Starting a yoga practice is learning a new language — literally if you count the Sanskrit for each pose! It can be hard to start, especially if your focus is a home practice. These are 8 tips to help you get started, get motivated and fall in love with yoga!
Since I started my @yoga_girl Instagram account in 2012, one of the most frequently asked questions I still get is about starting a yoga practice. Here’s one of those emails, which seems to resonate with a lot of the other emails, letters, comments and DMs I get on the subject.
My name is xxxxxx. I'm 19 years old and from Canada. All through high school, I've had a passion for yoga. But I only did it a few times a month when I could scrounge up a few bucks to participate in a class at a studio.
Recently I bought my own yoga mat and started doing yoga at home while watching YouTube videos. I didn't enjoy staring into a screen while trying to relax, but now that I'm in college I don't have any money to spend on a yoga membership. I've been trying to research different poses and I watch yours every day on Instagram. I feel like I'm becoming more comfortable with doing it on my own, but how did you start becoming so familiar with poses and what poses to do next?
I really want to widen my knowledge of yoga and be able to take it to a new level, but I don't know how to get started. I'm a former cheerleader, but I lost all of my flexibility being out of it for a few years. It's so frustrating knowing I used to be able to do poses that I can no longer do.
So, bottom line, I'm just very curious to know how you started and what you think is important when one is trying to learn about yoga.”
Do you find yourself in a similar situation? I get it — we all start somewhere, including me! Yoga was not only hard for me at first (it still is), but I was terrified of it. The practice pushes us to be vulnerable, courageous, and in tune with the whispers and wisdom of our body and soul — committing to a yoga practice is much more than just committing to a workout!
So, how do you get started?
The world of yoga is so wide and intricate, it can be overwhelming if you’re brand new to the practice. Take these steps in order, if you can, and above all, be gentle with yourself.
1. Find a good studio somewhere close to your home.
Even if money is tight, save up a bit to start taking a few group classes (more on budgeting later). I'm not saying you must sign up for a full-year pass, just start out slowly and try out a few different sessions, styles and teachers.
And when in class, don't be nervous! Nobody is looking at you, nobody cares. Nobody is judging you but yourself. Everyone is far too preoccupied with themselves to think about how other people look in this or that pose! Trust me.
One of the major advantages of taking studio classes is the attention of a teacher. If you have questions about your body in certain poses, you can always ask your teacher during class (if there’s space for it) or go up to them after class.
Don’t spend the class worrying; try to let go of expectations and enjoy the moment.
2. Find your style by trying out all of the varieties you can.
How do you know the style of yoga you should focus on? You won't know until you've tried it!
If you're looking to sweat on the mat and want to move a whole lot, you should definitely give Vinyasa Flow a try.
If you like classes that give you the same repeated sequence each time, try Ashtanga or Bikram. Both use a repeated set of postures in a heated room (although I am not a big fan of heated classes, myself).
Looking for silence, slow movement and deep stretches? Yin yoga is great!
There are so many choices out there. The more you try, the easier it is to get a feel for which style is the best for you. You'll know when you've found "your" style of yoga — just check in with how you're feeling afterward.
3. Find a teacher that resonates with you.
The best way to learn when you are first starting out is with a teacher.
Starting out on your own at home is great, but having a teacher look at you and show you proper cues of alignment is so valuable. It will keep you from getting injured, and it will help your practice grow.
After you’ve found a studio nearby and your favorite style, find the teacher that you resonate with.
To me, a good teacher will never make you feel inadequate. A good teacher makes you feel welcome. A good teacher will inspire you to take your practice to the next step, but they’ll also be patient and honor each student as the unique practitioner that they are.
You’ll be more motivated to take classes when you look forward to learning from the teacher that guides them.
4. After you’ve done group classes, find support for your home practice.
Once you’ve developed some knowledge of what a class consists of and what style of yoga suits you the best, you can start taking your practice away from the classroom.
There are many ways to practice on your own — DVDs, YouTube, online streaming sites like oneOeight, even yoga apps! The choices are endless. There are some amazing books out there as well — the more you study, the faster you will learn.
Personally, my own practice consists of rolling out my yoga mat every day and moving my body the way it wants to move. Some days I feel like a good, sweaty practice and I'll spend a solid 90 minutes on my mat moving with my breath. Other days, I just want to do some gentle stretches, breathing exercises, or some healing poses with my legs up the wall. I don't have a set plan for what happens on my mat, and that's what works the best for me.
But the style of my home practice came after hundreds of hours spent in group classes, learning from teachers I trust, reading all of the books I could get my hands on and learning how to hear what my body needs on the mat.
5. Find a good studio somewhere close to your home.
Yes, number 5 is the same as number 1. Group classes are key to a safe and knowledgeable home practice. They also help you find your motivation!
Often the most difficult thing about starting your own home practice is finding the motivation to get on the mat, and then knowing what to do once you're there. This is where the group classes come in. If I'd never taken actual classes, I'd never know what to do on my mat when I'm at home!
In classes is where you learn, where you can ask teachers for advice, where you get assists and where you get inspiration for your own practice. So if it's possible, try to commit to starting by taking just one yoga class per week at a studio.
6. Prioritize your budget.
There are ways to make yoga classes more affordable, too, like discount sites or a studio’s introductory offers or student discounts (If those apply to you). Many studios also offer donation-based classes with new teachers who need to gather teaching experience. If you're looking for affordable classes, this is your best bet.
The more you practice yoga, the more you'll feel the good that it does for your body and your soul, and the easier it will be to find the money and the time to do it. How about skipping that daily latté for a week? A little saving goes a long way! Or how about choosing to splurge on a yoga mat instead of a new pair of jeans?
There are always ways to get what we most want, it's just a question of how we prioritize.
7. Get into a rhythm that feels good.
Find a way to practice with a teacher that inspires you, and do it as much as you can without it disturbing your weekly rhythm.
Yoga should be a joy, not a must. The moment you make your new yoga practice a stressful job is the moment you can start to lose your inspiration.
And the best thing is: the more you practice, the more you'll want to practice! You'll find that yoga is a rhythm that helps you hold the rest of your week in balance. Your yoga practice becomes a treat, not a chore.
Before you know it, you'll be comfortable rolling out the mat in your own living room and guiding yourself on the daily.
8. Listen to your body.
I like to remind my students that “nobody knows your body as you do. Let your body and your breath be your first teacher, and let everything I say be secondary."
Meaning: if something doesn't feel right, stop doing it or take it down (or up) a notch. Cultivate enough awareness to listen to everything your body tells you. It's wise, and if you listen well enough, your practice will always be just right.
If you find yourself wanting to deepen your practice and the connection with your heart that yoga can give, or maybe you even want to become a yoga teacher, I recommend looking into Yoga Teacher Trainings. When you’re ready, the teacher will appear.
If you have more questions about starting out as a new yogi, comment below!