts/old Indian men/girls/anyone-but-me/insert-your-own-limitation-here... ".
Yoga offers tools for EVERYONE, regardless of your gender, race, age, weight, height, religion, belief system, sexuality, education, eating preference, and toe-touching ability.
We all have bodies. We all have brains. We all breathe. This is all Yoga asks us to use. These are things that connect us all.
Although the "I'm not flexible enough to do yoga" excuse/reason gets its own very special paragraph. That's like saying, "Oh, I'm so hungry!" Therefore, I can't eat!". Flexibility is a result of Yoga, not a pre-requisite. Period.
2. Yoga is NOT an all-or-nothing practice.
You don't have to be "all in" to start practising Yoga. If you don't like chanting "om", then don't. If you don't like bringing your hands together in prayer, don't. If you don't like closing your eyes, don't. If you don't like "dharma" or uplifting talks at the beginning of class, find a teacher who doesn't like giving them. If you don't like reading the Yoga Sutra's or hearing about the Chakra's or chanting mantras, find a teacher who focuses more on postures. If you don't care for Sanskrit references, find a teacher who prefers English terminology. If you intensely dislike sun salutations, find a teacher who dislikes them too😊.
This practice is 100% customisable to suit your needs, preferences, beliefs, and desired outcomes. You are most welcome and encouraged to cherry-pick parts of the practice that resonate most and feel good to you. And especially important, find teachers that resonate with you. In-person or YouTube doesn't matter. There is most assuredly something for everyone.
However, I feel obliged to add that a huge part of this practice is trying stuff that makes you uncomfortable. Taking part in experiences that stretch you past your comfort zone and propel you into the unknown. Surprises are waiting for you in the unknown. Parts of you that you haven't met yet. But ease into it. Start with what feels good.
3. Yoga is NOT an airy-fairy spiritual practice.
This does not mean that Yoga can't be a spiritual experience. To me, it very much is.
This totally depends on your definition of "spiritual". In my opinion, anything that consciously lifts you up, opens you up, positively influences your energy or connects you to something greater than yourself is a spiritual practice. The act of brushing your teeth could be a spiritual experience. But let's be clear, Yoga is not religious.
Even though Yoga is often associated with Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, this is only because it originated in India and was practised by people who spoke Sanskrit.
But the principles taught in all lineages of Yoga are fundamentally the same. The guidelines that we are encouraged to follow as HUMANS are the same regardless of (please excuse me while I repeat myself…) your gender, race, age, weight, height, religion, belief system, sexuality, education, eating preference, and toe-touching ability. We all have bodies. We all have brains. We all breathe. This is all Yoga asks us to use. These are things that connect us all.
4. Yoga is NOT just a gentle workout.
_____insert deep belly laugh here_____
Again… it can be. Yoga can just and only be a gentle workout for you. Sequences and practices can be customised to suit your desired outcomes. If a gentle workout is all you need, we got you covered! But then don't walk into an Advanced Power Yoga class😊.
So then, what is Yoga to the modern-day human?
There is no straight answer to this question. Some will tell you that Yoga is a path to enlightenment and freedom from suffering. Others will tell you that Yoga is an excellent form of exercise. Both answers are correct because, honestly, Yoga becomes whatever you need it to be.
"The answer cannot be explained; it must be experienced."
The Sanskrit word Yoga means "union" or "to join /unite/connect". To connect body, mind, and soul. To connect with yourself and the beings in the world around you. To connect us with that inexplicable life force that flows through all things.
Simply put, Yoga is a set of tools, techniques and practices that help us make our bodies healthier and our minds happier. Yoga is an art, a science, a spiritual practice, a prayer, a discipline, a form of play and personal expression.
When we practise Yoga consistently, we experience benefits on a holistic spectrum. When we breathe in a certain way, move in a certain way, pay attention in a certain way, then our minds and our bodies align and start working in harmony. In other words, Yoga practises help us optimise this "meatball-with-feelings" that we're driving through this earthly experience😊.
That being said, Yoga is not only about transforming and improving ourselves. Yoga is just as much about acceptance. These ancient practices help us realise on a deep and fundamental level that each of us is already whole and complete and perfect, exactly as we are.
