How many times have you heard someone say this? Whether you’re a yoga teacher who’s constantly encouraging people to try yoga for the first time. Or, you’re a yoga fanatic who’s hoping to recruit your friends, or your partner, to come with you to the next class.
We’ve all heard this at one point or another:
“I’m not flexible enough for yoga.”
And the funniest thing about this statement is that you’re admitting you lack flexibility, yet refuse to try a practice that will help to increase your flexibility. So, the question remains, how will you become more flexible if you never try the thing that will help?!
Also, let me add that you do not need to be flexible in order to do yoga. Let me repeat:
You do not need to be flexible in order to do yoga.
Yoga is for every body. Including the bodies that are a bit tighter. Trust me, my wife is one of the least flexible people I know, and guess what? She still does yoga (sometimes). Why? Because it provides the same benefits in her body, mind, and heart that it does for someone who’s super flexy and open.
Yoga does not discriminate.
This post will cover what yoga is, as well as 10 tips for beginner yogis to get started.
What is Yoga?
If you’re considering embarking on your yoga journey. Welcome! We’re so excited for you to begin. First things first, let’s clarify what exactly yoga is.
Yoga means “to yoke,” or union. Yoga is about bringing together. About oneness. Now, it’s really up to you to decide what this oneness is.
Many people describe it as bringing together the mind, body, spirit. Or, connecting breath with movement.
Yoga is not a religion. Although yoga is not a religion, if you are religious- you can use it as a way to connect to your god(s) if that feels good for you.
And if you’re not religious, then you can use it as a way to cultivate more self-awareness, mindfulness, and discipline.
Yoga is a way of a life, and a philosophy. The yoga practice is actually composed of 8 limbs. Asana, the postures, is only ONE of the 8 limbs.
In other words, it’s actually only a very small portion of what yoga is as a whole. Which is surprising to many people, because this is the part of yoga that we most commonly see in the West.
If you close your eyes and see an image when I say the word “yoga,” what do you see? My guess is someone contorted into a pretzel shape, right? This person is probably a woman, and she’s probably thin. And white.
Why are you seeing this image? Because this is the way modern yoga is marketed and sold to us nowadays. Hey, I’m guilty of this too. I’m a thin, white, flexible chick posting asana on the internet after all.
I am personally all for the evolution of yoga, as it gets people on the mat. Plain and simple. So I’m not as much of a stickler on “real yoga” or modern yoga. In my opinion, the most important component of yoga is:
Asana (the postures) without the breath, are just gymnastics, or stretches, or calisthenics.
How to Start Yoga as an Absolute Beginner
Piggybacking off of my last point, let’s check in.
Are you breathing right now? Great! You’re doing yoga.
But seriously, remember that yoga is a holistic practice. This means it’s not just about the postures, but it’s also about the impact and health of the mind and heart, as well.
Breath is everything when it comes to yoga. This means that as long as you’re keeping the awareness on your breath, you’re practicing yoga. The shapes that you’re making come secondary to the quality of your breath.
This means, if your breathing becomes rapid, shallow, or you hold your breath altogether in order to stay in a pose- then that’s a sign you’ve gone too far. You’ll want to make sure the breath is flowing with ease…even if it’s challenging!
Most of us are not taught how to take full breaths- meaning the breath travels all the way down to the belly as you breathe in, and the breath travels all the way from the belly as you breathe out. Most of us are breathing in the chest, without much awareness at all.
Yoga will teach you a lot about your lung capacity, and transformation qualities of breath as a whole. Start by focusing on breathing in and out of your belly first, and let the poses come next.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had total beginner show up to Intermediate or even ADVANCED yoga classes, simply because that timing worked best with their schedule.
Please don’t do this. For your own sake, don’t do this.
Make sure you read the labels of the classes. Start with beginner classes for the first 10 sessions, or so. This will ensure you’re receiving the kind of instruction needed specifically for brand new students.
Of course teachers are *meant* to be teaching to the midline in all classes- meaning all levels of students are supported with their cues and sequences. However, as a teacher, I can attest that teaching to the midline is one of the most challenging parts of teaching. And, even when you do your best, you still know that a beginner student would benefit from a true beginner style class, instead of an open level one.
Sometimes people feel a little safer in the comfort zone of their own home, as opposed to a studio. And I get it! Studios can be intimidating. Plus, they’re more expensive. And if you’re crunched for time, then you don’t have to worry about a commute, either.
Lots of pros to practicing at home.
