We can’t seem to get away from the great yoga debate that’s raging these days in every news outlet across the country – does yoga help or hurt? I emphatically believe that if a practice hurts, strains, or stresses, then it’s not yoga. It can challenge us, help us find our edge, and raise our potential – yoga can, should, and often does all of those things. But that’s a fine line – the distinction between hurting and challenging.
So how do we know if yoga is right for us? The only way to know is to try, though there are some basic guidelines to follow when starting a yoga practice:
1.) If you’re new to yoga, seek out a class that’s labeled beginner, basics, gentle, or restorative. These classes generally have teachers who are trained to specifically help beginners get comfortable with a class. They are usually welcoming and warm environments that encourage learning and questions. You could also pick up a copy of a beginner yoga DVD. When I first started practicing, I used Rodney Yee’s AM / PM DVD all the time. It was a great primer for me and even now I sometimes take it out to review a simple, solid beginning routine. The basics always have something new to teach us.
2.) Consult your doctor. It’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before beginning a yoga practice. Discuss what health issues you should raise to a yoga instructor before beginning a class. (And on this point, please let any yoga instructor know if you have any health concerns, injuries, or challenges before the class begins.)
3.) Don’t compare yourself to others. It will be tempting to compare your yoga to other people in the class. Don’t. Yoga is a very personal practice. We are all at different points along the journey. We have different bodies and different minds. Our practice is as unique as we are. Honor where you are and be kind to yourself. If it hurts, back off. Your body has so much intelligence. It knows what it needs to be healthy, strong, and safe. Listen to it.
4.) Interview yoga instructors and studios. You are paying for a service when you go to a yoga class. You are giving up your time to be there in that studio. Go in and test the vibe. Talk to the person at the front desk and a teacher if possible. Let them know you’re new to the practice and any injuries or health challenges that you have. Ask them if their studio is appropriate for beginners and ask which classes would be best suited for you. Feel free to email or call as well.
5.) Consider a private session or in-class private. A private session can be on the expensive side but you’ll get a solid grounding in the basics in a very short period of time. Also, some studios give the option of in-class privates in which you take a group class at a studio but also have a private instructor who’s affiliated with the studio to give you adjustments during the group class. Think of an in-class private as going to a group class with a close friend whose only focus is to make sure you have an amazing experience. (ISHTA Yoga in New York City, where I study, offers this service at no additional charge.)
Still have questions? Contact me. Seriously. Email me, tweet me, send over an owl. I love teaching beginners – many of my students took their very first yoga class with me and I really treasure that honor. I’m always glad to help someone get started on the yoga journey. It changed my life, and approached properly, it has the potential to change yours, too!
Many thanks to Christa Avampato for providing this beautiful blog post.
– Your Charmed Yogi
Christa Avampato is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist who learns from her students every day, a product developer who is equally inspired by new technology and ancient wisdom, and a writer who believes that creativity and determination is the most powerful duo on Earth. She is the founder of Compass Yoga, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the health of all people by teaching the therapeutic benefits of yoga and meditation through free and low-cost classes and workshops. Christa lives in New York City with her rescue pup, Phineas, and is working on perfecting the high art of people watching. Find out what she’s up to right now at http://christainnewyork.com and http://www.twitter.com/christanyc.