People turn to Yoga for all sorts of reasons. To relax, lose weight, get fitter, increase flexibility, heal from injuries or illness or trauma, accomplish particular poses, meet like-minded people, or just get some damn me-time.
Yoga will meet you where you're at. Whether you use Yoga as a path to spiritual connectedness or simply as a form of exercise, you'll get more out of the practice than whatever got you into it in the first place. This practice has served me in ways that I did not see coming.
The way Yoga is most commonly practised today is through conscious breathwork (pranayama), mindful movement (asana/postures) and focused attention (meditation). We use our breathwork to manage our state, poses to detox and strengthen, and meditation to retrain our brains.
There are many different parts and paths and practices of Yoga - don't let this confuse or intimidate you! Do some research but start with what feels good. Choose the parts of the practice that resonate most with you. Any Yoga is better than no Yoga! (even beer Yoga😊).
What are the benefits of a consistent Yoga practice?
Okay, we’ve established that Yoga is a little more than just exercise. It is a holistic healing practice that positively influences body, mind, and soul. So, what could you expect to experience if you were to practice consistently (hypothetically speaking, of course, 😊)?
We need to realise that Yoga is not a once-off-one-size-fits-all-fix-everything-in-my-life solution. It is a practice. A discipline. A tool. You do all the actual work.
The benefits you experience depend on various factors (like which type/style you’re practising, how often, how consistently, how present and aware you are, how dedicated you are, how compassionate you are with yourself, etc.) We all know the saying: “You get out what you put in”.
And this is a work of intention, so the clearer your intention, the more likely you are to experience the benefits you WANT to experience.
PS - The list below is literally only what I could fit on my mindmap, so yes, there is more. This is only the tippy tip of the iceberg and only what I have actually experienced in my own practice.
1. Benefits for the body
Well, obviously, you’ll become fitter, stronger, and more flexible (this is the easy part of the practice😊).
Your physical balance may improve, and your stabilising muscles will strengthen.
The bad postural habits that we develop throughout our lives slowly start correcting.
Your immune system function improves.
Your body’s lymph node drainage and ability to detoxify increases.
Those who suffer from chronic pain and illness may experience relief and better pain management.
Your ability to switch your body’s “rest & digest” mode on improves dramatically. (You know, the autonomic nervous system state where your brain works properly, your body heals, and where you can digest your food).
You may just find that you have more energy and increased vitality.
You may find yourself making more mindful food choices.
You’ll sleep better.
The ancient yogis knew that as the body heals, so does the mind. As the mind heals, so does the body. They’re kinda super-integrated like that😊. So, as you start feeling physically better, you may simultaneously begin to experience:
2. Benefits for the mind
Increased self-awareness. You may find yourself watching yourself think and taking on the "observers" role. This creates some distance between ourselves, our thoughts, and our experiences so that we don't get so involved in the stories of the conditioned mind (aka - the monkey mind😊).
Your emotional resilience, emotional intelligence, and ability to manage your stress response may dramatically improve so that the pause between "action" and "reaction" gets bigger.
Your brain's ability to rewire itself and make healthier conscious connections improves. (Please go and research the science of neuroplasticity. Enjoy!)
Your brain releases happy hormones, so you just feel better.
Your brain decreases the production of stress hormones (so you just feel better😊).
Your self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love may improve dramatically.
Your ability to learn and concentrate improves (because your brain works better:)
Numerous scientific studies have been done at research centres and universities worldwide that have proven the above-listed benefits beyond the shadow of a doubt. But the section below is what science cannot prove (yet:). The benefits I've listed below are the deep soulful experiences and changes that I've had in my own life since adopting a (mostly) consistent Yoga practice.
3. Benefits for the soul
I became more self-aware (yes, I know this is a repetition, but it's that important😊).
I became more deeply connected to MySelf, my body, my inner world, and to that universal force that connects us all.
My sense of compassion and kindness expanded, and my heart opened in ways I did not anticipate.
I started becoming more "okay" with the experiences that life threw at me and experienced less resistance to everything.
