Before I began practicing yoga, my biggest questions were about the compatibility of my body and my faith with a yoga practice, and what to expect in a class. As I’ve talked with others, the stories are different, but the questions and concerns are usually very much the same.
What if I'm not flexible?
The need to be pretzel-like is one of the biggest misconceptions about yoga. Increased flexibility is a by-product of yoga, not a requirement to begin. One of the great things about yoga is you can begin wherever you are.
Who can practice yoga?
Anyone. Everyone! So many of the yoga pictures we see are of thin, ridiculously-flexible, white, twenty-something females, so it’s easy to make the assumption that that’s who can practice yoga. Thankfully, that perception is beginning to change as more outside-the-box yogis are speaking up and sharing their practices. Yoga is for men and women, young and old, able-bodied and not-so-much.
But I’m too…
It hurts my heart when someone believes they are too big, too old, too inflexible, or too anything else to practice yoga. Some version of it really is accessible to every single body. Be gentle with yourself and take time to find out what works best for you.
What do I have to know before I go to my first class?
That truly depends on the class. If you’re brand new to yoga, look for a class that mentions beginners in the description. In those classes you should receive the instruction you need to participate safely. Classes are often designated by level, and as you might imagine, the more advanced the class, the more important it is that you have prior experience.
What should I wear?
The good news is that yoga leggings are not required. While many of us wear them and love them, you can practice in any comfortable clothing. Keep in mind, super loose clothing can make it more difficult to move on your mat. Also, if you want feedback from the teacher, super loose clothing makes it more challenging for him/her to see if you're practicing with good alignment.
What are props, and why would I want them?
Personally, I don’t love the term “props,” which can sound like something that you only use as a newbie, like training wheels on a bike. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Props, usually blankets, blocks, straps, bolsters, and sometimes chairs, are simply the tools that are used in many yoga classes to help students experience postures safely or more fully. Many experienced yogis first learned without props, and have since learned how much stronger their practice can be with their use.
What if there's something I can't do?
That would make you normal! If you're doing it right, every posture in yoga is always a work in progress. Most postures have lots of options, and if an accessible option isn't offered in class, ask for help. A teacher should be able to help you find a version of a pose that works for you, or they may suggest an alternate posture that works the same part(s) of the body. Ultimately, it is every student’s responsibility to know their limits, and respect them.
But I can’t even get on the floor!
So you can use props to bring the floor up to you. That’s the beauty of yoga. There are no absolutes. If something doesn’t work, you can change it. If getting on the floor is a challenge, you definitely want to make sure you go to a class where the teacher is willing to help you make adjustments. The best place to start is likely going to be a chair class, a gentle yoga class, or a beginner class.
What if I can’t keep up?
It can take some individuals a bit longer to transition from one posture to another or to get into a posture. Again, that’s perfectly normal. It’s important to know that everybody, including the most pretzel-esque yogis, have those moments. As a teacher, I love to see every person in my class working at their own pace and taking care of themselves.
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Should it hurt?
No. Yoga should not cause pain. Sometimes muscles will shake and holding a difficult posture may be uncomfortable, but discomfort and pain are not the same thing. Pain means something is wrong and you should carefully stop what you are doing. If you’re taking a class, let the teacher know what was painful. There may be a simple adjustment that will make a huge difference. Also, if you’re walking into a class with something that’s already painful, let the teacher know before the class so they can help you avoid anything that might make your pain worse.
I’ve tried yoga and I wasn’t comfortable with…
...a teacher, a class, or an aspect of a class. That's okay! Every yoga teacher is different in how they teach, and every yoga student has different preferences. Classes also vary a lot, and not every class is for every student. If something doesn't work for you, don’t give up. You may have to try multiple teachers or classes to find the right combination. Talk to friends who practice. Ask for recommendations. If you have an idea what you’d like, call before you go to a class and ask questions.
Help the teacher help you
When you take a new class or practice with a new teacher, get to class early and introduce yourself. Let the teacher know if you're new to yoga and/or have a challenge. I'd also encourage you not to hide in the back of the room. It's hard for a teacher to assist when she/he can't easily see you.
I don't want people to watch me
This was one of my biggest hesitations in trying yoga. Thankfully, I realized quickly that the other students were focused on their own practice and weren't watching me any more than I was watching them.
I'm a Christian, and I've got concerns about practicing yoga.
As a Christian myself, I've wrestled with this, and don't think the answer is one-size-fits-all. I do believe that you can be a Christ-follower and practice yoga. My personal practice is often a wonderful time with God and a sweet time of worship. There are definitely things associated with yoga in which I chose not to participate, but I don't think that requires dismissing it entirely. Instead, we can approach yoga in much the same way we (hopefully) approach other activities, by weighing the various elements against our baseline of Scripture and honoring God in all we do. Once we've done that, we then participate in each element, or not, accordingly.