January. The start of a new year and the start of so many resolutions or goals, as I like to look at them. And for many, one of these may be beginning a yoga practice, or at the very least, trying yoga for the first time. There are many health benefits to a yoga practice, as highlighted in this Huffington Post compilation, that are continuing to be studied. Even if a goal for 2017 is even as simple as “be healthier”, yoga could be a great practice to try. For me personally, I know I feel so much better after regularly attending class.
But how do you get started? Where do you even begin?
Find a Studio
And not just one. Check out a couple near you and also be sure to try out a couple of different classes and teachers at that studio, or try different styles of yoga across different studios. If this is your first time taking yoga, try differently scheduled beginner classes with different teachers to get a feel for the studio’s teaching methods and how it resonates with you. Look at their full schedule as it’s a good idea to see what classes are available for when you may move into an open flow class. When I first looked for a new studio after coming back to yoga after months without practicing, I knew that as I progressed, I’d want open flow classes I could take shortly after work. I was looking for classes that fit me at that moment, but also that would fit me in the coming months.
When you find a studio, arrive a little early to talk to the teacher. Let your teacher know if this is your first time trying yoga or if you have any injuries or sore points. By doing so, you can learn modifications to more safely practice.
Another great thing to look out for is that many studios will also offer new student deals – unlimited classes for a week or 10 classes, etc. This will help you find try several classes and find a studio that feels just right for you. And sites like Groupon or ClassPass may also offer specials on class passes if you’re new to that studio or opportunities to try several studios.
But also look beyond the class. What sorts of workshops does the studio offer and how often? Or what other community activities do they host? My studio, The Mat, offers workshops throughout the year on the physical (like inversions and arm balances), nutrition and delving into the philosophy of yoga. Last summer we even had a book club! And already there are some really fantastic workshops coming up in the first half of this year.
Picking a Yoga Mat
The studio you pick will likely have mats available to rent or borrow, but if you find yourself drawn back to class you may eventually want to get a mat of your own. If you like the mats offered by your studio, ask if they sell that mat in their stores as you may be able to buy one direct from your studio. Chatting with your teacher or neighbor in class offers two benefits: personal reviews on different kinds of mats and getting to know your classmates. For additional research, the yoga magazine Yoga Journal also offers their own reviews.
I also use a yoga towel. The very first time I used one, I was amazed at how I felt it helped my practice. Before I used a mat-length yoga towel, I felt – even if they weren’t – my palms slipping in downward dog or in a twist. Fearing my feet may slip meant I didn’t have a solid foundation in a Warrior. I bought a towel and remember that first practice where I was no longer paranoid of slipping. That allowed me to feel like I could be stronger in holding my poses and that I could try going a little deeper while still feeling that solid, grounded support. Even though since then I’ve had a new mat, I still practice with a yoga towel.
Accept Where You are Today
My last tip offers words of advice: Accept Where You are Today. Especially if this is the first time you’re coming to yoga, but even if you’re coming back to it from being away. These words hold true even if you have a regular practice but are trying a different class – or even just a new pose – for the first time.
Our bodies are different. We all know this to be true and our teachers will remind us of that. Not only is your body different than your neighbor, but our own bodies are different on different days. If my hamstrings feel tighter today, I won’t fold as deeply as I might have yesterday. If I’m feeling soreness somewhere, or a twist doesn’t feel right that day, I’ll back off. And that’s okay!
The strength and the flexibility for your body will come, it will grow. But not if you push beyond what you are able to do today. I’ve found that I find happiness and contentment when I see how far I’ve come in my practice, even when it has been little by little, measuring my own strength over time rather than seeing my neighbor push up into wheel when I can’t. That will come. And you know what? Maybe it won’t, or maybe it won’t as quickly as I might want. And that’s okay too. Be joyful in the steady growth that happens when you return again and again to your mat. Be joyful for all the things your body can do today.
Do you have additional pieces of advice to share? Or let me know in the comments what other questions you might have about starting a practice.