For many people, yoga is scary. Those crazy pretzel poses documented on social media? The coordinated outfits donned by women sporting dancers’ bodies? The fear that everyone else will be able to follow the teacher’s instructions seamlessly while you flail about, front and center (because front and center is the only spot available in your nightmares)? A stress-relieving activity never seemed so stressful, am I right?

Showing up to yoga for the first time can be a true act of bravery. I vividly remember the first class I was dragged to 16 years ago by my then roommate (who apparently hated my guts). It took place in a 104-degree room and was led by a teacher who prohibited water bottles and bathroom breaks. The experience was, in no uncertain terms, hell on earth. I gave yoga another try but at a studio that was less Sahara-like and with a teacher who resonated with me (and didn’t flip out if you needed to use the bathroom).

Here are some things to consider to ensure your first experience with yoga is a positive one:

1 – Choose the right class. If you’re brand new to yoga I suggest taking a class for beginners. I wish I had sought out a class for newbie yogis back in 2000. Beginner classes are slower paced than the more commonly found “all levels” yoga classes. Additionally, teachers provide more detailed descriptions of the poses and offer modifications to make postures more and less challenging. Even if you’re already physically fit, beginner yoga classes provide insight on how to properly get in and out of yoga poses, helping you build a strong foundation for your practice.

2 – Find the right teacher. Just as important as choosing the right class is finding a teacher whose style and personality suits you. Not all teachers are created equal. Some incorporate a lot of yogic philosophy into their classes while others offer a humorous, irreverent slant. Some teachers are alignment based while others use minimal postural cues. If a teacher’s style doesn’t jive with you, don’t give up the practice! Instead just try a different teacher. There are a lot of us out there.

3 – Check your ego at the door. This is good advice for all practitioners, not just beginners. Unlike most physical activity we westerners participate in, yoga is not a competitive sport. I repeat — YOGA IS NOT A COMPETITIVE SPORT! It’s important to understand this going into your first, third and even thirtieth class. There will likely be yogis in class who are more flexible and stronger than you, and that’s okay. One’s enlightenment does not hinge on their ability to do a perfect split. Stay focused on your own practice and good things will come.

4 – Don’t believe the myths. “I’m not flexible enough for yoga.” It’s a commonly held belief among those who haven’t tried yoga that you need some sort of baseline level of flexibility before taking a class. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. You don’t have to be able to touch your toes to practice yoga. True, you probably don’t want to take an advanced class right out of the gate, but know there’s a style of yoga for everybody — from slow paced flows, to restorative practices, to hardcore power classes. Frankly, if you’re stiff that’s the perfect reason to get on your mat. Just remember that touching your toes is not the endgame. Developing strength, increasing flexibility and feeling great is.

Curious about yoga? Check out Julie’s workshop on Saturday, November 5 from 1-2:30 pm at Ruah Studio, “Yoga Basics: An Introduction for Beginners.” No previous experience is required.

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