I started feeling immensely and deeply thankful (for…you know…life).
I started forgiving myself for the monumental amount of shit I have caused in my life😊. And so, I also became more forgiving of others.
I got to know myself better and love myself more.
My relationships improved (with myself and all those around me).
So, when we list the benefits of a consistent Yoga practice like this, it's really no wonder why so many people worldwide choose to practice Yoga over other self-care activities.
Ideally, every Yoga class should feel like a trip to the gym, the spa, and the church/mosque/synagogue/temple all at once😊.
Which type or style of Yoga should I start with?
There are tons to choose from. Some types of Yoga are from authentic lineages. Other styles are more modern interpretations or simply combinations of one thing and another.
If you start researching this topic and become overwhelmed, stop. Take a deep, slow breath in and a nice long breath out. Boom. You've just done some Yoga! Conscious breathing is Yoga, even if that's all you do. So, don't worry, don't fret, just find what works best.
If you can afford group classes, then good on ya! If you can travel and live close to a gym or Yoga studio that offers classes, it really doesn't matter what style you choose. Just work with what you have available to you. Hatha, Vinyasa, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Yin Yoga, Hot Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Goat Yoga, Beer Yoga, 420-friendly Yoga, the list goes on.
The fundamental principles of mindful movement, deep breathing and loving awareness are all the same, regardless of the style you choose to start with.
(Although, apply common-sense – power yoga/intermediate vinyasa may be overly optimistic if you haven't moved in a while😊. And always remember that it's your body, your rules, in any/every Yoga class, so you rest whenever you need to. Full stop.)
In addition to the various types and styles of Yoga, you also get various levels. Mostly beginner, intermediate and advanced, and a few shades of everything in between. Start where you are. Slow-moving beginner Hatha-based practices are a great starting point. (There are too many to count on Youtube, and most studios offer beginner-friendly or mixed-level classes).
If you're the kind of person that has no problem with trying new things or has a solid physical training background, then dive right in and try the intermediate classes.
The number one rule/strongly-encouraged-guideline is to listen to your body and rest when you need to.
If cost or accessibility to group classes is a dream for you, then you have plenty (and I mean plenty!) of free content available on the internet to get you started. Content in every shape, size, form, style and type you could think of. Videos, podcasts, books, articles, and images for days. Again, work with what you have, and start where you are. (Just remember the breath in and out if you get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content; I know I did! 😊😊😊).
Another hopefully helpful tip is finding a teacher who makes YOU feel good about yourself. Your feelings are your guide, and your body is the real teacher, so listen to them. Do a little digging and start with what resonates most with you. Find (or create) an environment that works for you.
As mentioned, I'm of the belief that any Yoga is better than no Yoga. (Even beer Yoga).
Work with what you have.
Start where you are.
Find a teacher that resonates with you.
Your feelings are your guide. Your body is the teacher.
What can I expect from my first few Yoga classes?
Every person's experience is as unique as they are. Your body is unique. So is your mind and your inner world. The journey you've been on, the place you're in now. It's all unique. Honey, sorry to sound cheesy, but there's simply no one else like you😊. So that means that no one can tell you what to expect. Therefore, the best approach is to try not to expect anything and be open to the experience.
Obviously, there may be discomfort. The physical asana practice, the meditative component and even the breathing aspect of the practice may be uncomfortable at first, but that's also kind of the point.
Anything that expands and moves us out of our comfort zone is uncomfortable. But it's how we train ourselves to show up in those moments of discomfort that count the most.
That being said, there should never be pain in your practice. Should you experience pain of any kind, you need to stop what you are doing (immediately and as safely as possible) and seek the instructor's guidance. Depending on the severity, you may need to seek medical assistance.
If you have a medical condition, chronic pain, medical history, or if you are pregnant, then you need to:
Check with your doctor that it's suitable for you to practice.
In the case of instructor-led classes, tell your instructor BEFORE you start practising.
Do not take this lightly. Pain is the body's messenger that something isn't right and needs attention.
The language and cues used by instructors and the different poses and practices may take some getting used to. Give it a little time and a little practice. Whether you're aware of it or not, your body and brain are working together to create new neural pathways and connections, so you'll be practising confidently soon enough😊.
