How to Begin Yoga

Yoga is for everyone, and that it’s never too late to begin a new practice!

The whole reason why I started Yoga Teacher Training was because I found great benefit with Yoga and I wanted to share the magic of Yoga with everyone. Through sharing my love for yoga, many people have also inquired about how to get started themselves. It is so important of support new yogis as they begin a new practice. And, this can also be a lovingly reminder to more senior students and teachers too.

If you are new to yoga, read on how you can get started!

1. Begin Where You Are

Please contact the studio where you will practice to ask for a recommendation for a class that's appropriate for you. My favorite thus far have been all the Yoga Tree Studios throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, they are incredibly accommodating and genuinely take the time out of their way to serve their community. Explain your fitness history and let them know about any injuries or limitations. Even with gentle classes like Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, or a “Hatha Alignment” of some sort… there are always variations among teachers so please feel free to ask the studio so they can help you find your best starting point.

Ideally, start in a class specifically designed for beginners—where you’ll learn foundation poses, alignment, and breathing fundamentals. In the absence of a beginner’s class, I encourage all students to start with a gentle class. Gentle classes move at a slower pace, they teach you the foundations which are so necessary; which will allow you to comfortably learn the postures and breath work. For many students, gentle yoga will remain their primary practice, while others will eventually want more physically rigorous classes. But it almost always makes sense to pace yourself when learning a new discipline, rather than rushing into a class you aren’t ready for.

In the absence of a beginner’s class, start in a gentle class.

2. Arrive Early

Try to arrive about 15 minutes before the class starts. This will give you time to get settled, locate bathrooms, and acclimate to the energy of the space. Dashing into any yoga class can bring anxious energy onto your mat. New students to my classes often confess to being nervous before their first class, which is perfectly normal. Try not to add to beginner’s stress by running late.

3. Introduce Yourself

Make sure to introduce yourself and let your teacher know that you’re new to yoga. I am taught to always try to touch base with new students and to ask about any physical or emotional concerns they have. Don’t be shy in this regard, as it’s in your best interest to speak up about your challenges. Your teacher can, for example, offer helpful modifications for certain postures.

4. Choose a Good Spot

After working for being in school for so many years, I’ve always sat in the front since I had learning disabilities but I know many people stick to the back row of the class, it is a natural inclination for many people. Yoga classes are no exception, and many new students opt first for the back row. However, depending on the layout of the studio and the number of people in the class, that might not be the best choice. Rather, make sure to place your mat where you can best hear and see the teacher.

5. Set an Intention

Most yoga classes begin with a chance to breathe and center before moving through postures. The teacher might also introduce a theme or an intention for the class. Consider using this time to set your own intention. For example, you may decide to focus on breathing deeply throughout the class, or to practice not judging yourself or others. Offering gratitude for the opportunity to use yoga to care for your body is another way to ground your practice. Whatever your focus, call it to mind any time you need some inspiration or could simply use a reminder of your reason for coming to yoga class.

6. Listen to Your Body

One of the most popular cues in a yoga class is: “Listen to your body.” When I was a new student, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. As you grow in your practice, however, your deepening connection to your body will make it far easier to listen to it. In the meantime, just remember that yoga shouldn’t hurt. If you experience any sharp pain, immediately pull back or return to what I call a “home base” posture: child’s pose and mountain.

You may notice new sensations, challenges, or openings in your body. Those are perfectly normal and beneficial. If you’re ever in doubt whether what you’re feeling is safe, err on the side of caution and come out of the pose. Additionally, use your breath as an indicator. If your breath becomes ragged, unsteady, or you find yourself holding your breath, it can be a sign that you’ve exceeded your limits. Take a break and a few deep breaths before returning to your practice.

7. Eyes on Your Own Mat

Keep your eyes on your own lane, it’s easy to compare yourself to others but you are going to make yourself crazy if you’re always comparing yourself to everyone else.

Yoga is not a competition. No grades are given. No one wins or loses. We practice progress, not perfection. So what if your neighbor can sink more deeply into her chair pose than you? Perhaps she’s been practicing longer, or her body is built differently. Keep your eyes on your own mat in order to focus on moving through the class in a way that serves your body and your needs.

Yoga is not a competition. No grades are given. No one wins or loses. We practice progress, not perfection.

8. Enjoy Your Savasana

For many students, both first-time and long-term, savasana (final rest pose) can be the most challenging posture of the class. Many of us are used to being in constant motion, and lying still with ourselves and our thoughts, with no movement to distract us, can be a new experience. Again, just start where you are, and try to avoid judging your experience.

Many new students also tell me that they experience stress in savasana because they can’t stop their thoughts. But this idea that one must stop their thoughts in savasana is a misconception. Rather than trying to stop them, just notice them, release them, and then return your focus to your breath. You may get caught in many thoughts during savasana; just keep returning to your breath and letting your body soften into the mat each time.

9. Keep Coming Back

Remember, this is a practice… a cumulative practice. With each class you take, its impact on your life will continue to increase. I often see people's faces light up after their first class. But if yoga doesn’t click for you right away, give it some time. Try different styles of classes and different teachers until you find the right fit for you. With diligence and consistence, you'll soon begin to reap yoga's many gifts!

Enjoy the lessons that come from learning something new. Honor your needs during the process, seek support as you require it, and know that everything happens in its own time.

HEALTH, MOVEMENTAlice Chen