But what about the cons? Well, as a new yogi, remember to choose correctly labeled classes. Start with beginner classes only to avoid injury. Another con is that you don’t have a teacher who can actually see you, and help you individually. This is something you’ll want to make sure you have at some point in order to progress safely.
My suggestion is take a blend of online AND in-person classes. You don’t have to choose just one or another. The great thing with online, is that memberships are often cheaper than the price of just one class at a studio- which makes it accessible to do both at the same time.
And yes, I have a whole Absolute Beginner category on my app just for you. It’s a totally free 7 day trial, so you can test it out, no strings attached.
I love teaching private classes. And I’ve had my fair share of new students choose to take privates, because they’re a little shy about trying something new in a group setting. This is a great way to get hands-on instruction specifically for YOU and your needs, so that you can go into a group class with a bit more ease later on.
I will say that the only thing to consider with private classes is that they’re quite a bit more expensive than a regular group class. There’s two little hacks here you should try.
First, ask the teacher if they have any bundle options. Usually teachers will have a slight discounted rate if you purchase 5 classes altogether.
Second, ask the teacher if they accept group privates. This means you can split the class with someone else. Different teachers have varying policies here. Some don’t allow it. While others allow anywhere from 2 – 4 people. If you do go with a friend, just make sure you’re the same level, so that it’s truly beneficial to you.
Position in Class
Most beginner students gravitate to the back of the class, because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. While this can be comforting, sometimes (depending on how packed the class is, and the shape of the studio) this will also mean it’s difficult for the teacher to come over to you should you need help.
My suggestion would be to position yourself somewhere a bit more central. I’m not saying front and center. In fact, I would avoid the front row altogether. But more like the second row, instead.
If you know you have balance struggles, then position yourself by a wall. This will be supportive for you to hold onto as needed.
The reason I don’t want you in the front row is not because you’ll be a distraction. Far from it! I want you in the second row so that you have the row of people in front of you as a sort of guide throughout the class. Chances are, people in the front row know what the heck they’re doing- which can be helpful for you to see if you feel lost during the class.
Modifications just mean there are options in the poses throughout the class, so that the entire sequence is more accessible to everyone. If you’re brand new to yoga, then you’re not going to know the modifications for each pose- because you haven’t done them yet!
And that’s okay. It takes time.
What I will say is this: make sure the classes you’re going to are actually offering modifications. If they’re not, I would strongly suggest finding a new teacher, or at least a new class (even if it’s the same teacher).
As a simple example, if you’re in a forward fold, you’d want a teacher to offer “bend your knees a little or a lot.” Bending the knees is a really common (and highly effective) modification for many postures. Being a new practitioner means you’ll need these options and reminders regularly throughout the class in order to feel as empowered as possible in the class.
One way to modify yoga poses is by using yoga props. You’ve probably seen blocks and straps and bolsters in yoga studios before. And, I get it, it can feel a little intimidating to incorporate another piece of equipment into an already foreign activity.
Rest assured, yoga props are your friend. Don’t be scared of them!
Again, you’ll want to make sure you have a teacher who is offering variations of what to do with the props so that you feel supported, rather than lost. Props are there to give you a more accessible experience, not add stress to your practice.
Yoga can be super serious. That’s just the truth of it. And, I’m one of those super serious yogis who holds a tight space in the classroom. However, the element of play can create a lot more accessibility for new yogis to access shapes.
I don’t mean being silly, goofing off, or distracting the other students and teacher. I just mean having a bit of levity within as you practice. Not taking yourself too seriously, because is standing on one foot actually super serious business? No.
When we grasp really tightly to how we want the pose to look, or what we think we should be doing, we can suffocate the potential out of the experience. Try to loosen that grip, and laugh if you wobble or fall.
Like anything, yoga becomes easier the more you practice. I know it’s tempting to try something a few times, and give up when you’re amazing right away. But, guess what, you won’t get stronger or more flexible if you don’t keep trying!
I know that it’s a lot to take in all at once: the breath, the shapes, the environment, the people. And you might feel a little lost your first few times.
But then this magical thing happens where you show up to a class, and realize you actually knew a few of the poses without looking around.
You feel empowered. You gain confidence. And you persevere.
This is what yoga is all about.
So, my beginner yoga friends, if this post hasn’t convinced you to roll out a mat and give it a shot- then maybe my Absolute Beginner section on the app will. It’s totally free for 7 days, so you can trial the classes and see if it’s for you. If not, then you can cancel! No worries.
There are tons of other incredible teachers out there online and in person who are waiting to support you on this journey forward. It’s just up to YOU to say yes the next time someone invites you to a class.
You’ve got this.