Please don't worry about the following list of things:
Confusing your lefts and rights (it happens to everyone, even and especially instructors😊),
Not knowing the pose names (trust your brain, it's working on it)
Falling over in balance poses (your core and stabilizing muscles will get there, and falling over is as important as holding the pose)
Not being flexible enough. (Flexibility is a result of practising Yoga, not a pre-requisite. I promise there are modifications to make poses accessible to you, wherever you are. If I don't know them, Google will😊)
Not being able to keep up (again, the number one rule in every yoga class: rest when you need to. Respect your body and where it's at.)
Some people walk into a Yoga class and feel right at home. This is not the case for everyone. If you're new to the practice, you need to give your body and mind a little time to adjust to the changes it's going through.
You may feel exhausted after your first few practices, which is perfectly okay. Let yourself rest. Trust in the process. There's a whole lot more going on in the various levels of your being than you're even aware of (don't worry, we'll get into this later😊).
What do I need to start my Yoga practice?
Your brain (check)
Your body (check)
Your breath (check)
Your loving attention and awareness (possibly check😊)
A Yoga mat (If you don't have one, then a patch of floor will do, but something slip-resistant makes a massive difference to your experience in the postures).
Comfortable, form-fitting clothes (And no, they do not need to be matching or branded, and it is best to practice barefoot😊)
These are what I would define as "essentials". Other props and "nice-to-haves" make specific postures and practices more accessible to beginners, like blocks that bring the floor up to meet you and straps that act as an extension of your arms and legs. If you don't have these additional props, don't worry about it.
Work with what you have. Start where you are.
Depending on your unique circumstances, you may need to invest in some supporting equipment, but as far as possible, don't let what you don't have stop you from starting. Use sturdy Tupperware or thick books for blocks, and ties, belts or long socks work about as well as Yoga straps.
How often should I practice Yoga at first?
Well, obviously, every Yoga teacher will tell you to practice every day😊. We believe in what we teach, and we advocate for it, hard.
But if you're someone who hasn't moved in a while (months...years...decades:)), then the most valuable advice I can offer is to ease into it. Don't overwhelm your "old self" that you are on the path to transformation.
One hour-long class once a week will already have enormous benefits for you, but the magic is in the consistency of showing up. The real transformation starts when you find a way to incorporate yogic practices into your normal daily life. And it doesn't all have to be movement and postures.
"If all you do is sit on your mat and breathe, you are doing Yoga." - Unknown
There is so much magic in just showing up. Even if all you do is sit and breathe. Taking just a few moments for ourselves is a gift we are all guilty of denying ourselves.
A daily 10-minute movement, breathwork, or meditation practice is a great way to start investing in yourself without overwhelming your nervous system. As your body changes, your attention span improves, and as your belief in yourself increases, you'll want to practice more often.
If you can move past your initial resistance to just showing up and allow yourself to get to where you start seeing noticeable differences in your brain, body and being, you won't need motivation to show up. Momentum is magic. Give yourself time. I'm a firm believer that consistency will get you further than perfection ever will.
The practise of Yoga has been such a gift in my life. It has given me more than I was even willing to receive. It has set me on the road to self-love and the unconditional acceptance of the perfectly imperfect human that I am. It has been a vehicle for me to make sustainable, lasting change to all the layers of my being. I'm passionate about making this practice as accessible as possible to everyone that is drawn to it, because of what it has done for me.
"As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else." - Maya Angelou
One of my deepest desires is to create a sense of ease in people, especially the sceptics and self-doubters (in other words, other people like me😊). I hope I have sparked some desire for you to have the courage to go off and suck at something new (and if you are anything like me, you will probably feel like you are sucking at first). But I promise you, you are not. You are brave and brilliant, just for being here. Just for reading to this point in this post. And for that, I deeply thank you!
This is a living post, and I intend to add to it as time goes on. If you have any other questions that you'd like me to answer, then drop a comment.
Now go off and be the beautifully mixed up, messy, imperfect, radiant, courageous being that you are. I love you dearly.