I’ve heard every excuse in the book. When I talk about yoga to runners who haven’t tried yoga (or have and had bad experiences), I am not surprised to find out that they are nervous about trying it out and would rather put themselves through other agonizing torture than try a class. And I get it! It can be scary diving into anything that’s unknown and new – especially if you’re an athlete who excels in a sport or field and are now outside your comfort zone, practicing alongside what appears to be a room of people who can put their leg behind their head.There’s a few things I want to settle right here: 1) everyone has to start somewhere and you will get better – it is called a yoga practice after all; 2) most people can’t put their leg behind their head nor is it something that teachers would instruct in most classes; and 3) saying you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a shower so let go of any idea you have of what you should be like since your practice starts with you and your body, not anyone else’s. Here are a few tips and steps to help you get over your fears and onto the mat.
1. Do your research: pick a studio, a yoga type, or a teacher you like or trust: I know some people are a little put off by yoga because they might think it’s too new-age or hippy for them. The vibe of the studio is a huge aspect of the comfort level for people – some are more granola-hippie-tree-huggin’ goodness, others are more bootcamp-urban styles, some may feel too spiritual, others too-cool-for-school. But all of them are a living, breathing, changing space based on the community within and outside its walls so when you find the right fit, you’ll know. Ask around, get recommendations, walk in to studios and check out the space. It takes curiosity and an open mind on the part of the student and of course, the studio will play its part too – it should be welcoming and supportive of new students and the teacher should take the time to speak to you to make sure you’re comfortable, know where things are and to check in with any injuries you have.
2. Be realistic: We all have a different starting point so it is important you find a class that is suitable for all levels. I recommend that you look at the online schedule and read the class description to make sure you’re going to a class that is suitable for you to try as a first-timer. It should be indicated on the websites and if not, feel free to call and ask! Of course, it would be discouraging, intimidating and darn near impossible for a new student to show up to a 90 minute meditation practice or a level III class that has you going into handstand (that’s near impossible for me and I’ve been practicing for 6 years).
3. Be open, honest and leave your ego at the door: I see a lot of people coming in for the first time who apologize, in advance, on how awful they’re going to be in class. There is a level of self-consciousness and fear that people will judge your ability that you’re not flexible enough, that you won’t understand the “funny talk” teachers use to describe the postures or that you won’t be able to follow along because they’ll make you stand on your head. I think it’s absolutely fair to explain any reservations to the teacher in advance so they can understand where you’re at and help you feel more relaxed by offering you modifications or letting you know in advance what to expect in class. All that being said, cut yourself some slack! You’re trying something new and you should be proud and excited at taking that step. Be present, have fun and make it your experience. Most other people will be too busy with their own practice to be noticing yours anyway! Even during the most challenging parts of a class, I encourage you to find your breath and remember why you decided to get to the mat in the first place. Keep that intention with you through class so that you focus on what you’re there to gain as opposed to feeding the voice of judgment and ego.
4. Be prepared and on time: Take the time to contact the studio to find out what you need to bring. Towels, mat, water are usual musts, and most studios rent or sell these items. Giving yourself enough time to get there, fill out a waiver, and get acquainted with your surroundings is really important too so you’re not rushing and getting all stressed before getting your relaxation on.
5. Try and try again: Just like having to put in the miles during training for the race, each yoga class is helping to get to an open body, one with more mobility, more buoyant and flexible joints, less aches and pains, more open breath, and better mental focus. In order to see progress, a consistent practice is important. Trying the introductory specials at studios (most studios have them) gives people an opportunity to try, at a reduced price, a week or more of their classes. With these intro specials, even if you only go a few times, it more than pays for itself and allows you to experiment with different styles and teachers. If the cost of a regular practice is a concern, some studios also do an energy exchange program so that you can practice for free in return for some time spent volunteering at the studio cleaning or doing administrative work.
If you have been putting off trying yoga or had any fears, hopefully this article has helped to break it down a little bit, make it a little less scary, and to perhaps get you on a mat sometime soon. Whatever you’re feeling about trying your first class, you’re not alone and sometimes knowing this is enough to give people the little push they need to get out there. Be willing to cultivate some patience towards yourself – everything needs time and with the yoga practice is no different. Show up with your breath and you’re 99% there.
About the Author: Alice Toyonaga is a yoga teacher, runner and bureaucrat. She is best described by her friends as a goal-setter with seemingly limitless endurance and a gift for multi-tasking. Convinced she sleeps in plank, her friends also know that in order to see her socially, they either have to join one of the many run clubs she is a part of or attend her challenging yet grounding yoga classes.
Follow Alice: Twitter: @toyonagaga, FB: Yoga & Running with Alice, Blog: www.ChatterRunGirl.com